The Grand Army of the Republic (often known by its abbreviation, GAR) was an organization of U.S. Civil War veterans who had served for the Union. In existence from 1866 through 1956, it peaked in 1890 at over 400,000 members and 7,000 posts. The GAR scheduled meetings and other gatherings for members, provided charitable donations to the needy, supported the construction and maintenance of Civil War memorials and sites, and became a powerful political lobbying group. In 1868, the group’s commander-in-chief initiated an observance known as Decoration Day, which we still commemorate today as Memorial Day.
Objects in museum collections often tell rich stories—but sometimes you have to search for them.
A few months ago, The Henry Ford’s staff came upon an intriguing object in our collection—a late 19th century painting of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade Monument in Gettysburg, Penn. In this painting, the figure of a soldier at the top of the monument gazes out over the field where this famed Civil War unit fought fiercely on July 3, 1863, helping to assure Union victory on the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Detail of Jessie’s signature on the Michigan Cavalry Brigade Monument painting.
We thought this painting would be a perfect choice for our upcoming Civil War Remembrance Weekend in Greenfield Village! The theme of this year’s display of objects from The Henry Ford’s collection was Michigan Soldiers in the Civil War. And 2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg.
Yet we knew virtually nothing about the painting—how could we tell its story to our visitors? The signature of the artist provided an intriguing clue. It read “Jessie C. Zinn/Gettysburg Pa.” But who was Jessie Zinn? And why did she choose this subject to paint?
Our search for answers to these questions took us from internet sources like Ancestry.com to places like Gettysburg and Williamsport, Penn., and Dallas, N.C. Along the way, we found helpful librarians and museum curators who provided information and gave us further leads for our search. To our great surprise, one of these leads put us in contact with Jessie’s grandson, Lawrence Lohr! Even more surprising, Mr. Lohr lived only about 30 miles from The Henry Ford.
It was exciting for The Henry Ford’s staff when Mr. Lohr paid us a visit to view his grandmother’s painting in mid-April. We had managed to learn quite a bit about Jessie in the previous couple of months. But Mr. Lohr shared photos of Jessie and rich stories that could only have come from family.
Here are some of the things we learned about Jessie Zinn.
Jessie had a very personal connection to the Battle of Gettysburg—she was born on a farm near the town the day after the battle! From 1868 through 1876, Jessie’s father ran a store in Gettysburg. The Zinn family then lived on an Adams County, Penn., farm for a few years, returning to Gettysburg by the late 1880s. Jessie moved to Dallas, N.C., in September 1890, where she served as head of the art department at Gaston College for Girls. Here, Jessie met Luther Lohr, a professor at the college, whom she married in July 1891 in Gettysburg. Luther then attended the Lutheran seminary in Gettysburg, graduating in 1894.
Jessie and Luther Lohr with their children, 1905. (Image courtesy of Lawrence Lohr)
In the early 1900s, Jessie and her young family—children Minnie, Lawrence, Elida, and Edmund—lived in Williamsport, Penn., where Luther served as minister at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Jessie Zinn Lohr died in Williamsport in 1905 of a kidney ailment. Then Jessie came back “home” to Gettysburg, where she was buried in the family plot in Evergreen Cemetery.
But what of Jessie’s evocative painting of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument? A number of the surviving veterans of this brigade, also known as the “Wolverine Brigade,” were present at the dedication of the monument on June 13, 1889. Jessie Zinn likely created this painting of the monument soon after.
Did a proud Michigan Cavalry Brigade veteran ask the 26-year-old Gettysburg artist to paint it? Did Michigan veterans commission the artwork to hang in their local Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R) Hall? And, if so, how did the client find out about Jessie’s skill as an artist? We don’t yet know. But we do know that Jessie painted one other Gettysburg battlefield scene of monuments near where Pickett’s Charge took place. And Jessie’s brother Merville ran the Gettysburg Hotel. Could a visiting Michigan veteran have seen that painting hanging in the hotel and then asked the Jessie to create one of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade monument? An interesting idea to ponder.
If you come to the Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village on Memorial Day weekend, you will see Jessie’s painting on exhibit in the Pavilion. And perhaps stand in the shoes of the unknown individual--Michigan Civil War veteran or not—who, by commissioning this painting, desired to have a tangible reminder of the valor and sacrifice of the Michigan Cavalry Brigade’s men to gaze upon.
Did you know that Henry Ford’s uncles fought in the Civil War? In fact, John and Barney Litogot served with Michigan’s most celebrated regiment, the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, part of the famed “Iron Brigade.”
The Litogot Children
John and Barney were Henry Ford’s mother’s brothers. But the four Litogot children spent only their earliest years together—both of their parents had died by 1842. So the young Litogots, who also included oldest brother Saphara, were divided among friends or relatives. The youngest child, 2-year-old Mary (Henry Ford’s mother), was adopted by Patrick and Margaret Ahern, a childless couple living on a Dearborn, Mich., farm. While all the Litogot children found homes in Wayne County, they likely saw each other infrequently as they were growing up.
Off to War
The Litogot brothers, 27-year-old John and 24-year-old Barney, enlisted in the 24th Michigan in the summer of 1862. John went as a paid substitute for another man. Barney left a wife and infant son. Soon after the Litogots joined up, the brothers headed to a photographer’s studio to pose together in uniform. When Barney and John left Detroit with their regiment for Washington. D.C., the 24th was briefly assigned to aid in the defense of the nation’s capitol. By mid-December, their unit was at Fredericksburg, Va., preparing for battle.
John Litogot’s first battle was also his last. He was killed on Dec. 13, 1862, the second day of the battle of Fredericksburg, hit by a cannonball when the 24th came under attack from Confederate artillery. John was buried where he fell, and later moved to Fredericksburg’s national cemetery.
