MARC CHASE: The dead still live if we learn of, remember sacrifices

2014-05-27T00:00:00Z 2014-06-06T07:54:04Z MARC CHASE: The dead still live if we learn of, remember sacrificesMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
May 27, 2014 12:00 am  • 

"I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column. Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death — of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring."

With these words, famous American writer, orator, jurist and Civil War veteran Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. remembered his fallen comrades of our nation's bloodiest war during a Memorial Day address in 1884.

This Holmes speech, and particularly that specific passage, always appealed to my deep interest in Civil War history. It has come to mean even more to me in the past few years as I've had the honor of leading volunteers in replacing more than 80 old worn, broken or missing headstones of Civil War veterans buried in Northwest Indiana cemeteries.

Monday, Memorial Day 2014 and 130 years after Holmes' iconic speech, I reflected on some of these local men of the Civil War — men whose stories I've come to know through research and whose last resting places I've visited and helped restore.

In the spirit of remembrance, a bit of the humanity from their lives and sacrifice bears reference here.

Most of you have never heard of Crown Point's Sgt. William Foster, whose family originally came from the East but settled in Northwest Indiana before the war.

Foster, a volunteer in the 11th New Jersey Infantry, spent his last Christmas in 1862 violently ill in a Union Army hospital. By early January, one of his commanding officers was bringing Foster's body home to his family in a coffin.

Foster was a casualty of typhoid fever, a soldiers' camp disease far more lethal during the Civil War than enemy shot and shell. Foster rests now among his family at Crown Point's Historic Maplewood Cemetery.

The weekend's somber remembrances also prompted my 11-year-old sons — Nolan and Connor — and I to visit the Valparaiso grave of Capt. Jacob Brewer, himself a father of two sons who also served in the Civil War.

In his mid-40s at the war's onset in 1861, Brewer is one of the oldest men we've found in our research to have enlisted from Northwest Indiana. He only lasted a year before the wear of war forced him to take a disability discharge.

But his 14-year-old son Winfield, one of the region's youngest volunteers, continued on for the war's four-year duration as a drummer boy in the 99th Indiana Infantry. Winfield would become a drummer in the P.T. Barnum traveling circus band after the war.

Today, Jacob, Winfield and Jacob's other son, John, rest within feet of each other at Valparaiso's Maplewood Cemetery.

It's men like the Brewers, Foster and so many others whose stories are now burned in my consciousness for as long as I have my faculties.

What began as a strong interest in Civil War history has evolved into something far more.

It's up to all of us to remember our "dead brothers" and sisters from all eras of service as Holmes bid us do more than a century ago. They still "live for us" if we remember their selfless volunteerism and sacrifice.

It's now incumbent on us to "live for them."

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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