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‘An aged distinction’ Missouri farmer spent many years as area’s sole surviving Civil War veteran

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H/T War History OnLine.

With an estimated 2.75 millions soldiers fighting in the Civil War, there was little that could have distinguished Jefferson City, Mo., veteran Charles Gustav “Gus” Loesch from his brothers in arms. However, his mere endurance to nearly 101 years of age would ensure that his story of service in the Union Army would be preserved for generations to come.

Charles Gustav “Gus” Loesch was raised on a farm near Jefferson City, Mo., and lived to be the oldest surviving veteran of the Civil War from the Mid-Missouri area. Courtesy of Phyllis Erhart

A first-generation American, Loesch’s father, Gustav Wilhelm, immigrated to the United States in 1838 after having served six years in a cavalry regiment of the German military under Prince John VIII. He later chose to lay down roots in Cole County, Mo., and embarked upon a career as a farmer.

“Gustav was especially anxious (to immigrate) as he did not wish to be called into the military services again,” wrote Alvina Erhardt Gottschamer in the book “The Loesch Family in America: 1838-1910.” As troubles continued to develop in their home country, the recently married Gustav Wilhelm also sought a better life in America for his children yet to be born.

Born March 26, 1843, Charles “Gus” Loesch was raised on a farm south of Jefferson City near the Zion community and soon followed in the military tradition of his father. Family records show he became a member of the Union Army on August 12, 1862, while the March 26, 1933 edition of the Daily Capital News noted he “joined up under Major W.H. Lusk, also a Jefferson City man.”

In later years, as Loesch reached the age of ninety years and beyond, several Mid-Missouri newspapers began to chronicle his military service as one of the few, if only, surviving veterans of the Civil War in the community.

Loesch, left, is pictured during his 100th birthday celebration in March 1943 with one of his many relatives, Joe Erhart. Courtesy of Phyllis Erhart

Loesch, left, is pictured during his 100th birthday celebration in March 1943 with one of his many relatives, Joe Erhart. Courtesy of Phyllis Erhart

His military career began with training in St. Louis and assignment to Company G, 10th Missouri Cavalry under the command of Captain Henry G. Bruns of Jefferson City. (Bruns was later wounded during the Battle of Iuka, Miss., and died from his injuries on July 9, 1863, thus earning him the unfortunate distinction as being the first Jefferson City resident killed in the war.)

Private Loesch remained with the regiment and preceded General William T. Sherman in his drive through the South during the war, participating in several major campaigns that he modestly described in the March 21, 1943 edition of Jefferson City Post-Tribune as, “We just started things and let the infantry finish them up.”

“(On) February 26, 1864, Rebels captured Gus in Canton, Mississippi and imprisoned him in Andersonville, Georgia,” wrote Gottschamer, describing the service of her great uncle. “He was released one year, to the day, later, February 26, 1965, and admitted to Hospital Division One in Maryland,” she added.

Mustered out of the service on June 24, 1865, Loesch married Sophia Kingery three years later and the couple went on to raise six children while living on a farm near the rural Cole County community of Hickory Hill.

On his 90th birthday on March 26, 1933, the Daily Capital News printed an interview with Loesch in which he described walking as his “life and health.” In the same article, he also noted that in the previous month he had traveled more than 137 miles by foot and that he “would pine away in a week” if he were unable to continue with his beloved exercise.

The Civil War veteran remained a prominent fixture in Cole County for many years following his 90th birthday, participating in Memorial Day services at the National Cemetery and frequently a distinguished guest at local events in the community.

During a meeting of the Brazito Republicans in the summer of 1940, when Loesch was 97 years old, he told candidate Forrest Donnell that if were elected as the state’s governor in the upcoming election, he wished to be present for his inauguration. Early the next year, Governor Donnell followed through on his promise by reserving a special spot for the Civil War veteran in his inaugural parade.

Weeks later, Loesch’s family held a birthday party for the 98-year-old veteran near the community of Brazito with 300 guests in attendance, including the new governor.

The Sedalia Democrat reported on November 3, 1942, that the 99-year-old Loesch, “perhaps Missouri’s oldest voter,” had traveled “to the polls at nearby Brazito early this morning to keep intact his record of voting in every election since he cast his first ballot for U.S. Grant for President in 1868.”

The veteran clarified his voting history by explaining that he “would have voted for Lincoln when he ran for re-election, but I was in a Confederate war prison at the time.”

With all the accolades and notoriety afforded a local hero, Loesch lived to witness more than 800 persons in attendance at his 100th birthday party held in Brazito on March 29, 1943. Sadly, on March 22, 1944, just four days before his 101st birthday, the veteran passed away, two weeks following the death of his son-in-law, Ira Mulvaney.

Maintaining a vivid recollection of the man she enjoyed visiting as a young girl, Loesch’s great niece stated, “While my grandmother was still living (Loesch’s sister), she would take me to go and visit Uncle Gus,” recalled Gottschamer. “I can remember, as a little girl, attending his 100th birthday party when the governor came.”

Softly, she added, “He was always such a gentle person who never got too worked up about anything … which I always attributed to everything he saw and experienced during the war.”

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.

 

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When East Meets West: The Last Spike of the Transcontinental Railroad

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This is from Mental Floss.

