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Remembering this Memorial Day

by Lois Allen

This coming weekend Americans look forward to a day off and the launch of summer when we celebrate Memorial Day. But the holiday is more than gathering together to barbecue and spend time with friends and family. It’s more than Memorial Day sales.

The Cedar Springs Post honors the holiday by remembering our heroes who traveled far from home to foreign countries to fight for the rights of people abroad and to secure democracy. Our center pages are filled with the names of our veterans who served but are no longer with us. We will never forget them, their service and their sacrifice. Each year, on this week, we salute them. We remember them. Click here to download this year’s tribute.

Often the paper also features a veteran from our area in appreciation of their service and in an effort for our readers to get to know them and thank them.

This year, The Post is featuring a young solider who fought on our soil to keep the states united in one union and to make sure that all men, women and children who lived here would be free. That young soldier does not rest here in Cedar Springs but on the East Coast in Pennsylvania. He was my great, great grandfather, John Dominique Vautier, born on November 25, 1843 in old Passyunk Township, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

At the tender age of 17, and with the permission of his mother, John Vautier (on my mother’s side) enlisted into the Union Army September 10, 1861.

According to writings included in a three year diary that followed his enlistment, it reads, “For the next three years John endured the honor and glory, the suffering, and pain of war. During this period John kept daily diaries from which later was used as notes for a book. The book is titled, “The Collective Works of John D. Vautier which included “The History Of The 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers In The War For The Union” as well as various newspaper articles and “The Unedited Personal Diary Of John D. Vautier”.

In the original hardcover bound copy of the hand-written version of private Vautier’s diary is a letter included, dated October of 1983, from the Department of the Army, U.S. Army History Institute that read, “This volume is a copy of the Civil War diary of John D. Vautier of the 88th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. The original diary was donated to the U.S. Army Military History Institute by his granddaughter [my aunt] Mrs. Ruth LeDuc on behalf of his descendants.

Through this generous donation, this important and informative historical source will be available to historians and researchers who come to the Institute. Civil War historians have long benefitted from studying John Vautier’s published history of the 88th Pennsylvania. Now they will also be able to study his actual wartime account. They will welcome this opportunity, and the Institute values the privilege of being the means for affording them access to the diary.

…On behalf of the Institute and of the many people who study our holdings, we express our gratitude for the generous donation of the Civil War diary of John Vautier, patriot-soldier of America.”

Signed, Richard J. Sommers, Archivist-Historian.

Following is an exert from the first few pages…

Philadelphia Sept. 13 1861

John writes; “War has been declared. Our armies are marshaled for the contest. President Lincoln has called for 300,000 men to sustain his authority to protect the old flag and the men of the North are leaving their homes….”

Striking Tents at Camp Stockley

Saturday, October 5, 1865  

“Went up in the morning to market with Mother then I went down to Gordyer’s and bought me a gun. I then came back bid Mother, Aunt Louise, Aunt Ann, Oliver and the rest of the Market people “good-bye” and proceeded out to camp. Received orders to strike tents. At the first tap of the base drum we prepared our tents. At the 2nd tap took up the pins and the 3rd tap they all came down at once.

We then fell in line and the head of the column were put in passenger [train] cars – but us poor Yankees in the rear had to foot it up the dusty old road – for there were an insufficient number of cars.

It was a dusty old tramp. Dust to the right of us – dust to the left of us and dust all over us and by the time we halted near the Pass. R R. Depot, we were a dusty old crowd we were.

We then fell in and proceeded by our Silver Cornet band of 24 pieces we marched down the Ridge Platoon front. Went down to Broad to Green St. ….3rd to Washington and there partook of a substantial meal at the Refreshment Saloon. Fell in again  and tramped out to the Depot and took the cars at 9:00 p.m. I bid farewell to Philadelphia and to my friends who had followed me to see me off.

The old engine puffed and snorted  and soon the Quaker City was left behind and all it contained.

