PLATTSMOUTH – One day this past summer, a ceremony was held in the Avoca Cemetery recognizing a veteran named Anton Heintzelman for his service during the American Civil War. The ceremony included a plaque placed on the gravestone detailing his duties during that long-ago conflict. Up until then, there was no mention on his stone of his service to the Union.
The ceremony was conducted by state members of the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), a national organization dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of those who fought and worked to save the Union.
A descendant of Heintzelman attended the ceremony, said Val Schmiedeskamp, a state member of SUVCW who lives in Lincoln.
“It was quite a moving ceremony,” he said. “It was nice for the family.”
State members have also completed their research on a national project, begun in 2003, of recognizing the last survivor of that war in each county in every state.
According to research it was found that a man named Richard E. Coleman, buried in the Greenwood Cemetery, is the last Civil War survivor in Cass County. He was born in July of 1849, meaning that Coleman must have been a young teenager upon entering the war.
“It wasn’t common, but it did happen,” Schmiedeskamp said on soldiers that young.
Most may have had non-combat roles, according to Schmiedeskamp. Nevertheless, he added, “Those youngsters performed courageously in battle, above and beyond their years. He (Coleman) was one of those teenage soldiers.”
Coleman served in Company D of the 136th Illinois Infantry, according to Schmiedeskamp. Coleman died on March 16, 1947, in Lincoln at the age of 97, Schmiedeskamp said.
A ceremony honoring Coleman may be held this spring, according to Schmiedeskamp.
Coleman is one of more than 19,000 Civil War veterans buried in Nebraska, which Schmiedeskamp considered surprisingly high since Nebraska had not yet reached statehood during that time period.
One possible reason for this number may be because many Civil War veterans came to Nebraska due to passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. That encouraged Western migration by providing settlers ownership of a large amount of land in exchange for a small filing fee and five years of use on that land.
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“The Homestead Act gave breaks to veterans,” Schmiedeskamp said.
Proper care of gravesites is a priority of this organization, according to Schmiedeskamp.
“We try to preserve battle sites and preserve tombstones. We have a man who has cleaned more than 4,000 gravestones and has taken photos of 9,000 pictures of gravestones of Civil War veterans.”
Schmiedeskamp has been a state member of this organization for about two years now.
“I’ve always been interested in the Civil War,” he said.
A great-grandfather of his served in that war as an orderly and company clerk for the 31st Volunteer Iowa Infantry.
“That company served in a lot of places,” Schmiedeskamp said.
The SUVCW can trace its roots back to the early 1880s. That’s when the Grand Army of the Republic, GAR, was organized to keep alive the sacrifices made by the Union soldiers. The SUVCW was chartered by Congress in 1954 as the legal successor to the GAR.
State members, dressed up as Union soldiers, go to high schools performing demonstrations. They also do similar events at town parades and celebrations, and sponsor awards to worthy R.O.T.C. high school students.
To educate students about that war is important, according to Schmiedeskamp.
“The Civil War is ancient history to students today. That’s what the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War want to do – to keep that memory alive.”