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Boxing My Ancestor’s Civil War Service – Part III

The national encampment medal's brooch reflects the date and location of the 1905 Reading, PA gathering with the GAR seal prominently displayed in the center (source: eBay image).

Researching a person’s history who has been deceased for 107 years is difficult at best. Delving into the military service of a person who is an American Civil War veteran, while challenging, is a few percentage points easier, provided you understand the discoverable information. Where things become a test of one’s patience is the task of using the discoveries to create and encapsulate that person’s service with an artifact display – a shadow box to provide an aesthetic visual representation.

I’ve assembled three shadow boxes (and contributed to a fourth) that detail the service of my veteran relatives, incorporating pieces that were handed down to me and augmenting them with replacement items that were once lost to time. One of the boxes I created included my own medals, ribbons and assorted pieces from my decade of naval service. All three of the collections I created currently hang on display in my home office to tell a story for my family and guests about the years of service proudly given to our nation.

Through my continuous research into my family’s heritage and genealogy, I’ve uncovered details regarding ancestors who wore our nation’s uniform dating all the way back to the War for Independence. In the last few months, I zeroed in on the Civil War, identifying several family members who volunteered to gird themselves in the blue, heavy wool of the Union army. As noted in earlier posts (Civil War Shadow Box Acquisition: “Round” One is a Win and Due Diligence – Researching My Ancestor’s Civil War Service), several details began to emerge when I focused on my great, great, great grandfather’s service in the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, in the 70th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment.

Pressing into the details in the last few weeks, I learned that though my GGG grandfather was discharged in February of 1863 due to a disability he received during his service with the cavalry regiment, he again volunteered for a stint in the defense of his home state during General Robert E. Lee’s summer invasion of Pennsylvania. My ancestor responded to President Lincoln and Governor Andrew Curtin’s emergency call for temporary service (90 days) as a home guard force, serving with a light artillery company with the Department of the Susquehanna. It appeared that he was compelled to continue to fight though he’d already seen the ill effects of war at places such as Malvern Hill and Sharpsburg.

I managed to source a GAR membership medal for inclusion in the shadow box. This example shows the obverse and reverse of a GAR medal from 1886 (source: OMSA database).

In the years following the war, veterans were drawn to the quiet battlefields and to their surviving comrades as the impact of the fighting and the bonds forged in combat were too strong. Soon, the former soldiers formalized their “reunions” with the founding of an organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR). This organization would last for 90 years from its inception in 1866, advocating and lobbying for the veterans and their needs until the last veteran finally passed away in 1956. My GGG grandfather was a proud member of the GAR and would ultimately benefit from their efforts, being cared for during the last two years of his life in the soldier’s home in Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton Soldiers Home campus 1898

This hand-tinted postcard image depicts the Dayton Soldier’s Home campus as it appeared in 1898 (source: Carolyn Johnson Burns).

One discovery I made was that in 1905, my GGG grandfather made a trek from the soldier’s home to his hometown in Pennsylvania to, according to his obituary, say his goodbyes to his family as he didn’t feel that he’d survive the coming winter. Being a native of Reading, Pennsylvania and a member of the GAR, I deduced (based upon the details in the obit) that he, more than likely, used the trip to say goodbye to the men he had served with. The GAR happened to be holding a national encampment reunion in Reading and he would undoubtedly have made use of the trip for both purposes.

1905 Reading Medal - Full Medal Obverse

The front of the 1905 Reading, Pennsylvania GAR national encampment medal is beautifully designed, incorporating three bronze-cast elements; the brooch, suspension and pendant – all of which include specific aspects of the gathering (source: eBay image).

Taking into account the new details, I decided that I would add to the growing list of display items for my shadow box project by incorporating one of the encampment medals from that 1905 Reading gathering. Searching the internet, I managed to locate one in an online auction, submitting the winning bid earlier this week.

In addition to the two authentic small arms projectiles (a .52 cal Sharps carbine and a .44 cal Colt revolver round) that were found in the battlefields where my ancestor fought, and the 1905 Reading national encampment medal, I have acquired a GAR membership medal to round out the vintage artifacts that will be included in the shadow box. Heeding the advice of a fellow collector, I decided to pursue precise reproductions pieces – a crossed sabres hat device, the regiment and company number and letter devices and yellow cavalry stripes of a corporal – to round out the display.

After the final pieces arrive, I will assemble the display and promptly hang it near the others as I continue to honor those in my family who served.


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