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Group working to protect, serve those who came before us

When the Civil War came to an end 150 years ago many of our Minnesota veteran-heroes did not come home. The war, fought between 1861 to 1865 for the survival of the Union, or independence for the Confederacy, took far more casualties than any war in American history.

Recording the history of the life and death of veterans, veterans of all wars, is paramount in importance, in order to honor these heroes. John Chlian, president of the Douglas County Cemetery Association (DCCA) shared a statistic, “For 110 years, the numbers (of deaths) stood as gospel, 618,222 men died in the Civil War, 360,222 from the North and 258,000 from the South. However, new research shows that the numbers were far too low.” J. David Hacker, a demographic historian from Binghamton University of New York, has recalculated the death toll, and increased it by more than 20 percent – to 750,000, and the new figure is winning acceptance from scholars. Researching and honoring these veterans, is important in the celebration of their life and the ultimate sacrifice they made, in preserving the Union, for restoring national unity, for abolishing slavery, and for guaranteeing civil rights.

Men (and women) from the small, rural settlements of Minnesota contributed to the Union fight during the Civil War. In Douglas County the 1860 census recorded 138 people, including women and children. According to Marcine Nightengale, a Civil War enthusiast who has done extensive research while volunteering at the Douglas County Historical Society, said, “The people of the county didn’t even hear of the breakout of the Civil War when it started in 1861 and did not feel its direct effects until the Indian Uprising in 1862. When President Lincoln called together the militia, about 25 men known to be living in the county enlisted in the service to help fight the war.”

How many men from our region of Minnesota died in the Civil War? What can we learn about the veterans who fought it? What stories can be told from the cemetery stones we find? The casual genealogist will find an incredible amount of living history through several resources, beginning with cemetery and burial records.

Where to start… The DCCA was organized in 1996 for the purpose of being “a resource for member cemeteries.” Explaining, John Chlian said, “The association is made up of individuals who wish to help protect and serve those who came before us. We are the only county association in the state, and we work diligently in keeping burial records current and in assisting member cemeteries with operational problems that arise. We promote our cemeteries as the guardians of our county’s heritage and as a place of lasting tribute.” He added, “Douglas County alone has 70+ cemeteries, including 19 burial sites. Locating and recording the burial sites of all of our veterans is a primary goal. We want the records to be complete and accurate. Locating all veterans in the county is a work in progress.”

The DCCA works closely with the Douglas County Historical Society. “We encourage individual cemeteries to send burial records to the historical society.” While searching for information, Chlian explained that the use of “find-a-grave,, has also been a helpful tool for  cemetery association members and genealogists. “Combined with records at your county historical society, we can bring information to those in search of veterans life stories, as well as ancestral history. Your county veteran services office and your county courthouse also hold many records to assist in searches for information about veterans and ancestors,” he added.

Finding a newspaper obituary is another key to unfolding history. Reading a cemetery headstone is still another. Both resources are a start in putting history together.

Volunteers for the DCCA have been working diligently to update burial information. The DCCA has built a website to inform and promote records and record keeping. Visit

As the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War is observed, Chlian encourages everyone to find a veteran to honor, and really, to honor all veterans.

Stories of Civil War Veterans (compiled in part by Marchine Nightengale) Knute Nelson, buried at Kinkead Cemetery in Alexandria, Minn., is a Civil War veteran who went on to become Minnesota’s 12th governor. He was a 16-year-old when he enlisted as a private in the 4th Wisconsin Calvary Regiment for three years of service. Wounded and taken prisoner at Port Hudson, La., in 1863, Nelson eventually returned to his home state after the war, completed his law degree, and moved to Alexandria in 1871.

Alexander and William Kinkead both enlisted in the Second Minnesota Battery of Light Artillery in 1862. According to research completed by Nightengale at the Douglas County Historical Society, “William was taken prisoners for six weeks in 1863 and because of harsh treatment, never regained his health. He was transferred to Washington and was ordered by the Governor of Minnesota to look after the affairs of exchanged Minnesota prisoners and the wounded. He died of tuberculosis at 32, never returning to Alexandria.” Nightengale continued, “Alexander, of whom Alexandria is named, was mustered out of the Army in 1865 and lived for a time in Stearns County. He died in Ventura, California in 1928 at the age of 77.”

