History: The Grand Army of the Republic.

February 19, 2022

GAR monument at Lakeview Cemetery in Ludington.

History: The Grand Army of the Republic.

Around the County – History is a presentation of Preferred Credit Union, www.preferredcu.org, located locally at 266 N. Jebavy Dr., Ludington.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Veterans organizations play an important role in communities. Most local people today recognize the American Legion Post # 76, Edwin H. Ewing in Ludington and Custer VFW Gold Bar Post 5096. Those posts are what remains of what used to be several veterans social/fraternal organizations in the county. Preceding those posts was the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which had posts in Ludington, Scottville and Free Soil. The Pap Williams Post GAR was located in Ludington, the S.D. Haight Post No. 348 was in Scottville and the Maj. John Piper post was located in Free Soil. 

GAR monument at Scottville Brookside Cemetery.

Before we go any further, I have to add the disclaimer that this article is nowhere near a complete history of the GAR in Mason County. I plan on adding to this history as I receive feedback from the readers and have access to more documents. I figure by presenting this, it can open up a conversation and we can fill in the blanks. 

The GAR was a fraternal organization made up of veterans of the United States Army, Navy and Marines who served during the American Civil War fighting on behalf of the Union. It was founded in 1866 in Springfield, Ill and grew into hundreds of posts across the country, mostly in the North but also some in the South. It was dissolved in 1956 upon the death of its last member, Albert Woolsen (1850-1956) of Duluth, Minn. 

The group was originally formed for camaraderie but later became a powerful political organization, serving as a de facto arm of the Republican party stemming from the Reconstruction Era. The organization integrated white and black veterans and promoted voting rights for black veterans. 

The GAR, under its commander-in-chief, Gen. John Logan, declared May 30 to be Memorial Day (Decoration Day), and called upon its membership to make the May 30 observance an annual occurrence. 

The organization floundered as the Republican party’s commitment to bring reform to the South decreased. Many GAR posts disappeared in the early 1870s. The GAR saw a revival in the 1880s under new leadership that provided a platform for advocating for federal pensions for veterans. The GAR helped elect several U.S. presidents including GAR members Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley. 

Pap Williams GAR Post, Ludington. The Pap Williams post was established in Ludington on May 26, 1880 and existed until Dec. 31, 1927. The name honored Gen. Alpheus Starkey Williams (known as “Pap), a lawyer, judge, and newspaper publisher who served in the Mexican War as a Michigan brigadier general and then served as a brigadier general and brevet major general in the Civil War leading the Michigan II Corps and XII Corps. Following the war, Williams served as minister to Salvador from 1866-1869 then became a Democratic congressman, dying in office in 1878. 

The Ludington post members had requested the name to honor Maj. Gen. Philip Kearny Jr. (1815-1862), who served in the Mexican War and then the Civil War. he was killed in action in 1862 in the Battle of Chantilly. The request was denied because the chapter name already existed. 

The Pap Williams post originally consisted of 23 members. Chauncy Gibbs was the first post commander. Gibbs served as a captain in Co. C, 26th Michigan Infantry and came to Ludington in 1870 where he farmed an orchard on Sixth Street east of Madison Street. 

The post originally met at Fireman’s Hall on Charles Street (Rath Avenue) until the hall burned on Sept. 30, 1881. Its members then met at the council chambers on Charles Street and then various other halls including the K&P Hall on James Street. By 1905 it was meeting at the Mason County Courthouse. 

At one point, the post had 97 members. 

The last post commander was my great-great-grandfather, Henry Quigley, (read about Henry here). Henry died in 1932, five years after the Pap Williams post dissolved. 

The records of the Pap Williams GAR post were transferred during the Ludington Armistice Day ceremony on Nov. 11, 1928 to American Legion Edwin H. Ewing Post #76. The national American Legion was formed by World War I veterans in 1919.

S.D. Haight GAR Post 348, Scottville. The S.D. Haight post was established on May 11, 1886 in Scottville. It was named after Samuel D. Haight (Nov. 16, 1839-Feb. 25, 1880), an attorney who was an attorney and later circuit court judge in Mason County. Haight was born in New York state and later came to Ludington, living in Pere Marquette Township. Haight Street in the City of Ludington is named after him. He enlisted in Co. G, Ninth Calvary as a commissary sergeant in 1863 at the age of 23. In 1864 he was promoted to second lieutenant. In January 1865 he was transferred to Co. A and promoted to first lieutenant, mustering out in Lexington, N.C. on July 21, 1865. 

The S.D. Haight post was located at 120 N. Main St., the southeast corner of Main Street and Broadway Avenue, in the building that most recently was occupied by Cole’s Antique Villa. 

Some of the post commanders of the S.D. Haight post included Thomas Barnes, Henry Jenks, A.J. Kinnie, J.W. Griswold, F. Conrow, H.M. Buty, James Meads, Jesse L. Towns, and W.D. Cowan. 

The last post commander was Col. Fred James Buck (1847-1937). 

I plan to publish a separate biography on Col. Buck in the near future.

In the early 1930s Buck was named the permanent post commander. I currently don’t have information on when the Scottville post dissolved but I am assuming, at this point, that it was in 1937 upon Buck’s death. Hopefully more information will be found. 

Maj. John Piper post, Free Soil. I currently do not have any information on the Free Soil post. It was named after John Piper of Battle Creek. Piper initially joined the First Regiment Michigan Volunteers Co. D but resigned in 1863 to take a position in the newly formed Michigan Sharpshooters. He was killed in action during the Battle of Spottsylvania Court House  (Virginia) on May 13, 1864. 

Honoring the last Civil War Veterans. A May 1933 article in the Ludington Daily News previewed an upcoming Memorial Day ceremony that would be honoring the eight known Civil War veterans remaining in Mason County. Those individuals included: 

Stephen Groves, 95; Henry G. Cole, 92 of Pere Marquette Township; Thomas W. Meers, 84 of Ludington; Col. Fred J. Buck, 85; J.D. Whittaker of Ludington; Calvin P. Stanton of Scottville; Edward Lockard of Scottville; and James Hay of Fountain.  

Monuments. In Mason County two monuments exist honoring the Union Civil War veterans, at Lakeview Cemetery in Ludington and Scottville Brookside Cemetery. They were erected in 1909. The Lakeview monument is surrounded by veterans’ graves, including veterans who served after the Civil War.

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