When a Hero Dies

In June of 1885, former President and Civil War Hero, Ulysses S. Grant, retreated to Mt. McGregor in the Adirondacks to fight his last fight. Battling throat cancer, Grant weakened considerably in the last few weeks, he was still able to write his memoirs before passing away on July 23, 1885.

On August 5, 1885, soldiers from the 5th Artillery, were dispatched to Mt. McGregor and would become part of history. Batteries comprised of the 5th Artillery stationed in New York at the time, were a band company. Musicians. Their mission on August 5, 1885, was to guard and march the President’s body from the Adirondacks to his resting place in Riverside Park in New York before being moved to the General Grant National Memorial (Grant’s Tomb) in 1897.

George W. Huff first enlisted in the US Army in July of 1878, at only 17 years old even though his father died during the Civil War (July 9. 1862.) Yet, the legacy of service was long and proud for the Huff family as George’s great grandfather, Edmund Huff reportedly served in the American Revolution in Pennsylvania.


On July 21, 1885, George W. Huff married Mary Murphy in Manhattan, NY, only two days before President Grant passed away. Less than a month after his wedding, the young soldier, along with thousands of other military personnel, three living presidents, and a number of Civil War generals marched from Wall Street to Riverside Park in Morningside Heights.  The entire funeral procession, which took place from August 6-8, was attended by nearly 1,750,000 people.

On August 8, 1885, “Batteries E and K 5th Art left park at 7:30 and 8…for  NY City to participate in the funeral procession of Gen. Grant at NY City…returned to their proper station Fort Schuyler.”


I wonder if George and his company played taps or some other military eulogistic song at any point during the procession or upon their final stop at Riverside Park. It would seem like the artillery companies with the band were selected as part of the honor guard for a reason and that would be to play music.

My great great grandfather may be a side-note to history and pales in comparison to President Grant, but it must have been an amazing honor to take part in such a moment in history. My 2nd great grandfather, George Washington Huff, would serve in the US Army for another 17 years before passing away at the young age of 42. However, for 25 years, his entire adult life, he served this country and though there was no funeral procession for him when he passed, when a hero dies, we all will remember.




The Value of Civil War Pension Records

On March 8, 1861, in a little town 60 miles outside of Chicago, the only son of William Huff and Levina Foulk was born. Named after the first president of the United States, George Washington Huff’s early life was forever influenced by the American Civil War. Five weeks after his birth, on April 12, 1861, troops from the Southern and newly Confederate states, fired the the first shots of the Civil War upon Fort Sumter. Almost a year to the day of his first birthday, March 3, 1862, George’s father William enlisted in the Union Army in Company H of the 53rd Illinois, along with his brother Silas.

For the first month, the 53rd Illinois guarded Confederate prisoners in Chicago before marching to St. Louis under First Brigade, Fourth Division, Brigadier General J.G. Lauman commanding Brigade and Brigadier General S. A. Hurlbut. The regiment was ordered to Shiloh but couldn’t get transportation until the 2nd day of the battle, April 7, 1862. After Shiloh, the 53rd was at the Siege of Corinth which lasted from April 29-May 30.

After Corinth, the 53rd set out for Memphis, TN. The average temperature in Mississippi and Tennessee in June and July is 88-92 degrees. Fatigue and disease wreaked havoc on the soldiers. Civilwar.org claims that 620,000 soldiers died during the Civil War and 2/3 of those deaths are attributed to disease and not wounds. That is over 413,000 soldiers dying from dysentery, typhoid fever, ague, yellow fever, scurvy, malaria, tuberculosis, and more.

One of those 413,000 soldiers was 37 year old William Huff, my 3x great grandfather. On or about July 7, 1862, William Huff became ill. His pension records alternately indicate it was chronic pneumonia or dysentery or typhoid fever. Regardless of the actual illness, William was sick for a couple of days before dying at La Grange, TN on July 9, 1862.

Christopher Starr testimony for William Huff-1

His friend and fellow soldier was with him during his service and at the time of his illness. Christopher Starr’s testimony to the State of Illinois in Grundy County, states,

being duly sworn upon oath (illegible) that he is a resident of Grundy County, Illinois  and that he knew William Huff, Private Co. H 53rd Regiment Illinois and that he died on or about the 9th day of July 1862 at Lagrange, Tenn. of a disease contracted  while in the service of the United States.

Later in the same testimony, Starr says,

about a month before his death the Reg marching from near Corinth to Grand Junction said Huff carried his knapsack until at Grand Junction on account of  exposure and fatigue during this march he was taken down with fever and chronic diarrhea of which he died as aforesaid.

Starr, a friend of Williams prior to the war, served alongside his friend right until the end. Starr ends his testimony with a show of friendship and camaraderie,

This officiant was with the said Huff on the March and saw him taken down, was with him and waited on him during his sickness, up to a day or two before his death.

This officiant was well acquainted with him before he entered the service and know that he was in good health before he entered the service and that he is not interested in this claim.

The true purpose of Starr’s testimony is to defend the pension of William’s son George by stating that the death was solely caused due to his service in the Army during the war. However, as a genealogist and keeper of family stories, it is a true act of grace to be able to find a document like this showing the friendship between two people during war. William’s death was not glorious, but it was painful and tragic all the same. Like 413,000 other soldiers, William is more than just a statistic and Christopher Starr only helped preserve his story.