On Decoration Day 2017

My research into the Great Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio and my family’s brief time there in the latter half of the 19th century turned up something appropriate to Decoration Day.
Jasper Hilbert is my great great great uncle. He was born in 1849 in Defiance County, Ohio to my great great great great grandparents Samuel Hilbert and Mary Jane Ginter. Some time between then and the birth of his brother (my great great great grandfather) Wallace in 1855 the young family crossed the state line, moving to the higher grounds of the Fort Wayne moraine, on the left bank of the St Joseph River, to the little village of Newville, in DeKalb County, Indiana. Census records also place the family there in 1860, and mark a new addition to the family, Jasper and Wallace’s baby sister Keren Happenny, born that year.

The 1870 census reflects two major changes for the family. First, they had moved again, now living outside Lansing, Michigan, where Samuel and Mary would spend their remaining forty-plus years. Second, only four members of the family are recorded. Jasper, who would have been 21 that year, is not listed among them. And his family evidently never learned of his fate but carried a hope that he was alive and would be reunited. Jasper is listed as a beneficiary in both of his parents’ wills, if he could be located. Mary Jane died in 1911, Samuel in 1916.

The Internet allows the descendents of Samuel and Mary Hilbert to resolve the story and learn what Jasper’s family never learned. During the war Jasper left home and at the age of 15, although I imagine he passed himself off as older, he mustered into service on June 16, 1864 in Elgin, Illinois. One of the Hundred Days Men of the 141st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, lightly trained and moved to Columbus, Kentucky for garrison duties until October 10, 1864, to be mustered out of Chicago. With a month left, on September 10, 1864, Jasper died of disease.

Naturally, many questions come to mind. The first set concerns the circumstances of Jasper’s parting with his family. Considering his young age and that his fate and whereabouts remained unknown to them during their long lives (matched with their long-held hope to reunite), I speculate it was not amicable. But what instigated it? Perhaps boredom. Perhaps a traumatic family fight. Perhaps the lure of adventure during wartime. The context of his time and situation will be easier to discern than the personal details of his life.

Jasper Hilbert is buried in Mound City National Cemetery, Pulaski County, Illinois.


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