Some people cook out.
Some people take in a ball game.
Some people go to see fireworks.
Ken Richard has a different Fourth of July tradition.
Every year about this time the Minnesota transplant living in East Naples goes to a closet, digs out a crumbling leather-bound book and sits down to read a few pages.
The book is the Journal History of the 73rd Ohio by Gen. Samuel Hurst.
It details the Civil War exploits of a volunteer regiment from Southeastern Ohio. Richard’s great-grandfather, John C. Higgins, was a 12-year-old drummer boy with the regiment. The book is signed by Hurst and personalized to the diminutive drummer the troops called “Little Jack.”
In particular, Richard turns to the pages describing the battle of Gettysburg, fought July 1, 2 and 3, 1863.
The 73rd occupied Cemetery Ridge, a pivotal point in the pivotal battle of the war. Hurst describes the scene as the Confederate forces moved on the ridge in what is now known as Pickett’s Charge.
“On, on come the exultant foe. One of our advance batteries is already in their hands. Our retreating infantry gain the crest of the hill. Our batteries open with canister. At every discharge, there were gaps in that line of gray. The ground was covered with their dead and wounded. Their third line did not come promptly to their support. Then our men went in with bayonet and shout. And the enemy broke and went back in disorder.
“At dark the firing slackened, and soon entirely ceased. We were greatly worn and fatigued and that night got a little uneasy sleep as we lay on our arms.”
Then comes the part Richard looks for. “The next morning ushered in the anniversary of the nation’s birthday. Who shall say that on this day the nation was not born anew?”
During the Civil War 1,390 men served in the 73rd Ohio. Two hundred and eighty-five were killed, almost equal numbers by the enemy and disease. Another 568 were wounded.
Four months later Higgins was back at Gettysburg, part of a force on hand as Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Later in life he described being on stage as Lincoln walked off. As Higgins told the story, Lincoln put his hand on the 14-year-old’s shoulder and said, “You’re a pretty small boy to be in the war, aren’t you?”
In a famous picture of Lincoln on stage at Gettysburg, a boy can be seen to the left of the president. Richard believes it could be his great-grandfather.
Richard found the book by chance while cleaning out his family home after his father sold it. He knew little of his great-grandfather prior to that. His mother, the veteran’s granddaughter, didn’t care for the man, Richard admits. “Apparently, he wasn’t a very good grandpa.” He died in 1941 at the age of 92, one of the last 2,000 survivors of the Civil War.
With a daughter in the Army as a doctor, Richard feels connections spanning service and time every year come early July.
Hurst penned his memoir in 1866, a year after the war ended.
His words reach across the generations and remind us of the cost of freedom, then and today.
“And now that the great struggle is ended ... the returned volunteer will be proud and grateful that he was permitted to bear a part in the great work of saving the Republic. And while our country rises to a new and higher life, may the grass grow green on the graves of our heroic dead and the virtues of a patriotic and Christian manhood be cherished by the living.”
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten