I was the first to arrive at the cemetery that Sunday morning, a morning that was both clear and cool. Only 10 am, the weekend regulars who normally come to honor a family member, dust off a marker or leave a bouquet hadn’t yet arrived. That was actually nice for us—the members of Tent #10—who gathered that day for just one reason: to honor a man we’d never known, a member of the Union Army who’d served in the American Civil War—a conflict which, had it turned out differently, would have left his descendants and all of us with a very different account in our history books.
But this was Sarah’s day—Sarah Meyer—a Georgia resident who just happens to be the national secretary of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War (DUVCW). She and her husband had been planning the trip from Georgia to Illinois for some time hoping to visit the grave of her great-grandfather Albert Hough Scranton. And this was the day.
It’s not uncommon for heritage organizations and descendant societies to hold graveside ceremonies at the site of a patriot’s grave—Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July. But this was just an ordinary day, a beautiful quiet, Sunday in June when our small group gathered for a simple grave re-dedication organized by Tent President Eileen Curry. A few words, some prayers, a wreath and some silence.
But who was that standing by the grave as we approached—a somber woman in a long black dress with a full, hooped skirt, and a black bonnet covering her head? Beside her was a man–upon closer inspection–a reverend, also in black with a large cross resting on his chest, comforting the woman at his side.
In fact they were Jerome and Jo Ellen Kowalski, a local married couple of nearly 45 years standing—Civil War re-enactors who live for events like these.
Jerome, who in real life is the National Chaplain for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), was garbed to portray a Civil War era man of the cloth to the grieving widow, Sarah Josephine Scranton, portrayed by Jerome’s real wife Jo Ellen. Together the Kowalski’s provided an added touch to what may have otherwise been an unremarkable ceremony for a soldier who obviously deserved more.
Albert Hough Scranton, a Volunteer in the Union Army was born to Elnathan Scranton and Louisa Hough on May 26, 1846, in Concord, Michigan. The family moved there from New York in 1841. Raised in the Universalist Church, Albert’s father was a strong proponent of ending slavery, which apparently rubbed off on his son.
That may be why at the age of just 16 on August 7th, 1862, Albert volunteered to join Co. H 21st Regt., of Michigan’s Volunteer Infantry as a drummer boy. It wasn’t long before he was engaged in his first battle, however. On October 8, 1862, just two months after signing on with the Union cause Albert found himself at the battle of Perryville, Kentucky.
During the winter of 1862, due to a disability, Albert was confined to the hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, and was eventually discharged from the army. According to his great-granddaughter and DUVCW member Sarah Meyer, the family story is that he was actually released for being underage—quite likely considering he was only 16 when he volunteered.
Undeterred, Albert re-enlisted just 13 months later, joining up with Co. E 3rd Regt Michigan Volunteer Infantry on January 18, 1864. Little did he realize at the time what famous conflicts he was about to take part in: Cove Spring, Pony Mountain, the second battle of Chancellorsville, and finally, the battle of the Wilderness, where he was wounded on May 6, 1864. He wasn’t even 18 years of age and had already witnessed so much.
What a heady experience for the young man who’d left home to fight a cause. Two days after his fall at the Battle of the Wilderness, Albert was captured by Confederates with a train full of other wounded Union soldiers but was rescued by his comrades the next day. Due to his injuries, he was transferred to another unit—Co. A 16th Regiment Veterans Reserve Corp—and was confined to a hospital in Philadelphia.
At the end of the war, on July 18, 1865, Albert was discharged from the Union Army at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and returned home to Michigan where he worked as a Hotel Keeper. He married Sarah Josephine Matteson in 1867, who gave birth to their first child, Mary Louise, in 1869.
For a short time the Scrantons lived in Kansas but they soon returned to Concord, Michigan, where their second daughter—Gertrude Frances Scranton, was born in 1876. By 1880 the family relocated again, this time to Medina, Ohio. In 1886 Albert joined the Grand Army of the Republic in that state, a membership he retained when the family moved to Kansas in 1898 and Chicago in 1905.
Albert Hough Scranton, who began his service to the Union Army as a bugle boy at the age of 16 and went on to serve the Union in two additional regiments over the course of 3 years, passed away January 23, 1909, in Evanston, Illinois.
Just one of more than three million—yes, more than three million—young men, who fought in a brutal war more than 150 years ago which, in the end, kept the Union together.
May all of them, both Union and Confederate, finally rest in peace.
Copyright © 2012 Patricia Desmond Biallas