by Karen Seidel (Revised November 2004)
The Civil War is not a big item in Oregon’s history. The state was a long way from the battlefields, and few Oregonians were directly engaged. Although Abraham Lincoln carried Oregon in 1860, he did not receive a majority of the popular vote, and one-third of Oregon voters chose the pro-slavery Breckinridge/Lane ticket. John Whiteaker, Oregon’s first governor, sympathized with the South and provided no leadership for the Union cause.
The First Oregon Cavalry was nevertheless recruited in late 1861 with the promise that volunteers would be sent east to fight with the Army of the Potomac. This never happened. Federal troops had already been withdrawn from Oregon and Washington to fight in the war, and the War Department recognized that scattered Northwest settlements were vulnerable to both Indian attacks and pro-southern treasonable activities. Therefore, the Oregon Cavalry and, later, the First Oregon Infantry, remained in the Northwest to fight Indians, guard miners and immigrant wagon trains, and quell the forces of disunion. Warren Luckey, Samuel Kerns, and Joseph Myers, Oregon pioneers buried in the Masonic Cemetery, spent their Civil War service in these regiments. Other young men traveled east on their own, joined various state regiments, and distinguished themselves for the Union cause.
Most of the 30 Civil War veterans buried in the Masonic Cemetery are men from the East and Middle West who survived the war, married, found civilian employment, and then crossed the plains to Oregon and settled in Eugene. Some established businesses and became involved in civic affairs. Many were active in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the pre-eminent Union veterans organization and a powerful political lobby in the late 1800s. The GAR’s J. W. Geary post in Eugene also functioned as a fraternal lodge and a charitable society.
These veterans saw action in many significant Civil War engagements. The following profiles give a flavor of their experiences.
At age 19, Willis E. Brown enlisted as first sergeant in the 21st Iowa Infantry. With General Grant heading the Union troops, he fought in the battles of Port Gibson, Champion’s Hill, and Black River Bridge (preparatory to the siege and assault on Vicksburg, Mississippi, in May 1863). He was wounded twice at Black River Bridge. After being appointed first lieutenant, he took part in the siege and capture of Spanish Fort, Alabama (part of the campaign against Mobile). Brown moved to Eugene in 1888 and founded the Brown Lumber Company of Cottage Grove. He also was a director of the Eugene Electric Light Company and the president of the Eugene Loan and Savings Bank.
J. A. Burlingame served in infantry and heavy artillery regiments from the state of Maine. His units fought at Bull Run and Antietam, but their most bloody battle was the assault on Petersburg in June 1864. In that engagement, his regiment sustained the greatest loss of any regiment in any single action in the Civil War. Out of 900 men, 635 were killed or wounded. Burlingame was captured. He was detained first in Richmond prisons and then moved to Andersonville in Georgia.
Conditions at Andersonville were barbaric; 13,000 prisoners died there. Burlingame survived, was eventually exchanged, and hospitalized. He and his wife moved to Eugene in 1891 after living for a number of years in Nevada where he worked for the U.S. mint and served as a a state senator.
According to his obituary Sanford Hydorn “enlisted at his first opportunity when the call was made for the boys in blue.” He served in the 106th New York Infantry and was wounded four times during four years service. His regiment fought in Virginia and Maryland and was part of the Appomattox Campaign: the assault on and fall of Petersburg, the pursuit of Lee and his army, and the final engagement at Appomattox Court House when Lee surrendered. Following the war Hydorn farmed and raised a family in southern Minnesota. He moved to Eugene just a year before his death in 1921.
Born in Germany, Frank Reisner enlisted in the 13th Indiana Infantry at the outset of the Civil War. With less than three weeks of training, his regiment was thrown into the battle of Rich Mountain, West Virginia. It saw action up and down the eastern seaboard, including Fort Sumter, Charleston, siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond, and the battle of Cold Harbor. Reisner took a leave of absence in 1864 to get married; he then returned to the front and was promoted to lieutenant. He arrived in Eugene in 1882 and became very active in the GAR, serving as state commander and in every office at the J. W. Geary post in Eugene. Besides owning a grocery store, Reisner was treasurer of Lane County and of the city of Eugene.
Elias Chapman served throughout the Civil War with the Tenth Iowa Infantry. With Willis Brown, he fought in the battles and siege of Vicksburg. His regiment was part of Sherman’s “March to the Sea, “siege of Savannah”, and “Campaign of the Carolinas” during the final months of the war. It was in Columbia, South Carolina, when the city was captured and burned. Moving to Eugene in 1877, Chapman worked in the lumber business. He was commander of Eugene’s GAR post, organized the “Ladies of the GAR,”and for many years spoke to Eugene’s school children on all patriotic occasions.
Only two Confederate soldiers are known to be buried in the cemetery. Benjamin J. Hawthorne fought throughout the war with the 38th Regiment, Virginia Volunteer Infantry, and was badly wounded in Pickett’s charge during the battle of Gettysburg. He surrendered with what was left of Lee’s forces at Appomattox and walked 100 miles home.
After teaching at various southern colleges, he was invited to join the faculty at Corvallis College where he taught languages, literature, and many courses in the department of horticulture. In 1884, he accepted a position at the University of Oregon and founded the department of psychology. He taught over 30 different courses during his 45-year academic career.
| Soldier rest. Thy warfare is oer.
Sleep that sleep that knows no waking,
Dream of battlefields no more.