Civil War veteran finally laid to rest – 88 years after his death

Peter Jones Knapp

I ran across an interesting story on Dick Eastman’s genealogy newsletter the other day that I just had to share.

Interestingly, it was about a Knapp – but not one of our Knapp ancestors.

Even more interesting (at least to me!) there is a connection to my hometown, Sandusky, Ohio.

When I first read the story of Peter Jones Knapp, I was fascinated. Then after I did some more research about him, I was awed by his strength and resilience.

And that’s when I knew I had to pass along this grand gentleman’s story.

It all started when Alice Knapp began researching her husband’s family tree. During her research, she learned of a 2009 newspaper article featuring her husband’s ancestor, Peter Jones Knapp. The story took a second look at a news item from 1921 in which a Confederate veteran named Willis Meadows coughed up a bullet.

Meadows had been shot in the eye during the Civil War – and the bullet remained embedded near his brain until it flew out of his mouth almost 60 years later during a coughing fit.

And if that isn’t incredible enough – there’s even more to this story…

The story made national headlines in 1921 – and, as a result, was read by an old man (Peter Jones Knapp) who living in Kelso, Washington. From the details mentioned in the story, Knapp concluded that HE was the Union soldier who shot Meadows at Vicksburg, Miss more than 60 years before.

He sent a letter to Meadows – and the two old veterans connected.

According to reporter Bill Miller, who wrote the 2009 article:

“As young mortal enemies they had tried to kill each other, but now, as aging veterans, they would spend their last few years as friends, exchanging photographs and wishing each other good health.”

After reading Miller’s article, Alice Knapp wanted to know where Peter Jones Knapp was buried. She found his obituary from the Kelso newspaper, which said memorial services had been held at a Portland crematorium.

She made a few phone calls and was astonished to learn that Knapp’s ashes were still sitting on a shelf and had never been claimed. She asked about the whereabouts of Knapp’s wife, Georgianna, who had died in 1930, and learned her ashes were still there, too!

According to his 1924 obituary, Peter Jones Knapp was born at Sandusky, Ohio, June 2nd, 1842, and was the youngest of 13 children. When he was 10 years old, his father died. Peter and an older brother kept the home together, working in the summer and going to school in the winter.

He had fought for the Union Army in many important battles, including Shiloh and Vicksburg. He also took part in the battle of Iuka, when 2,800 Union men opposed 11,000 Confederates. Out of 440 men in his regiment, 269 were killed or wounded (over 60 percent). War records show his regiment lost more men in this single engagement of one hour and twenty minutes than any other regiment lost in any one engagement during the war.

He also was taken prisoner at the battle of Missionary Ridge and was sent to Andersonville, a notorious Confederate prison where more than 12,000 Union soldiers died – most of them from starvation and disease.

Desperate to escape an almost certain death at Andersonville, Knapp decided to accept an offer to become a “galvanized Yankee.”

I thought I knew a lot about the Civil War, but this term was a new one for me. A “Galvanized Yankee” is a Union prisoner of war who is offered a way out of prison in exchange for swearing an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy and joining the fight against the Union.

Knapp saw this as an opportunity to escape the hell of Andersonville – and he took a chance.

But even this was risky. Some government officials wanted these men charged and tried for desertion/treason. Fortunately, at least one general had some compassion and argued for clemency.

After the war, Knapp married Georgianna Pearson in Muskegon, Michigan in 1870 and moved to Washington state. In 1887 he came to Kelso, where he engaged in the mill business, in which he had been interested in the South. Later, on his retirement, he was elected justice of the peace and police judge, in which offices he faithfully served for seven years.

No one knows WHY no one every claimed Peter and Georgianna Knapp’s ashes – frankly it was a miracle they were still in storage. But the fact that this veteran’s ashes was forgotten on a shelf for more than eight decades bothered Knapp – and she was determined to see that he and his wife finally laid to rest.

A family friend helped Alice Knapp arrange to have the couple’s ashes interred in Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.

Knapp is the first Civil War veteran to be laid to rest in Oregon’s largest military graveyard.  On Friday, April 13, 2012, he was buried with full military honors provided by the Oregon National Guard. It was the anniversary of his death and also was the 151st anniversary of the Confederate victory at Ft. Sumter.

The burial attracted veterans, historians, Civil War re-enactors and curious onlookers. Brigadier General Eric C. Bush of the Oregon National Guard was one of the speakers at the service.

A miraculous story of forgiveness and reconciliation…and of courage, resilience and mercy. And thanks to the efforts of a determined genealogist and her sister-in-law, Peter and Georgianna Knapp are finally home.

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There is a lot more to Peter Jones Knapp’s story than I have written here. Please take the time to click on ALL the links below and read more about him. And – even more important – share this with your kids and/or grandkids.

Link to a moving YouTube presentation about Peter Jones Knapp.

Link to Find-A-Grave’s information about Peter J. Knapp’s obituary and a moving account of his life and bravery during the Civil War, his marriage to his wife and his service to his community after he retired from his sawmill business.

See the news coverage here. Read more about what a “galvanized Yankee” really is on Wikipedia.

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