Veterans Day

Ninety-eight years ago, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, at the eleventh hour—Paris time—the Armistice of Compiègne took effect, officially ending the fighting on the Western Front and marking the end of the optimistically named “War to End All Wars.”

In America the commemoration of the war dead and the Allied victory began as Armistice Day in 1919, by proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson. Congress created Armistice Day as a legal holiday in 1938. Starting in 1945, a World War II veteran named Raymond Weeks proposed that the commemorations of November 11 be expanded to celebrate all veterans, living and dead. In 1954 Congress and President Eisenhower made that idea official, and this is what we commemorate today. There are many veterans with a connection to the Jonathan Clark house. We honor a few of them in this post.

Jonathan M. Clark (1811/12-1857) enlisted as a Private in Company K, Fifth Regiment of the U. S. Army, and served at Ft. Howard, Michigan (later Wisconsin) Territory, from 1833 until mustering out, as Sargent Jonathan M. Clark, in 1836. Fort Howard was on the western frontier and JMC’s company spent much of the summers of 1835 and 1836 cutting the military road across Wisconsin, from Ft. Howard to Ft. Winnebago, near modern Portage, Wisconsin.

Jonathan and Mary Clark’s only son Henry M. Clark (1843-1866) registered for the Civil War draft in Milwaukee in June, 1863. His named was called as part of the “first class” of draftees, from the city’s seventh ward, in November of the same year. It appears that he served in the war, but we have yet to confirm that he was a uniformed soldier. If anyone knows more about Henry M. Clark’s life or military service, please contact me.

One tantalizing clue to Henry’s service is an unsigned, undated handwritten note on stationary of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, St. Alphonsus Hospital, Port Washington, dating from possibly the 1960s or 1970s:

Henry M. Clark born Feb. 21, 1843 in Ozaukee Co. served thruout war as carpenter with master of bridge construction. Went ahead of soldiers with sharp shooters and built bridges. Was with Sherman on march to sea. Let out in 1865. Contracted dysentery in south and died April 21, 1866 @ Milwaukee.

We know very little of Jonathan M. Clark’s ancestors and their military service. According to a biography of daughter Caroline (Clark) Woodward, JMC was “a Vermonter of English descent, who, born in 1812, of Revolutionary parentage, inherited an intense American patriotism.” Unfortunately for us, Vermont and the other New England states sent a lot of men named Clark to fight in the American Revolution. I’ve gone through hundreds of digitized pages of Revolutionary war muster rolls and pension applications, and there are some potential Jonathan M. Clark fathers or grandfathers in those records, but so far we can’t make a solid connection between any of them and JMC.

On the other hand, many of Mary Turck Clark’s relatives served. Her Turck, Gay, and Groom family ancestors emigrated to the American colonies in the 1600s and 1700s. Her fourth-great grandfather, Paulus Jacobzen Turck, or Turk, was the original Turck immigrant in Mary’s family, arriving in what was then New Amsterdam. In 1660 he married there, and 1689 he received a commission as “Lieutenant of foot, West ward, New York [City].”

From Paulus Turck’s commission in 1689 until the Revolutionary War, many Turck men served in a variety of colonial militias and Patriot regiments. Mary’s father, Peter Turck (1798-1872), was born after the Revolution, but could have possibly served in the war of 1812. I’ve yet to find evidence that he did. He was, however, an ardent abolitionist and Union man. Mary’s granduncle, Johannis A. or John A. Turck (or Turk, 1763-1839) signed the Articles of Association in June or July 1775, and fought in the Revolution in Col. Snyder’s Regiment (New York) and received a federal pension for his service in 1832.

Two of Mary Turck Clark’s brothers served in the Civil War. Her youngest brother, Benjamin Turck (1839-1926), enlisted as a Private in the 10th Independent Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery on August 20, 1862. He mustered out after almost three years of service on June 7, 1865. The 10th Battery participated in many battles and operations in the western theater, including Sherman’s March to the Sea. Benjamin Turck’s unit was present at the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863 and at the surrender of Johnston’s army at the Bennett Place near Durham, North Carolina on April 26, 1865. Before mustering out, the veterans of the battery—presumably including Benjamin—marched to Washington, DC, to celebrate the end of the war in the Grand Review of May 24, 1865. As an invalid veteran, Benjamin was awarded federal pension on August 9, 1905.

Mary was the eldest of Peter and Rachel Gay Turck’s eight children; her brother Joseph R. Turck (1823-1902) was their next oldest. Joseph was fourteen years old when the family moved from Wayne County, New York to Wisconsin. Around the year 1848 Joseph moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he established himself as a carpenter and, in time, a prominent contractor and builder. Why he moved so far from his family in Wisconsin is unknown. During the Civil War, Joseph’s name is on the one extant muster roll of Co. I, Confederate Guards, Louisiana Militia, dated March 8 to April 30, 1862; in the Remarks section he is listed “Absent without leave.” Even though the Louisiana Militia’s Confederate Guards were considered a “home guard” unit, fit for older men like Joseph—he was almost forty years old at the time—one wonders if his heart was truly in sympathy with the Southern cause. It looks like he left his unit just as Union forces were approaching the city, which was fully occupied by Union troops on May 1, 1862

Peter Turck lost track of Joseph during the war. In distress, on July 25, 1862, Peter penned a heartfelt letter to Union general Benjamin Butler, then commanding the city of New Orleans, asking him to find his son. We don’t know if Butler’s soldiers found Joseph. Ultimately, Joseph and Benjamin Turck lived through their war and for many decades more. But their nephew Henry Clark died from illness contracted in that same conflict. Like so many veterans, each had experienced, in his own way, the truth of General Sherman’s words: “War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”

Updated for minor clarifications and corrections on November 11, 2016.

Updated November 17, 2016, to correct the dates of JMC’s work on the military road, and the location of Ft. Howard to “Michigan (later Wisconsin) Territory” in 1833-1836. See this post for more on territorial names. We’ll have more on JMC and the military road in future posts.