Milwaukee’s last Civil War veteran memorialized on his 75th anniversary
The public was invited to a special ceremony presented by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) that honored Milwaukee County’s last living Civil War veteran, Charles L. Blanchard, with a special marker at Forest Home Cemetery on September 17.
Blanchard was a private in Company D of the 40th Wisconsin Infantry, a unit that guarded supply lines around Memphis, Tennessee. He served for four months in 1864 at age 18, and went on to live until the start of World War II at 96 years old.
More than 91,000 men from Wisconsin served in the Civil War, of which 12,000 died. Milwaukee County has 7,600 Civil War graves, and Blanchard was the last veteran to be buried on September 5, 1942.
“Charles Blanchard enlisted in Madison on May 13, 1864. Three Wisconsin units were needed to serve only 100 days. Their work, essentially in the rear lines, allowed more experienced units to do work where it was needed closer to the battlefield, and on the battlefield,” said Tom Mueller, commander of the Milwaukee chapter of Sons of Union Veterans. ”In honor of his service, we have placed a special marker on Charles Blanchardʼs grave noting his status as the last Civil War veteran in Milwaukee County.”
In 1871, Blanchard married and eventually raised a family of two daughters and one son. He went on to start the Standard Paper Company in Milwaukee in 1883. At his tombstone in Forest Home Cemetery, historian Marge Berres explained that from her research she discovered Blanchard had talked about his 1859 trip to the Wisconsin State Fair. It was there he saw an Illinois lawyer named Abraham Lincoln speak about agriculture, in his only trip to Milwaukee before becoming President.
As part of the dedication ceremony, Chaplain Dean J. Collins invoked the Divine Blessing from the traditional tombstone dedication. The ritual is based on what the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) itself used. The very words were repeated many times on the hallowed ground of Forest Home Cemetery in the late 1800s and early 1900s, as old soldiers buried their comrades.
“In this silent camping ground of the dead, we come before you asking your blessing, as we honor the memory of this defender of our country’s honor,” said Chaplain Collins. “We also pray to you to look in mercy upon the widows and orphans of deceased veterans everywhere. Bless and save our country from every evil – which this soldier, and our fathers, fought so hard to do.”
Arthur MacArthur Jr., father of General Douglas MacArthur, served in the 24th Wisconsin Infantry along with the great-grandfather of Chaplain Collins. MacArthur is credited with coining the Wisconsin state slogan “On Wisconsin.” It was his rally cry while leading men up Missionary Ridge at the battle of Chattanooga, a feat he would later receive the Medal of Honor for.
The official Wisconsin history of all Wisconsin Civil War regiments was written by E.B. Quiner, and Senior Vice Commander Billy Cole read what it had to say about Charles Blanchardʼs regiment:
“These troops were placed on picket and railroad guard duty in Memphis, Tennessee, relieving the veteran regiments which were sent into the field. The camp of the 40th was situated in a very unhealthy locality, being on the site of an old camp, and suffered much from sickness. On the 21st of August, a detachment of the Confederate cavalry of Nathan Bedford Forrest dashed into the city before dawn and penetrated all the way to the headquarters of the commanding generals, whom they intended to capture. The 40th Wisconsin was promptly put in line soon after the alarm, and marched through the city at a double quick, and out on the Hernando road, where they were ordered to support a Missouri battery, which was engaged with the enemy. When the rebels retired, the 40th went in pursuit a mile or two.”
Three men in the 40th Regiment were wounded. The top general in Memphis was Major General Washburn, a future Wisconsin governor. In the raid, Washburn was evacuated by his troops and disappeared into the night wearing only his nightshirt. The Confederates seized his uniform but sent it back later. A short, one-way street in downtown Memphis displays the sign “General Washburnʼs Escape Alley” because of the bizarre event involving the Wisconsinite.
Steve Michaels, former commander-in-chief of SUVCW, offered a closing salute for the memorial by saying, “We, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, gather in Forest Home Cemetery in sacred memory of our fathers and their sacrifices. A Soldier cannot leave his post without being properly relieved. Charles Blanchard, you are now relieved, we, the Sons, have the post.”
There are dozens of Civil War veterans at Forest Home Cemetery who do not have a tombstone, or whose tombstone has decayed so badly that is unreadable. The cemetery’s preservation foundation accepts donations for the installation of replacement tombstones.
The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is a volunteer, non-profit, patriotic and educational organization similar to the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and is officially recognized as its legal successor. Founded in 1881 by sons of Civil War veterans, the SUVCW today has over 6,000 members.