Little did I think as the cars rattled light hearted me away that when I would see Philadelphia again that I would be 21 instead of 18 – and that I would have passed through a dozen scenes of frightful carnage and bloodshed and we came home sick and wounded and careworn – a solider by experience and not by profession only.”

Along with his gun as well as pen and paper, John would document every day and every battle he experienced and participated in. Included in this issue is a list of battles fought. Some won by the north or (Yankees) and some won by the south (Johnny Rebs). The events he captured onto the pages of his diary are sometimes benign giving the weather of the day and other events of being a soldier at war while other pages depict a bloody and horrific account that can only be described as disturbing at best.

This book has been reprinted and is also available online at several different web sites. We only have enough page space to highlight one battle… He was present and wrote about his account of the Battle at Gettysburg; one of the most documented and famous of battles in the Civil War. But each and every battle was bloody and violent with loss of life and limb. However, this battle at Gettysburg was simply too graphic to run. Something that could only forever remain in a young man’s memory despite any attempts to forget.

In this issue we are reprinting the account of the battle of Cold Harbor June, 1864.  Again, this is disturbing material, so be aware.

John Dominique Vautier and the 88th Pennsylvania Volunteers fight for the Union

John Dominique Vautier was born on November 25, 1843, in old Passynk Township, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in a long-hip roof house, situated on the south side of Passyunk Avenue, just above where the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks cross the avenue. John was the youngest son of Peter Vautier and Sarah Young, he had two brothers, Charles and William and two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary Ann.

John’s family were truck farmers. When John was about 15 years old his work was to go to market with his mother, who had a stall at No. 84 Callowhill Market. John recalled how sleepy he was getting up between 2:00 AM and 4:00 AM to go to market, but there was no help for it. When he was home his chores were milking the cow, carrying the coal, shutting the chicken house as well as other duties.

John’s earliest recollections were of attending the Baptist Church on Passyunk Avenue west of Broad Street, where his mother and father were members. As a young child John was resolved that he would join the church as soon as he was old enough. Throughout his life John was an active member of the church serving in many capacities.

In 1860 John’s father Peter Vautier took sick, and after an extended illness from congestion of the lungs died. John described his father as “a kind man, tall, smoother-faced, iron gray hair and 58 years old when he died.

As John describes, “I now come to the most eventful and exciting part of my life, my service as a soldier in the United States Army for the war for the Union. In 1860 the muttering of war resounded thru the country, and I well recollect the excitement that the firing on Fort Sumter caused in Philadelphia. I didn’t think much about the war just then, but as the war grew apace and the military spirit affected the boys and young men, I was a willing victim. I coaxed my mother to let me enlist, but she would not consent for some months.”

“In July 1861, The Battle of Bull Run was fought, and the papers were full of the horror of the sufferings of the wounded on the battlefield. My mother gave me the paper to read, and said to me I don’t think you will want to go to the war after reading all that. After I read it all, I said “Mother, now I must go, the country needs the service of every young man now, and I resumed my importance until she gave a reluctant consent. I may say here that if my mother had kept me home I should never have forgiven her, as I look upon the next three years of my life as the most important, because given to the support of the Government when support was the only thing I could give. I was little pass 17, and my mother had the right to keep me home.”

“Having now gained permission, I cast about to get into a good company, and hearing about a company of Christian volunteers, composed of young men from various churches, I search them out and resolved to join them. There was one company at Franklin and Buttonwood Streets N.W. Corner, 2nd floor, being recruited by Captain Moore, to be assigned to the Cameron Light Guard Regiment, Col. G. P. McLean. September 10, 1861, I enlisted.”

For the next three years John endured the honor and glory, the suffering, and the pain of war. During this period John kept daily diaries from which he later used as notes for this book. John was wounded by shrapnel from artillery fire during the battle of Cold Harbor. In June 1864 he was sent to an army hospital in Philadelphia, where he was able to see his family and friends. He returned to his regiment where he remained until September 18, 1864 when he was mustered out of Uncle Sam’s service.

