“Blue coats, brass buttons and gold braid ... gray bearded faces and bodies of soldierly bearing despite the weighing burden of years — are the picturesque and distinctive features of Springfield’s guests of honor who are arriving with every train and interurban.”
— Springfield Daily News, June 1912
Plans had been in the works for months.
But in mid-June of 1912, Springfielders scrambled with final preparations for the arrival of Ohio Civil War veterans at the 46th Annual Encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic.
In a notice that appeared on the front page of the Springfield Daily News, Henry Wiseman, chairman of the decorating committee, asked that people “buy flags and bunting and show their colors in honor of the visit of the old soldiers.”
But it was not just the old soldiers who were coming for Grand Army Week of June 17-21.
The Woman’s Relief Corps, Sons of Veterans, Ladies of the Grand Army, Daughters of Veterans, the Ladies Auxiliary and others would bring “not only hundreds of delegates,” the paper said, “but thousands of visitors from both near and far.”
By midweek, Ira W. Wallace, one of the of hundreds of volunteers working under coordinator Capt. E.L. Buchwalter, said Springfield hotels had arranged to accommodate more than 4,000 visitors.
Event registration was being held in Lagonda Club, and groups were to meet at the K. of P. rooms in the Bushnell Building, the new high school, the commercial club, the Junior Hall and the United Presbyterian Church on South Limestone Street.
More room yet was available in a tabernacle, which had been “profusely decorated” by J.B. Goff and B.E. Bigelow of Kinnane’s with “1,500 hundred yards of bunting and 600 flags ... on the interior of the building” alone.
George H. Knight had been as diligent in getting the Esplanade in shape.
“Workmen started Saturday to paint the Fountain,” the Daily News reported.
“The strings of incandescent lights of red, white and blue extending from the top figure on the fountain down to the pillars and between them add much to the appearance of the square.”
The paper soon announced how enthusiastically citizens had responded to Wiseman’s appeal.
“For the first time in her history, Springfield is experiencing a flag famine,” the paper wrote.
The veterans were much impressed.
“I feel that in spite of the fact that we are falling off fast,” said Judge J.R. Johnston, commander of the Ohio Department of the G.A.R., “(this is) the best encampment ever.”
Fifty years after many served in the field, the thinning ranks of the Civil War veterans was a theme of the gathering.
“It is a matter of congratulation that so many of the soldiers are yet sturdy and erect, despite the hardships of war and advancing years,” trumpeted a Daily News editorial.
Springfield Medal of Honor winner James C. Walker, whose story was told as one of many in a special section, reached out to owners of automobiles to drive “Medal of Honor Men” on a sightseeing tour of the city.
Walker’s heroic tale had begun at the base of an enemy earthworks at Missionary Ridge, when he and others found themselves in a position where “it was less dangerous to advance than to retreat.”
So over the top they’d gone, jumping down on rebels in a “hand to hand fight ... with muskets, bayonets and even fists,” Walker wrote.
Upon seeing Corporal George W. Franklin “at the point of falling from loss of blood” Walker wrote, “I came to my senses, jumped up and caught the colors just in time to save them from going down.”
Walker then rushed between the barrel and wheel of a confederate cannon to grab a burning fuse “just as the cannoneer jerked the lanyard,” thus saving his comrades.
Walker’s heroics continued when he grabbed the flag from the bearer of an Alabama regiment, so that at the end of the fight he had both it and his own regimental colors, which had “89 bullet holes in them and 10 in the staff.”
A booming start
The celebrating and storytelling officially started with a “deafening report (that) echoed and re-echoed” from a cannon fired on the Big Four Parkway downtown.
“It was some time before Springfielders in the immediate vicinity could recover their composure enough to remember the state artillery had begun .... Great Army Week,” the paper said.
Locals were given their due.
Springfielder Anna Canfield was unanimously endorsed for the office of senior vice president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary and Springfielder H.E. Titus a senior vice commander of the G.A.R.
Gen. J. Warren Keifer of Springfield was called on as a speaker and did not disappoint.
“Freeing four million slaves, writing into the Constitution three great amendments making all men free under the Stars and Stripes were accomplishments to be proud of indeed,” he said.
Women’s contributions also were spoken of and honored.
“Where there was the smoke of battle, the roar of guns, the groans of the dying, there were womanly hands to stay the flowing life blood, to cool the fevered brow, to bind up the wounds, to keep lonely vigils, to pray with and close the eyes of the dying,” said Janet Wentz, secretary of No. 315 of Springfield’s Mitchell Auxiliary.
“The war had left thousands of green mounds, thousands of vacant chairs,” she added, “but it left, too, thousands of survivors who were ill, and maimed and helpless, and here again women ... took up the task of caring for helpless veterans.”
In what a resolution called a “token of our appreciation of the fidelity and faithfulness of our wives, sisters and daughters and all loyal women in giving us moral sympathy and financial support,” the veterans endorsed women’s suffrage as “a tardy act of justice.”
The gathering’s capstone event was a Thursday parade of veterans through the downtown — a big enough event that some photos survive today.
“My grandfather took a picture of his father at the rally,” said Joyce Fair of Springfield.
Although neither was associated with the G.A.R., the event was big enough to bring out the cameras.
“Although fatigued from the strenuous times of the encampment, the old soldiers forgot rheumatic joints and feeble limbs and marched with steady step,” the Daily News reported, “in the greatest spectacle ever witnessed in this section of the Buckeye State.”
The paper said “every precaution was taken” to look after their health.
“C.F. Jackson, who provides the city ambulance service, in addition to his three regular ambulances, impressed three taxicabs into service and labeled them with the emblem of the Red Cross.”
In a story about the G.A.R., George F. Burba sought to similarly protect the veterans’ legacy.
“Time may do many things: She may take the outposts, she may invade the camp at eventide, she may prove traitorous in the morning,” Burba wrote.
“But time cannot rob us of the love we bear for those old boys, nor lessen our adoration for the mighty hosts who saved a mighty nation from disruption through heat and strife that tried men’s souls.
“That is our inheritance, and the inheritance it shall be of every generation unto the end of time.”
Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0368 or email@example.com.