Military Monday: Abram F. Springsteen and the Grand Army of the Republic

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"The Hoosier Drummer Boy," Abram F. Springsteen, 15 Oct 1861
“The Hoosier Drummer Boy,” Abram F. Springsteen, 15 Oct 1861. Family photo.

Helbling Family, Springsteen Family (Click for Family Tree)

Abram F. Springsteen (1850-1930) was considered by many to be the youngest regularly enlisted Civil War soldier, and his picture as a drummer boy was in a museum stating this fact. Mary T. (Helbling) McMurray remembered seeing it when she went to Indianapolis, Indiana, as a young girl, for the funeral of her maternal grandmother, Anna Missouri (Springsteen) Beerbower. Anna was Abram’s older sister, but he had predeceased her, so Mary never got to meet her Great-Uncle Abram at the 1939 funeral, but she always wished she had known him.

Not only did Abram serve admirably and also survive the war, but he worked for the War Department in Washington D.C. and advocated for veterans the rest of his life. He was  very active in the G.A.R.- the Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR was a fraternal organization, born out of the need for Union veterans of our most terrible war to share their experiences, both during the war and after. So many were wounded or had health problems stemming from their service, and the camaraderie was good for them. It started out with secret handshakes and rituals, but the GAR also worked politically, supporting the effort to make a national holiday on Memorial Day, fighting within Congress and the government for veteran’s pensions, working toward voting rights for black veterans, and even campaigning for Republican candidates. (The GAR had incredible political clout, and 3 presidents were GAR members.) The GAR promoted patriotic education and commemorative monuments, as well as organized veteran marches in parades on holidays.

The USS Kearsage on display on the Indiana statehouse grounds at the 1893 GAR National Convention. Abrams F. Springsteen attended this encampment. Public domain via Wikipedia.
The USS Kearsage on display on the Indiana statehouse grounds at the 1893 GAR National Convention. Abram F. Springsteen attended this encampment. Public domain via Wikipedia.

Local posts were formed beginning in 1866, and at its peak in 1890, the GAR had 490,000 members. Membership was only available to “veterans of the late unpleasantness,” although they did have an auxiliary for their wives. (There were also 2 women who served in the Civil War who were members.) When the GAR’s last member died in 1956, the group ceased to exist. Its work has been continued by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (S.U.V.C.W.).

The 27 September 1915  Elkhart Daily Review (Elkhart, Indiana) headline read: “Youngest Drummer Boy to Meet Hoosier G.A.R.” Abram F. Springsteen was working in Washington, D.C., and planned to meet his former comrades-in-arms of the Indiana delegation at the train depot “with his old war drum to escort the Hoosiers from the depot to the Raleigh Hotel.”

Grand Army of the Republic ribbon authorized by Congress to be worn on uniforms by Union Army veterans. Public domain, via Wikipedia.
Grand Army of the Republic ribbon authorized by Congress to be worn on uniforms by Union Army veterans. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

Abram also regularly marched with his drum on patriotic days, at GAR encampments, or even to help recruit soldiers for World War I. It was evident that he was proud of his service, and that of his comrades. He surely wanted younger folks to have that same sort of commitment to our country, and he worked tirelessly through his life to achieve that.

Reverse of Grand Army of the Republic ribbon authorized by Congress to be worn on uniforms by Union Army veterans. Public domain, via Wikipedia.
Reverse of Grand Army of the Republic ribbon authorized by Congress to be worn on uniforms by Union Army veterans. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

Since Abram worked in the War Dept. in DC, he had some pretty good connections. His request for government workers to be granted extra days of paid leave so they could attend the 1915 encampment in Washington, DC went all the way to President Woodrow Wilson and was approved. Abram set up the Pension Department, where he worked, so that veterans could tour it and also review their pension file. They could discuss with staff any changes needed, and   the decisions made concerning their pension or rejection of their claim. He also set up special rooms in many of the hotels for the Indiana Regiment in which he served. Abram was in charge of many facets of the 1915 Encampment, including the RSVPs of about three thousand Indiana veterans and their spouses.

GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, PARADE AT 1915 ENCAMPMENT. CEREMONY BY VETERANS OF G.A.R. IN WEST GALLERY OF CAPITOL; J R. WHITTLESAY OF MO. WITH FLAG, RELEASING WHITE DOVES OF PEACE; DR. JOHN M. ADAMS OF CINCINNATI, STANDING, RIGHT; FRANK KIRSCH GASSNER, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF SONS OF VETERANS. LOC, no restrictions on publication.
GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, PARADE AT 1915 ENCAMPMENT AT Washington, D.C. CEREMONY BY VETERANS OF G.A.R. IN WEST GALLERY OF CAPITOL; J R. WHITTLESAY OF MO. WITH FLAG, RELEASING WHITE DOVES OF PEACE; DR. JOHN M. ADAMS OF CINCINNATI, STANDING, RIGHT; FRANK KIRSCH GASSNER, COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF OF SONS OF VETERANS. LOC, no restrictions on publication.

The 1915 Encampment was a very special event- it was the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Civil War, when troops marched in review down Pennsylvania Avenue in our Capitol. The veterans planned to recreate that march, though sadly, the Union numbers were quite smaller in 1915. The passage of time contributed heavily- a young man of 20 enlisting in 1861 had aged to 74 by 1915, and many men who served were older than 20 at their enlistment. This encampment was thus considered to be the last held by the GAR- “at least the last one to be held on anything like a pretentious scale.”

The military continued to be a part of the lives of all these veterans through the GAR. Even their death was honored by their comrades- the GAR provided help when a member was ill, and a color guard with full military honors at their funeral.

So Abram Furman Springsteen, beating his drum at the 1915 encampment, had much to reflect upon. He was 65 years old, but again calling to his comrades with the steady beat of his drum.

 

Addendum: The 83rd National G.A.R. Encampment in 1949 was in Indianapolis, but there were only 16 veterans still members. Just six were well enough to attend, with 100 years old being the youngest, and the oldest 108 years of age. Joseph Clovese, 105, attended for the first time in 1949. He had been born a slave on a sugar plantation in Louisiana. Sadly, Abram was not present, since he had passed away in 1930, and there were no Indiana veterans left. It was fitting that this last encampment was held in Indianapolis, as the first had been held there in 1866. The last of the GAR vets died in 1956 (Albert Woolson was 106, and had enlisted as a drummer boy in 1864, at about age 15; his unit never saw service in battle), and the GAR was officially disbanded.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. “pretentious scale” quote from “Hoosier Vets Asked for Address” in Evansville Courier, Evansville Indiana, page 6, column 2, via GenealogyBank.com. (Great newspaper website!)
  2. GAR and other Civil War reunions including date and place- http://www.civilwarcenter.olemiss.edu/reunions.html
  3. Elkhart Daily Review, 27 September 1915, page 4, column 1, via GenealogyBank.

 

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