Later on, John traveled around visiting many Civil War sites. He would give magic lantern lectures on the war to many different groups. He served on the Gettysburg Monument Committee with General Wagner, Colonel Beath, General Gile and Colonel G.E. Wagner. Also, John met General Sheridan and shook his hand. In 1892 John went to Washington then to Alexandria to the reunion of the 88th Regiment. The next day John gave an oration at the Soldier’s Cemetery, which was published in the newspapers. After that he participated in a Grand Army Parade of over 75,000 men in line, where he carried the flag of the 88th Regiment. Then finally on September 26, 1894, after many years of labor writing the book, John received the first installment of 200 books of the History of the 88th Regiment. This book cost him over $1,000.00 for the 500 printed copies, but the boys of the regiment were delighted with the book.

John Vautier died on April 30, 1912 at the age of 68 years, 5 months and 5 days.

Battle of Cold Harbor

Chapter XXIII

From Cold Harbor to Petersburg: June 1 to 16, 1864

June came in hot, dry and dusty: the sun scorching hot, the country dry and the roads dusty. The Army of the Potomac was in the woods and thickets around Cold Harbor, within two hours’ march of the Confederate capital, gradually feeling its way toward the enemy.

At nine a.m., on the 1st the brigade cautiously advanced towards Richmond, the batteries shelling the woods in front; in reply, the Confederate cannon opened a quick fire, their projectiles tearing through the trees over the swaying lines of men, as they very carefully pushed towards the enemy’s position. Upon passing through a thick strip of timber their lines were in plain view, not a thousand yards distant, heavy columns of infantry moving in rear of their breastworks towards our left. About noon the confederate skirmishers made a break for the regiment, but were easily repulsed, and at three o’clock the brigade advanced again, stopping every few hundred yards to throw up breastworks.

The mortality of battle and the sickness incident to so continuous and severe a campaign had told fearfully on the ranks of the regiment, scarcely 150 men being present. Every day some comrades fell in battle, little noted by the world, but greatly missed by their companions as well as by the loved ones at home, and yet the handful of survivors – a mere fragment of a regiment-marched and fought, wondering who next would fill a soldier’s grave or be carried to the hospital disabled and incapacitated from making a living in the future.

On June 2nd we built more works, with traverses for protection from cross-fire; the enemy’s artillery taking the line in flank and his sharp-shooters in front, it dangerous to raise the head higher than the works. A member of the 11th Pennsylvania, while jesting with some of our boys, incautiously looked over the cap log, when a rifle-ball pierced his brain and he fell back dead. Orders to move were expected at any moment, and not wishing to leave the body lying there, his comrades dug a shallow trench and buried him, and within a half-hour were sitting on his grave, speculating as to who would be the next to fall. The boys left the dead soldier, not alone in his glory, for there where hundreds of new-made graves in the trail of the arm, occupied by the boys in blue,-

Lying so silent by night and by day,

Sleeping the years of their manhood away.

June 3, 1864, was a beautiful day, one that would been much enjoyed if our Southern friends had let us alone; but they were most disagreeable people, and consequently made our lives very unhappy, pitching cannon-balls at us in the most reckless manner. *John Keller said that they ought to be arrested, and volunteered to send Jim Hague, John Williams, and Boocock over to bring them in; but the proposition was vetoed, though Charley McKnight said he would lead the gang.

On June 5, we marched from Bethesda Church to Cold Harbor, being placed in reserve behind the 18th Corps, and remaining here until the 11th, when the brigade moved to near Bottom Bridge, on the Chickahominy. Crossed that stream and formed line of battle at White Oak Swamp on the 13th, at which place the enemy made a fierce attack, but was shaken off at all points. While under this fire the regiment suffered an irreparable loss in the death of its leader, Captain George B. Rhoads, who was killed by a single shot or shell. He was one of the bravest officers in the service, greatly beloved, and his untimely death was regretted by every man in the regiment. He doubtless had a presentiment of his fate, as for some days prior to his death he often read his Bible and gently rebuked any one using profane language in his presence. When Comrades Wallace and Street raised his bleeding body, they found his Testament in his pocket. With sad hearts the boys dug a shallow trench, and tenderly laid to rest the mortal remains of as brave a soldier as ever followed the colors through this terrible war.