Capt. George C. Whitcomb was a leader in the Indian Uprising of 1862 and in 1863 arrived at the Alexandria Stockade in command of a detachment of the U.S. Cavalry guarding the new frontier from Fort Abercrombie to Fort Pembina. He stayed in Douglas County, active in politics and social affairs, and served as county auditor and register of deeds.

Noah Grant, of which Grant Lake is named,  located near Holmes City in Douglas County, came to the Alexandria area right around the time that the Kinkead brothers arrived. He was a carpenter from New Hampshire, enlisted in the 9th Minnesota Regiment in 1862, and is another Civil War veteran who eventually relocated in to south.

In her research, Nightengale found Lyman P. Belding, a prominent citizen of Osakis. He enlisted in the 36th Wisconsin Infantry at Madison, in 1864, and served under Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. After the war he took up residence in Osakis to engage in real estate, thus helping the city to prosper.

Anders (Andrew) Urness started in the Civil War as a regimental flagbearer for Company B. He was wounded in the chest in Chickamauga, Tenn., and after his recovery, marched with Sherman to capture Atlanta. When the war was over he filed for a homestead in Red Rock Township (later renamed Urness). He became a successful farmer, with 400 acres of land, and was involved in the founding and building of the West Moe Lutheran Church. His brother, Ole, also marched with Sherman and  also settled in the same township.

Thomas and Jane Cowing moved to Moe Township in Douglas County in 1860, however, their three sons enlisted in the Civil War while still in Wisconsin. After the war they all came to Alexandria, either for a brief time, or to stay. In 1872, John Cowing went into partnership with O.J. Robards to establish the Cowing-Robards hardware store which he ran until his death in 1912. He was an organizer of the First National Bank.

In 1864, at the age of 17, Joe Alger enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 8th Iowa Infantry. Twice he was wounded in the head. His first wound was a bullet passing through his skull, leaving a half-inch deep furrow which was patched with a silver quarter. “He often remarked that he would never be broke because he carried a twenty-five piece in his head,” Nightengale observed. Alger joined the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) when there were 100 members in 1934. GAR was formed by veterans of the Civil War and was open to all Civil War veterans. Alger, Luther South and Thomas Cooper were the last three surviving members when he died in 1939.

A Civil War monument is standing on the lawn of the Douglas County Courthouse. It is a life-size bronze figure of a Civil War soldier. On the face of the granite shaft is carved a reproduction of the familiar emblem of GAR. It was erected through the personal influence of the Rev. T.W. Critchette, D.D. Commander of J.L. Reynolds Post No. 51, Department of Minnesota, GAR. The WRC and the citizens of Douglas County held a dedication ceremony May 30, 1916, for this monument.

In Douglas County, the John L. Reynolds Post in Alexandria was organized.  However, numbers dwindled as people moved away and elderly members died. The GAR disbanded in 1939.

These are just a few brief stories of Civil War soldiers who lived in Douglas County, either briefly or for a lifetime, who may or may not be buried in Douglas County, and who may or may not have descendents living in Minnesota. Chlian and members of the DCCA emphasize the importance of accurate record keeping for “the ages.” Chlian summarized, “We owe it to our children and grandchildren.”

What Stories do the Stones Tell? The DCCA will conduct a fifth grade essay contest to promote local history. Chlian explained that although this contest is not slated until the fall, it’s not too early to begin researching and visiting local cemeteries, especially during Memorial Day observances, when the cemeteries are blooming with life.

As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is observed, John Chlian challenges everyone to find a Civil War veteran to honor, to find headstones and stories, to take time to share the history that cemeteries celebrate. “In honor of this historic anniversary milestone, the Douglas County Cemetery Association encourages individual cemeteries to record all veterans and use that information to plan a memorial service this year.”

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