Old Soldiers in Devils Lake
In the Devils Lake Cemetery stands a historical monument that seems straightforward, but there is a bit of mystery surrounding it. The type of monument is typical: it is a memorial, its legend says, “Erected to the Memory of the Soldiers and Sailors of 1861-1865.” Also emblazoned on the monument are the motto-words of the Grand Army of the Republic, “Loyalty,” “Charity,” and “Fraternity.”
This is a Grand Army of the Republic monument similar to others across the country’s northern states (the southern states instead have monuments erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy). Atop the monument stands at parade rest a vigilant infantryman wearing a winter overcoat and carrying equipment typical of the early years of the Civil War, including an 1842 Springfield musket. I have these details courtesy of Den Bolda, a Civil War re-enactor who knows about such things.
Den was one of my fine seminar students at NDSU, and despite his talent and expertise, he ran into a problem researching the history of the GAR monument in Devils Lake. It was a basic problem for a historian: there are no records.
As the frontier community of Devils Lake crystallized on arrival of the Northern Pacific railroad in 1883, present among its enterprising citizens were many union veterans, from across the country. They sought fraternity by forming Grand Army of the Republic Camp General Crook #33.
As Den points out, GAR chapters kept careful records of their business and activities. In 1948, the old Civil War soldiers mostly gone on to the great encampment in the sky, the records of Camp Crook #33, and those of the GAR Cemetery Association, were passed to the City of Devils Lake, along with the cemetery the veterans had established around the monument. Never properly housed, the GAR records were lost to water damage and rodents. All that survived were the articles of incorporation of the DAR cemetery and the document transferring jurisdiction to the city.
Fortunately, soldier monuments are made of things like granite, which survives better than paper, but is sometimes less informative. The monument bears no indication of when it was built. Judging by Den’s evidence, I’d say it was emplaced after 1891, and not much later than 1900.
As memory of the Civil War veterans faded, their memorial cemetery was rededicated to commemorate all veterans: those of the two world wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Operation Desert Storm. Maybe they just forgot about the Spanish War. The expansion of the war memorial was largely the idea of Korean War veteran Balzer Kurtz, a long-time Devils Lake city commissioner.
Gathered around the original DAR monument, however, are the old comrades at rest. Here lies Private Alonzo Bartlett of the 35th New York Infantry, who saw heavy combat with the Army of the Potomac in Virginia. Here lies Private Martin Bennett, who campaigned with Grant at Shiloh and Vicksburg and marched with Sherman to the sea. Here lies Private Henry Day of the 4th California Infantry, who probably never heard a shot fired in anger. In all there are twenty-nine marked graves of Civil War veterans, eleven of them with simple but informative white headstones, the others possessing only modest bronze GAR markers.
I’d like to know when the soldier monument was made and learn more about it, but in the end, I suppose, it is these honored dead of flesh we are supposed to remember, and not their monument of granite.