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It was 146 years ago today—on May 10, 1869—that “The Last Spike” was driven into America’s first transcontinental railroad. This Last Spike was made of gold, so anyone could tell it was important, but there was plenty more to get excited about.

WHAT RAILROADS CAN DO FOR YOU

Before the transcontinental railroad, travel from the East to the West Coast took many moons and at least $1,000. If you journeyed overland, bandits and belligerent natives might ravage your wagons, foul weather or unexpected hazards might strand you in mountains, and for any number of reasons—up to and including Divine Wrath—your party might drop from thirst, hunger, or pestilence, leaving bones for strange rodents to gnaw and scatter. If you went by water, the trip would be long and you might get bored, which is a drag.

After the nation-spanning railroad was completed in 1869, a ride from New York to San Francisco could be over in a week, for less than $100.

You would be free to spend the whole trip eating and sleeping in comfort, writing love letters to your mistress, and reading, instead of living harrowing tales of privation and danger. Trade benefited as much as passengers. (Think of all that freight!) Even fresh food could be transported over the rail lines. At last, the coasts were tied together.

So if the transcontinental railroad was such a great idea, why didn’t they build one earlier?

First, the railroad and steam locomotive had to be invented, which didn’t happen until a little into the 19th century. Then, by the time such a project was technologically and logistically feasible, the States were beginning their Great Schism, which would lead to the Civil War; and various North-South debates about the fate of the West, the future of slavery, and the routes of the rails paralyzed negotiations.

THE GREAT RAILROAD RACE

The Civil War actually advanced the transcontinental railroad project, since it freed up the Union to build whatever it wanted without a care for what the Southern grumblers thought. In 1862, then, Congress managed to forge the Pacific Railroad Act, which granted money and land for every mile of rail constructed towards the goal of an East-West connection.

The two companies involved were the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, racing from Omaha and Sacramento, respectively, for as many subsidized miles as they could build before the rails met. (It was a “race” because the total mileage between two points is finite, so an extra mile earned by Union meant one less for Central, and the other way too.) The Union Pacific crews were composed of Irish and German immigrants, Civil War vets, freed blacks, and some Native Americans. The Central Pacific utilized over 10,000 Chinese willing to work for less and in perilous conditions—which was important for Central, since they had to climb and blast their way through the Sierras almost as soon as they left Sacramento.

THE TRACKS MEET AT PROMONTORY, UTAH

utah-coin.gifCongress made the fool’s mistake of assuming some motivating rationality on the part of the railroad companies, and not just base greed, so they didn’t dictate just how, when, or where the rails must meet. When Central and Union crews ran into each other in northern Utah, instead of merging the lines right away, they set off building miles of parallel grading, with each company hoping to acquire more mileage and thus more of the reward money. With a kind of paternal exasperation, then, Congress had to set a junction point; and they chose Promontory, Utah—a little tent town of railroad workers and prostitutes just north of the Great Salt Lake.

PRECIOUS METALS AND RAILROAD FAT CATS MAKE GOOD NEWS

Since the meeting of the rails was such a meaningful (and publicized) national event, everyone considered it fit to celebrate with extravagant ceremony. Of course, extravagance ought to involve precious metals whenever it can, so four precious spikes were donated to adorn the last tie. There was an iron, silver, and gold spike from Arizona; a silver spike from Nevada; one gold spike from the San Francisco News Letter; and the crowning spike of gold from David Hewes, a friend of Central Pacific magnate Leland Stanford (who was also founder of the University).

Hewes’ spike was the first to be made, and it inspired the rest. Hearing of the grand event, Hewes was initially disappointed at a lack of symbolic (and precious metal) objects donated for the ceremony, so he got the ball rolling himself. Hewes ended up having $400 worth of his own gold, from his own hoard, cast into a spike, each side of which was engraved: two with names, one with dates, one with the motto “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great Oceans of the world,” and the head with a simple statement: “The Last Spike.”

It was not, in fact, the last spike. The precious ceremonial spikes were carefully tapped into a ceremonial tie with a ceremonial silver hammer.

When the dignitaries (Stanford of Central Pacific and Thomas Durant of Union Pacific) tried real hammer swings to seal the deal, they both missed.

One spike was rigged with telegraph wires, so the whole nation could hear the blows of the hammer—something like a “live” broadcast, but with telegraph instead of television, and no commercials—and the publicists made sure to give this one a few good dings. Adding to those taps, a single-word telegram was sent out around the States: “Done.” And the nation rejoiced, from coast to coast. But after all the pomp was accomplished, the special spikes and tie were torn up and some unknown railroad workers drove regular iron spikes into a regular tie to complete the transcontinental railroad.

THE VERDICT?

The San Francisco News Letter reported, “Never before in our history as a nation has occurred an event in the celebration of which all could participate so heartily, and with so little of mental reservation.” Most spokesmen shared the sentiment. Trouble was, the Chinese laborers had just rioted, other workers had held Durant hostage in his palatial train car while demanding unpaid wages, and of course that last telegraph spelled little but “Doom” to the Native Americans, who were further compressed by the States’ new belt and surely had one or two mental reservations about that.

All in all, it was a strange and potent spectacle, with the golden spike at its center—a scene that might symbolize much more about the many-sided America than those simple and straightforward ideals of Industry and Progress.

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