Tuesday, June 07, 2011

News---Racially Integrated Grand Army of the Republic Post

An enlargeable copy of this image is available at the link below.

Civil War Mystery: Do you Recognize Anyone In This Photograph?, Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sunday, April 03, 2011

In 1904, Espy members gathered at the Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie for this photo. Now, a woman is hoping to identify the men in this photograph.On a rainy Memorial Day in 1904, Civil War veterans from the Captain Thomas Espy Post gathered in Carnegie, marched about two miles to Chartiers Cemetery and decorated the graves of their comrades. When the rain stopped, sergeants and soldiers stood in their muddied boots on the steps of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie and looked into a bellows camera.

All that remains from that day are the solemn faces of 86 men, a few of whom brought their sons to the gathering. Some wore bowlers or derbies; others donned the kepis they had worn with their uniforms. The names and deeds of the Union Army soldiers and sailors who made up this Grand Army of the Republic post are documented. But matching the names with these marvelous faces requires a diligent researcher like Diane Klinefelter -- with maybe a little help from people like you.

Throughout that Saturday, events will be held at the library and at Carnegie Park, 201 Cooks Lane, Carnegie (15106). Also, the Capt. Thomas Espy G.A.R. Post will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The post is normally open only on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The Espy Post is located in a room in the Andrew Carnegie Free Library, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. All of the April 30 events are free except for the tea, which is $12 per person, and the Civil War Ball, which is $20 per person or $30 per couple. For a listing of activities, locations and times, visit www.carnegiecarnegie.org.

If your ancestors served in the Civil War and lived in Collier, Chartiers, Green Tree, Heidelberg, Mansfield, Scott or South Fayette, Ms. Klinefelter would like to hear from you. Her goal is to identify all 86 men in the picture. "Their enlistment papers gave a physical description but the passage of time is probably the most challenging thing because physical appearance changes over time," said Ms. Klinefelter, Civil War historian and director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library.

Enlistment papers recorded height, weight, hair color and eye color. But those traits aren't much help when descendants come forward with family photos. "It's just challenging because most of them grayed. They are black and white photos so it's difficult to see eye color," she said. Veterans from the James Garfield G.A.R. Post, based in the West End neighborhood of Temperanceville, are also in the picture. Those men gathered at Wabash and Steuben streets before marching to Chartiers Cemetery, said Martin Neaman, a member of a local reenactors' group called the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, Company A. Such parades, he added, often drew crowds of 5,000 people in fine weather.

So far, six of the men have been identified and some of the best clues have come from descendants with family photos. Recently, relatives identified William Walker, Jacob Yeager and Billingsley Morgan. Bill Grinage, 71, of Windgap, identified his great-grandfather, Jonathan Grinage. Two of the Espy post's volunteer docents, Wanda Forsythe Clay and Virginia Forsythe Rye, identified their grandfather, George B. Forsythe, a prominent farmer whose picture also appears in "Memoirs of Allegheny County."

It's easy to spot Mr. Grinage's great-grandfather, Jonathan. He stands out in the center of the third row, distinguished by a light colored hat and a prodigious mustache. The man to Mr. Grinage's immediate right is one of three African-Americans who belonged to this integrated post. But no one would guess by looking at the picture that Jonathan Grinage, the son of a French father and light-skinned black mother, was African-American. In the 1860 U.S. census, he is listed as a blacksmith working in Findlay Township with a wife, Catherine, and one son and two daughters. "People brought him inventions on paper and he would put them together," Bill Grinage said.

Stories about Jonathan Grinage passed through the family. The Civil War sergeant, who lived to the age of 86, recounted his life experiences to his only son, John, and to his grandson, Charles Grinage, a coal miner who was the father of Bill Grinage. "My father was about 12 years old when his grandfather died. He knew his grandfather well," Mr. Grinage recalled. Jonathan Grinage enlisted in the Union Army in 1863 and mustered out in 1865 as a first sergeant. Despite his light skin, he never tried to pass as a white man, which would have been an advantage. "He was black because he said he was black," Bill Grinage said proudly.

Jonathan Grinage was nearly 30 when he joined Company C of the 8th Regiment, which saw action at Olustee, Chaffin's Farm and New Market Heights. On April 9, 1865, "his regiment witnessed the surrender of General Lee at Appomattox," said Mr. Grinage, who owns an 1861 Springfield muzzle loading rifle, which he theorizes may have belonged to his great-grandfather.

On the left side of the picture in front of a flag stands George B. Forsythe. One face away and to his left is his only son, Joseph W. Forsythe, father of Mrs. Clay and her sister, Virginia Forsythe Rye. George B. Forsythe was studying when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted in 1861, joining company B of the 100th Pennsylvania volunteer infantry. An entrepreneur, he earned $1,000 during the war by foraging for apples and selling them to his fellow soldiers, said his granddaughter, Wanda Forsythe Clay of Carnegie. At Spotsylvania, Va., on May 7, 1864, a minie ball lodged in his right hip. As he lay on the battlefield, he asked himself, "George B. Forsythe, are you going to lay here and die or are you going to get up and get help?"

Gripping two long muskets that lay by dead soldiers and, using them as crutches, he managed to stand and hobble off the battlefield to get help. After many months in various hospitals in Fredericksburg, Washington, D.C., and Staten Island, N.Y., he was furloughed to visit his brother, a Presbyterian minister who lived in Montgomery, N.Y. "When he was up in New York, he was released from the Army," Mrs. Clay said.

Then, someone stole Mr. Forsythe's money. "He was so resourceful that he built a raft to come down the Allegheny River from New York. He landed in Pittsburgh. How he got to Finleyville where his mother lived, I don't know," Mrs. Clay said. Mr. Forsythe bought a 90-acre farm in Carnegie; a road that runs through the borough still bears his name. His granddaughters still live in their family's ancestral home, which was built in 1850. On Saturdays, they lead tours of the Espy Post.

Maggie Forbes, executive director of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall, hopes to hear more of these stories, and see more photos. She will ask an expert to compare the family photos to the old group photo. "A facial reconstructionist can take that 1904 photo and compare it with the descendants' photo of the veteran. There are certain things that don't change on a person -- the distance between your pupils. and their ear lobes," Ms. Klinefelter said.

If you believe your ancestor is in the 1904 picture, contact Civil War historian Diane Klinefelter at klinefelterd@einetwork.net or 412-276-3456, ext. 5.

Correction/Clarification: (Published April 5, 2011) A story about efforts to identify members of the Captain Thomas Espy Post, who were photographed on Memorial Day of 1904, gave an incorrect identification for Jacob Yeager. Mr. Yeager stands in the last row, directly below the L in the word Library. He has a mustache and beard and is wearing a hat (photo right). Mr. Yeager enlisted in the Union Army on Feb. 21, 1865, and was a private in Company F, 78th Regiment PA Infantry Volunteers

Text Source: Post Gazette.com

1 comment:

Maggie said...


You tell a compelling story about our compelling Captain Thomas Espy Post and its members.

Maggie Forbes