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Friday, December 13, 2013

Silas Nichols: Last Civil War Veteran

Silas S. Nichols (1848 - 1945) was Lake County's last surviving Civil War veteran.

Left to right: Civil War veterans Silas S. Nichols (145th Ohio) and Frederick Worth (96th Illinois), photographed by teacher Lee Riley in May 1918.  The veterans are standing on the Townline School grounds at the northwest corner of Yorkhouse and Delany Road in Newport Township. (LCDM 2011.0.226) 

Silas Nichols was born in Sandusky, Ohio, to Joshaway and Shirley Nichols. He enlisted in the 145th Ohio Infantry, Company I at its organization on May 12, 1864. This Ohio National Guard unit enlisted for 100 days service.

Under Colonel Henry C. Ashwell, the 145th Ohio immediately proceeded to Washington, D.C. where it performed garrison duty. In July 1864, when Confederate General Early threatened Washington, the Regiment was constantly under arms. It mustered out on August 23, 1864.

While in D.C. with the regiment, Nichols saw President Lincoln three times. On one occasion, Nichols and several fellow soldiers called on the President at the White House. Lincoln came to his office door to welcome them and shook Nichols' hand.

In 1873, Nichols married Elizabeth C. Helrick (1857 - 1945) in Milan, Ohio. The couple moved to Lake Villa in 1889 and then to Waukegan in 1892 where Nichols worked for the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad as a railroad detective. He remained "special police" for the EJ & E until his retirement in 1920.

Silas and Elizabeth Nichols lived at 506 Poplar Street 
in Waukegan from circa 1905 - 1945. The house was built in 1901. 

On each Memorial Day from 1925 - 1942, Nichols recited the Gettysburg Address at the service in the Waukegan courthouse square. He continued to attend the memorial service, placing a wreath at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument until 1944. Nichols also participated in the procession of "boys in blue" each year in Chicago on Michigan Avenue.

On Memorial Day 1944, Silas Nichols (right) placed a wreath
at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the courthouse square, 
Waukegan. (LCDM 94.34.278)

Silas and Elizabeth Nichols were married for 71 years. They were feted as the longest married couple in Lake County. They credited their happy marriage to "independence for both husband and wife and plenty of give and take."

Silas and Elizabeth Nichols on their 70th wedding anniversary. 
Photo from the Chicago Tribune, March 7, 1943. 

While Silas was active in the Grand Army of the Republic as commander of the Waukegan post and judge advocate of the Illinois GAR, Elizabeth devoted herself to the GAR's Women's Relief Corps.

Each time a Civil War veteran passed away it made the papers. The Chicago Tribune was one of many area newspapers that covered Nichols' death on January 10, 1945.

In 1953, the last verified combat veteran of the Civil War, James A. Hard (1843 - 1953) died; and drummer boy Albert Woolson (1847 - 1956) was the last veteran of the Civil War. After Woolson's death the Grand Army of the Republic was dissolved, since he was its last member. At least three men died after Woolson claiming to be Confederate veterans, but their status was debunked.

In 1945, the Women's Relief Corps applied for a military headstone for Nichols. 
The application (above) was approved by the Adjutant General of Illinois.

Silas Nichols' tombstone at Hickory Union Cemetery, 
Edwards Road, Antioch Township, Lake County, IL.

Carved at the bottom of Silas and Elizabeth Nichols' shared tombstone are the words: "He shook the hand of Lincoln."


Kim@Snug Harbor said...

Really interesting - I always like the Civil War stuff.

Anonymous said...

FYI - John Dumser from Long Grove passed away in 1949, though wasn't living in Long Grove at the time.

December 2010 Long Grove Historical Society Newsletter

Diana Dretske said...

Thanks for the info on John Dumser! He was born in Wheeling, and was residing in Hanover (Kane Co.) when he enlisted. After the war, he moved to Elgin. Would like to know more about his time in Long Grove.

Here is an excerpt from his obituary:

The Elgin Daily Courier-News
December 9, 1949

John S. Dumser dies at 102. One of the last veterans of Civil War, former Elginite, and national figure in the Grand Army.

John S. Dumser, one of the few surviving veterans of the Civil War and for 40 years a resident of Elgin before moving to the west coast in 1900, died shortly after midnight this morning in the Veterans Administration hospital in Oakland, Calif., at the age of 102.

His last visit in Elgin was in 1938, when he stopped here on his way back from the G.A.R. encampment at Gettysburg.

He was born near Chicago Nov. 25, 1847. He enlisted in the Union Army at the age of 16, Feb. 4, 1863, and served throughout the balance of the Civil War with Company K of the 52nd Illinois Infantry.

During the war, he saw rugged service. He was in the bloody battle of Chickamauga Sept. 20, 1863, when the northern commander, Gen. W.S. Rosecrans was defeated by Gen. Braxton Bragg's forces.

After the war, he came to Elgin and in 1868 entered the employ of Elgin National Watch Co., working in the motion room until 1899, when he retired in anticipation of moving to California. It was here that he married Miss Mary Benhan, who died nine years ago at the age of 90.