| Now for the favor, at the dedications
we like to get some soil from the birth place of the soldier so we can
sprinkle it on his final resting place, kind of bringing full circle to
his life travels and then he can rest in the soil of birth.
Can you or do you someone who could mail me about a pound of Rome soil that we can use in our ceremony to honor this hero of our country's past?
Please advise if you can help me on this and Thank you for your time.
I have attached a picture of him riding in the Allegan Memorial Parade, taken in the 1940's as the last Civil War Soldier in Allegan County.
John R. Keith
General Benjamin Pritchard Camp 20
Department of Michigan
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War
950 106th Avenue
Plainwell, MI 49080
I've always had an interest in the history of Towner Hill, and the area around Rome. My mother was born and grew up near the top of Towner Hill, and as a child I spent a lot time on that fertile farm which my grandfather P. D Gillette and my uncle Nub Robinson (my mom's brother in law) farmed. When I left Rome after I finished the 5th grade in the old red brick school, I never expected to return, except for an occasional visit with relatives. Every couple of years we made the long trip, halfway across the continent, to visit relatives on both sides of the family.
Over the decades since, various things happened and I eventually inherited the smaller farm at the edge of the boro of Rome, at the very foot of Towner Hill. In fact, most of our acres of land are on Towner Hill and after every heavy rain storm I sweep part of Towner Hill out of my driveway.
Still, it was a surprise when I got a request for about one pound of Towner Hill dirt. There are not a lot of things I can't do well, but I can provide a pound of Towner Hill dirt, almost instantly. And there lies the story and the history!
While I often curse my computer, and find much of the e-mail annoying, the positive benefits usually outweigh the negative, and it is amazing how it can connect different groups and people--even different times and places. When we opened the e-mail on the morning of July 4th, there was a message from Kelsey Jones, president of the Bradford County Historical Society, that dealt with a request from Joyce Tice. It debatable who knows the most local history: Kelsey, Joyce, Henry Farley, Ted Keir or Deb Twigg. They are all rather smart and have spent hours, even years, helping people discover the wonders of our local past.
This request came from a Michigan 'Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.' They are going to honor Ralph R. Towner, originally of Rome, PA. It seems that in 1864 he lied about his age, claiming to be 18 and joined Company F of the 186th New York Infantry Regiment. Perhaps it was the deception in age that explains why he joined an upstate New York regiment. He trained and was stationed at Madison Barracks at Sacketts Harbor. The unit was sent by train to New York and by ship to join the Army of the Potomac. It must have been quite an adventure, with accounts of seasickness, and early action at the Battle of Dinwoodie Court House, Southside Railroad and the raid on Nottoway. These were all skirmishes that made up part of the Third Siege of Petersburg. His unit definitely took part in the charge on Fort Malone. The Union victory at Petersburg led to the fall of Richmond, and the retreat of General Lee that ended at Appomattox. They were part of the Union army that pursued General Lee.
As a side note, the Battle of Petersburg has special meaning to me, a sort of family connection. On June 13, 1864, Guy Ball, age 17, was killed at Battle of Chickahomay, near Peterburg. His sister Helen Ball married my great grandfather Amaziah Abell and their first son was named Guy, the grandfather for whom I'm named. A number of years ago when Marti and I visited the battlefield at Petersburg, we spent most of one day looking, without success, for Guy Ball's grave.
Anyway, back to my story about Ralph Towner. While they were in the Civil War less than a year, they did see considerable action, and their unit of 980 strong when they began, was reduced by casualties and disease to 730 by the end of the war. I suppose for a Civil War unit, the losses were fairly low. After the war Ralph Towner settled in Trowbridge Township, Allegan County, Michigan. He lived there until 1946 when he died at age 98, the last Civil War soldier living in the area. The Michigan chapter of the 'Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War' are honoring him with a "Last Soldier Plaque" on July 11th, 2009. They thought it would be appropriate to include some soil from near his place of birth, to sprinkle on his grave. As Commander of the Unit, John R Keith said it "would bring full circle to his life travels, and then he can rest in the soil of his birth'.
I climbed part way up Towner Hill and got a coffee can full of Bradford County, Towner Hill dirt, removed all the stones and mailed it off to Michigan. I suggested in an e-mail they might want to include the hymn 'Trust and Obey" written by Daniel Brink Towner of Towner Hill. They were almost surely related, and may have even known each other. I don't if they will, but it would be a nice touch.
Now there is a tiny bit less of Towner Hill, and an iota less of Bradford County soil, but it is going to just the right place. A kind of salute to a native son.