Barney continued to serve with the 24th through Chancellorsville, Gettysburg (where he was wounded in the arm), the Wilderness (where he received a hand wound), Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. At war’s end, one of his regiment’s last duties was to serve as honor guard at Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in May 1865.
During “Michigan Day at Gettysburg” on June 12, 1889, survivors of the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry gathered at on the Gettysburg battlefield to dedicate their regiment’s monument. Then they posed for a photograph with the monument. But Barney is not pictured among those veterans, having died of tuberculosis in 1873.
So where was Henry Ford during the Civil War? Henry was born on his family’s Dearborn farm on July 30, 1863, about four weeks after his uncle Barney fought at Gettysburg. Henry never knew his uncle John, who lost his life at Fredericksburg the December before Henry was born.
Last Saturday and Sunday was the second annual 1812 Muster at Greenfield Village, and it did not disappoint. Having enjoyed the event last year, we were eager to see what the second year brought.
For visitors familiar with the very large Civil War encampment and muster that is part of the Civil War Remembrance weekend, this event is on a smaller scale but still chock full of fun and information.
The Porches and Parlor district of the village was bustling with activity. The living quarters for the reenactors – aka tents – were set up on stretch of green between a few of the historic homes. Throughout the district, there were demonstrations and merchant tents that gave us a glimpse of life in the early 1800s.
We enjoyed visiting the merchant tents. The millinery was an active spot with many hats to try. There was a men’s hat maker, pewterer, a textiles’ seller and a wax portrait artist.
My six-year-old daughter Lillian was completely taken with the beautiful wax portraits displayed and made by Donna Weaver. Ms. Weaver gave Lillian a business card so we could look at some more of the portraits online. Throughout the day, Lillian clutched that card, calling it her “ticket” to the Internet. We’ve since visited and admired the work on the site three or four times.
We spent the most time in the surgeon’s tent. The presenter was so well informed and had a large display of instruments, tinctures and other treatments that would have been used during the War of 1812.
My children and others were eager to enlist and participate in the children’s recruitment.
After receiving their enlistment papers, new recruits were ordered to visit the doctor who would declare if they were fit for duty.
Once they passed medical inspection, recruits were issued their muskets and some instructions.
It was a perfect day to learn some early 19th-century military drills.
In addition to all the good stuff outside, the Luther Burbank Birthplace was repurposed into a display venue for some rarely seen artifacts of the era that are part of the collections at The Henry Ford.
Items displayed included muskets and military artifacts, clothing, needlepoint and artwork and other household items.
Rounding out events were lectures, period music, a fashion show and cooking demonstrations.
We’ve seen some excellent reenactments and military drills for that conflict when visiting Mackinac Island, which is always interesting. But I will say, there is something so engaging to me when ordinary folks take a break from 2011, pack up their treasures and come together to set up a camp and participate in little muster on the side. This truly is an example of history coming alive. And as a family, we continue to be inspired and learn so much from it.
The campsites and demonstrations were set up near the Porches and Parlors area of the village and were quite modest compared with some of the campsites we’ve seen at the Civil War encampment. The fact is, there are many more organizations and groups that come together to take part in Civil War reenactments. There isn’t quite the network of 1812 reenactments, but after talking to some of the participants, the numbers appear to be increasing. Most of the participants hail from the Midwest, one of the primary theaters of the war.
My nine-year-old son, Henry, enlisted as a soldier. Again. It was his second enlistment this week.The doctor at the encampment quizzed Henry on his heath and physical capabilities, after passing that, the enlistment officer gave him his papers. He was then issued a musket.
The Captain who trained the new recruits was really fun. The kids enjoyed his instructions and sound effects as they learned the procedure for (pretend) loading their (pretend) muskets. Actually, just watching most of them figure out left from right was entertaining. A ragtag group to be sure.
And. (Drumroll, please). There was a canon. We always look forward to the canon. That demonstration was also up near the Porches and Parlors, so we got a good close look. And boy was it was loud. Ear-plugging, heart-thumping loud. Henry loved every minute of it, and by the expressions of the bystanders, he wasn’t the only one.
With my daughters, I admired the Grecian-inspired women’s fashions of the late Federal era. In comparison with the corsets and layer upon layer of garments of the Civil War times, these walking dresses seemed almost practical. (At least they could fit through a doorway.) Although some women at the encampment were dressed in fine silk fabrics, most were wearing muted lightweight cottons. If you’re a Jane Austin fan, the Federal era in the U.S. is similar to the Empire style clothing in England with high waists and long flowing skirts. If you like Emma, you’ll love these gowns.
I asked a few participants what first inspired them to take part in these kinds of events. Some were reenactors for other time periods, the Civil War, colonial times and the Revolutionary War. Others had family that reenacted. We met a pewter smith who started collecting metal forms 40 years ago but only recently decided to participate at events like the one in the village. It was his second. He had some beautiful buttons, spoons, coins and other various items.
I met Chuck LeCount who came from Rochester, New York, to participate. Chuck was just 15 when he decided he wanted to participate in reenactments for the Revolutionary War, he talked his parents into it and continues the tradition with his wife and son, Wilson. Wilson also drums for a fife and drum corp. Turns out, Chuck is a director for the Genesee Country Village and Museum near Rochester. It has a large historic village much like Greenfield Village, complete with teams. His interest in living history as a teen led him to a profession he obviously loves. (I’m sure not unlike so many of the folks who work at The Henry Ford.) Meeting him made me take more seriously my son’s comments when we left the event, “Okay, mom, that seals it. I’m doing that. No matter what.” Maybe this wannabe will end up becoming a reenactor after all. Inspired once again at The Henry Ford. Hmmm. Stay tuned.