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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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General Grant reunited with ‘his chair’

By Barry Schrader.................................September 21, 2010

This could be one for the history books: Gen. U.S. Ulysses Grant’s camp chair reunited with its original owner some 150 years later. Except, of course, for one detail – Grant is dead.
But the original chair survives and is now housed in Sycamore.
At the Civil War living history event Sept. 11 at Sycamore Park, the man portraying Grant was Larry Werline, a longtime re-enactor who has been doing this for 13 years.
But something special happened while he was in character: Orion Carey showed up with one of the general’s camp chairs used 150 years ago during the Civil War, and Werline got to actually sit in it. Carey, also from Sycamore, had inherited the artifact from his grandfather a few years ago and has had it restored. The walnut framed folding chair still has its original horsehair and straw seat, but new upholstery made of Italian silk with a Victorian design and repairs to some of the other parts were done at considerable expense.
Now here is the provenance, which you hear a lot about on the PBS series "Antiques Roadshow." It seems Grant retired back home to Galena after the war and at some point gave this chair to a family friend, including with it a personal letter from Grant and a photo of him in the chair. The chair was eventually obtained by Carey’s grandfather, Robert Keicher, but was in disrepair and left in storage for many years. Carey and his parents were living near his grandfather at the time of his death and Keicher decided Carey should have it. His mother has Grant’s letter and photo documentation safely tucked away, but Carey has decided to display the valuable heirloom on special occasions.
Carey, 23, received the chair when still in his teens and said he decided at one point to “scrap his vacation plans” and spend the money on a professional restoration by a firm in Wisconsin. He has no regrets. He comes from a family of history buffs and collectors. His one grandmother, Roxy Carey, is on the board of the Kishwaukee Valley Heritage Society, and he has shown the chair during Veterans Day observances in Genoa.
Other Grant-related artifacts he owns include photos, a book of memoirs written by the general, and a heavy litho stone with an engraving of Stonewall Jackson. Carey has become quite attached to the chair and assured me it is not for sale.

Sycamore resident Larry Werline, dressed as General Ulysses S. Grant at a civil war encampment at Sycamore Community Park on Sept. 11, poses with a camp chair once owned by Gen. Grant. The chair is owned by Orion Carey of Sycamore. (Photo by Curtis Clegg)

Orion Carey (mugshot)


Werline said it really made his day to actually use the same chair transported for Grant from camp to camp during the war. He believes there were only three custom-made chairs that Grant used.
Explaining what transpired during the weekend encampment, Werline said they depict the soldiers of Illinois Battery G, a light artillery unit mustered out of Sycamore between 1861 and 1865. He has created both dress and field uniforms identical to those worn by Grant and also has his beard trimmed just like Grant did in his early 40s when he took command of the Union armies.
As an aside, Werline told me that a corporal in the original Battery G, Sam Churchill from what is now the town of Cortland, received the only Medal of Honor among all the soldiers in DeKalb County during the Civil War. He earned the medal in 1864 at the Battle of Nashville when his artillery unit was overwhelmed by Confederates, and no infantry support was in sight. Many soldiers fled but Churchill stood his ground, reloading the cannon 11 times and firing it all alone, then surviving to tell about it. After the war he relocated to Lawrence, Kan., where he is buried.
Let's hope the Sycamore History Museum makes this re-enactment an annual event so more people can learn about Civil War-era history, and we will get to see that historic chair again.

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The columnist can be reached via email at :

barry815sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115