No useless coffin enclosed his breast,

Nor in sheet nor in shroud we wound him;

But he lay, like a warrior taking his rest,

With his martial cloak around him.

  • During one of these intermittent ball matches at Cold Harbor the writer received an ugly gash in the hand from a fragment of shell, and had all the glory there is in bleeding for one’s country without much physical harm, as probably his feelings were hurt more than his hand. If he has not done so before, he desires to apologize now to the too-confiding comrades who generously intrusted him with about a score of canteens to fill with pure water, and who lost them in his rapid change of base to the friendly shelter of the breastworks, after the shell overtook him. If there is any blame to be scored against anybody for this loss, he wants it chalked to the account of the bad man on the other side of the line who sent the shell, and not against him. He probably forgot to gratefully thank his messmates for their sympathetic advice to “keep a stiff upper lip,” and other like comforting expressions which were possibly not rightly appreciated at the time. At any rate, these thanks can go with the regrets for the tins, and will probably square the account.

On June 7, our old comrades composing the 9th New York bid the brigade farewell and left for the quieter and more congenial scenes in Gotham, their three years’ service having expired. The 9th (83d of the line) was an exceptionally good regiment and had a record for reliability second to none. It entered the campaign on May 4 with 515 men, and had lost 257 killed and wounded, 98 going home under command of Colonel Chalmers and the recruits being transferred to the 97th. Colonel Moesch was killed the Wilderness and buried under the supervision of Chaplain Roe. In 1887, Captain George A. Hussey, the historian of the 9th, had his body removed and reinterred at Fredericksburg, his memory being perpetuated by an elegant and appropriate monument erected by his comrades. When his remains were disinterred there were found in the grave one pair of boots in pieces, some fragment of cloth, the buttons from his uniform, and the bullet that killed him, which had been placed under his head. Truly, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

With the action at White Oak Swamp ended this stage of the campaign, the army now being transferred to the vicinity of Petersburg. During the forty days from the 5th of May to the close of the campaign on the Chickahominy the stubborn, steady and sanguinary charter of the fighting had been unprecedented in the history of this country. In that time Grant had lost in killed, wounded and missing upward of 54,000 of his bravest soldiers, and Lee over 32,000. Such havoc is appalling and has often been remarked that this loss was useless, that the army might have been safely and speedily conveyed south of the James without the sacrifice of a single life. The writer [John Vautier] wishes to express his humble opinion on this point, being satisfied that it is worth as much as any other, and if the reader does not like it he can form one of his own; that opinion is, that General Grant pursued the correct and only route and adopted the surest means of ending the rebellion. Richmond was not the true objective of the Union army. So long as Lee’s army remained intact, the fall of Richmond, important as it was, would not have ended the war. That army, therefore, was the true objective, and if it could be destroyed or its power of resistance seriously impaired by heavy and continuous hammering, the solution of this difficult problem would be easily reached. Of course the frightful loss of life is sad to contemplate, and no one feels that more keenly than the soldier who marched and fought in this dreadful contest, and who mournfully buried so many gallant comrades wherever the lines were formed. But war means mangled bodies and gaping wounds, ruined homesteads and blighted households, hospitals filled with the sick and wounded; nevertheless, it had to be fought out; the bitter cup had to be drained even to the very dregs, and then the fratricidal contest ceased. When General Grant assumed command he bent all his energies to the destruction of Lee’s army, and he fought it out on that line, though it took all summer and winter, too.

So much for the overland campaign.

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