March 24, 1921 The Civil War, Laid to Rest

As young men, these two had been mortal enemies, each bent on killing the other.  Now as aging veterans, the pair spent their last years exchanging family photographs and wishing the other, continued good health.

The past met the present that April Friday, seven short years ago.  Re-enactors dressed and equipped for another age, leading the hearse carrying twin gold boxes down roads lined with Patriot Guard riders.  There the blue sack coats and slouch hats of another era met the black berets and service caps, the crisp, midnight blue of the ASU, the modern “dress blues” of the United States Army.   There were uniforms new and old, veterans and historians and children and throngs of the curious, with cell phone cameras.

The last veteran of the Civil War was being laid to rest.  That doesn’t even begin to tell the story.

download - 2019-03-24T092425.684

Willis Meadows was nineteen in the spring of 1862, joining his brothers and cousins in Company G of the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry, assigned to the western front along the Mississippi and defending what he would have described as the “War of Northern Aggression”.

On July 1, 1863, the Union armies of General US Grant made the final drive on the “Gibraltar of the Mississippi”, the fortified strong point of Vicksburg.

Meadows watched the oncoming blue uniforms, the sharpshooter sheltered behind the iron boiler plate, picking off his enemy through a hole in the iron.

Peter Knapp was 21 that day, approaching from the east with three other Union soldiers from Company H of the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  Their job was to take out Confederate snipers. Knapp spotted Meadows firing from his shelter and took aim, firing at that peephole. Willis Meadows fell over with blood running down his face, the bullet entering through his eye and coming to a rest, near his brain.

The battle moved on leaving Meadows where he lay. There was no question the man was dead, except, he wasn’t. Federal troops picking up the dead afterward discovered this one, still breathing. Union surgeons probed for the bullet with no success before deciding to quit. Such a procedure was far too dangerous. Meadows was placed on a POW ship and later paroled to a Confederate hospital where he spent the rest of the war, first as a patient and later as nurse’s aid.

Knapp was captured a few months after Vicksburg and held in a number of Confederate POW camps, including the dread hell on earth known as Andersonville.

After the war, Meadows returned to the farm in Lanett Alabama, just over the Georgia state line. He later married though the marriage bore no children and may have died in obscurity, except it wasn’t meant to be.

Knapp farmed for a time in Michigan and married in 1887 before moving to Kelso, Washington.

The decades came and went. The assassinations of three Presidents. The panic of 1893. The War to end all wars. Willis Meadows was seventy-eight this day in 1921, when he began to choke. He grasped his throat with both hands as violent spasms wracked his old body.  The fear that this was the end turned to certainty as the lights began to dim, and then the object flew from his mouth and clattered across the floor.  It was that bullet, lodged in his head nigh on sixty years.

The “Coughs Up Bullet” story was national news in 1921.  Eleven years later, the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” cartoon was published in 42 countries and 17 languages.

tumblr_nlupqst3IF1rd3evlo1_640

Mr. Ripley missed the most surprising part.

The story came and went with the next twenty nine years, until one Henry Kilburn brought a diary to the attention of a Washington state newspaper editor, in 1950.  Seems Kilburn’s family fell on hard times and the Knapp family, childless, adopted Kilburn’s sister, Minnie Mae.

It was Mae Knapp who gave that diary to her brother.  It was Peter Knapp’s diary.

Peter Knapp had seen that story back in 1921 and realized, he had to have been the man who fired that bullet. The pair met months later and compared stories. It was true.  As young men, these two had been mortal enemies, each bent on killing the other.  Now as aging veterans, the pair spent their last years exchanging family photographs and wishing the other, continued good health.

Alice Knapp of Nehalem Oregon was the child of another era, a woman born into the age of DNA who loved to study genealogy.  Alice was investigating her husband’s roots in 2009 when she came upon Peter’s story, now dead some eighty-five years. Inquiring as to where the man had been buried, Alice was stunned to learn that he wasn’t. Even more astonishingly, neither was his wife, Georgianna.  Childless, the cremated ashes of the couple were sitting on a storage shelf, unclaimed and forgotten all those years.

Alice explained, “I felt the ashes had to be buried or at least scattered somewhere.  Not sitting in some storage locker.”

9fddcab78fc6c00a0c0f6a706700357c

In April 2012, CBSnews.com reported:

“The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War performed a ritual for the dead based on a Grand Army of the Republic ceremony from 1873. The funeral also included a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” a bugler…performing “Taps,” and the laying of wreaths. Following a musket salute, a folded U.S. flag was presented to Alice Knapp”.

So it is the last known veteran of the Civil War was laid to rest, only seven short years ago. 151 years to the day, following the Confederate victory at Fort Sumter.

 

A Trivial Matter
In October 1861, William Tecumseh Sherman told US Secretary of war Simon Cameron he needed 60,000 men to defend the Kentucky territory, and 200,000 to go on the offensive. Cameron considered the request “insane” and cashiered the commander, very nearly leading to Sherman’s death by his own hand. General Ulysses S Grant, long rumored to have a problem with alcohol, did not see craziness in the disgraced commander, but a unique sort of quiet competence. Later in the war, a civilian ran his mouth at General Grant’s expense. Sherman came to the defense of his friend and commander, saying “Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other“.

Author: Cape Cod Curmudgeon

I'm not a "Historian". I'm a husband, a father, a son and a grandfather. A history geek and sometimes curmudgeon, who still likes to learn new things. I began writing "Today in History" nearly six years ago, as sort of a self-guided history course.  I told myself I’d write 365, the leap year changed that to 366. As I write this, I believe there are over 600. I make every effort to get my facts straight, but I'm as good at being wrong as the next guy. I offer these "Today in History" stories in hopes that you'll enjoy reading them, as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. Rick Long

3 thoughts on “March 24, 1921 The Civil War, Laid to Rest”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s