York’s last Civil War veteran didn’t like “that fellow Hitler”
My great-great-grandfather, John D. Sisson, was among the last Civil War veterans alive in Tuscarawas County in east-central Ohio when he died in 1937 (the last one died three years later). My mother, born in 1924, remembered him quite well. The aged Sisson, in poor health from a variety of ailments related to exposure and harsh conditions from his wartime service, suffered from what today is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He scared my mom by falling asleep and reliving battles, including the bloody fights at Franklin and Nashville in Tennessee in 1864. The English-born Sisson enlisted at the age of 15 as a musician after running away from his guardian.
Here in York, the last veteran in this city outlived my ancestor by a few years. A charcoal sketch of John F. Eich appeared in the May 30, 1941, issue of The York Gazette and Daily. The newspaper’s sketch artist, Miss Betty Smyser, composed the portrait, which shows Eich wearing an array of post-war Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) medals.
The caption reads in part “Mr. Eich, who is 95 years old, is the city’s last surviving Civil War veteran and he will participate in the Memorial day exercises today. So far as is known there are only two Civil War veterans living in York County; namely, George W. Watson, 99, of Wrightsville, and John Aquila Wilson, 100, Gatchelville.”
John Aquila Wilson has been part of a home guard company of non-mustered volunteers, all black men from the Maultsby-Case Rolling Mill in Columbia, during the defense of the world’s longest covered bridge at Wrightsville during the Gettysburg Campaign. When Wilson died on December 11, 1942, he was the last Civil War veteran who had lived in York County before the war.
George Woodburn Watson, born in Lancaster County, served in Company H of the 22nd United States Colored Troops (USCT). He had been wounded in action in October 1864 near Fair Oaks, Virginia. Both Wilson and Watson, like my ancestor John Sisson, were teenagers when they served in the Civil War.
This interesting Gazette and Daily photo from May 31, 1941, shows Quil Wilson and Frank Eich, as well as P. J. Kammerer, a Lincoln impersonator from Newville, PA, as they attended Memorial Day services at Prospect Hill Cemetery in York. Afterward, the three men were guests of honor at a banquet held at Bierman’s. Miss Lottie L. Hays of the Mammy Ruggles Tent of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War was the featured speaker at the reception. The dessert was ice cream molded in the shape of an American flag.
John Francis “Frank” Eich was born January 26, 1849, in Spring Garden Township not far from York. He was the son of Franklin (Franz) & Mary Ann Klinehentz Eich. He served in the 12th U. S. Infantry of the Regular Army, according to researcher Dennis Brandt, but some local newspaper articles state Eich was in the 12th Pennsylvania Infantry. Brandt states that Eich enlisted in January 1865 and served for three years as a corporal. Eich then returned to York County, where he was a butcher and then was a tollgate operator on the York-to-Wrightsville pike (now Route 462, the Lincoln Highway) at Market and Harrison streets for 25 years. He married Mary F. Geiser; they had no children. Frank had a reputation as an outstanding pinochle player.
Years later, in 1941, a Gazette reporter described him as “unusually strong of constitution and inveterately cheerful.” Eich mentioned he wished he was young enough again to serve because “I don’t like that fellow Hitler.”
Frank Eich died at his home at 25 N. Harrison Street in York on October 25, 1942, from “cardiac decompensation and senility,” according to his pension records. He is buried in St. Mary-St. Patrick Cemetery in Spring Garden Township. Charles W. Kline of 201 N. Beaver Street had preceded Eich in death by more than a year; the 94-year-old Kline of the 200th Pennsylvania was the second-to-last Civil War veteran to die in the city of York.
Sources: various issues of the York Gazette and Daily and the Dennis W. Brandt Civil War Soldier Database at the York County History Center.
Upcoming events: Blogger Scott Mingus will give a talk on September 7, 2019, at 10:30 a.m. at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg based on his new book, Targeted Tracks: The Cumberland Valley Railroad in the Civil War. The following day, he and co-author Cooper Wingert will present the same talk at 2 p.m. at the Mechanicsburg Museum. Both talks have modest admission charges but are open to the public.