One gravestone at a time, Minnesota soldiers are being remembered and recognized for their service.
Ken Fliés, chairman of an obscure gubernatorial Soldiers’ Recognition subcommittee, stood at the gravesites of Capt. Dudley P. Chase and his wife, Olivia, in Minnetonka. Fliés’ research connected him to Stan Frear, Chase’s great-grandson and a rare living descendant and source of Civil War stories.
Nearly 150 years of family history melt away when 90-year-old Stan Frear opens a tiny, pocket-sized Book of Proverbs in his art-filled apartment.
His great-grandfather, Capt. Dudley P. Chase, signed the little book's first page, dated it April 28, 1863, and jotted down his location: "Camp near Falmouth, Va."
Five days later, the logging camp foreman and Union sharpshooter from Minneapolis was shot through the arm and mortally wounded, dying six days later at a Washington hospital after his left arm was amputated. The next handwritten inscription in the prayer book comes from Frear's grandmother, Clara, who was 9 when her dad died: "This book was taken out of Father's pocket after he was wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville."
Frear, a retired English professor, closes the book and shares more details about Chase with Civil War researchers Ken Fliés and Stephen Osman, including this tidbit: Dudley first was buried in Minneapolis, only to be disinterred in 1923. The researchers bid goodbye to Frear and hit the highway, driving 50 miles north to a hilltop cemetery in Minnetonka.
"There it is," says Fliés, 70, chairman of an obscure gubernatorial Soldiers' Recognition subcommittee, who has been chasing Dudley Chase and other all-but-forgotten Civil War soldiers.
Chase's marble gravestone is leaning, weathered and blackened from age. But come spring, a new granite gravestone will mark his burial spot -- assuring he's remembered by more than his great-grandson. Fliés' group has been combing through cemetery records, genealogical websites and other historical haystacks to track down Minnesota's first veterans.
Chase was among at least 18 soldiers, out of nearly 800 Minnesotans killed in the Civil War, whose bodies were hauled home from the battlefields, prisons and hospitals for burial. Their gravestones are crumbling and eroding in 15 different counties.
Chase, the first soldier returned to Hennepin County for burial, will be the fourth soldier recognized by Fliés' group, a subset of a Civil War task force Gov. Mark Dayton created as the 150th anniversaries approach of Gettysburg and other key Minnesotan-influenced battles.
Although he's located 450 Minnesotans' Civil War graves nationwide, Fliés worries about others lost to history.
"There are so many Civil War guys that nobody knows; their graves have gone totally unmarked," Fliés said. "Records are gone. Cemetery stones are gone."
He hopes this series of 18 new granite stones will honor all the Civil War veterans from Minnesota, highlighting their Union-saving heroics. Eventually, the group plans to place computer chips on the stones, enabling visitors to call up historical details on their mobile devices.
Fliés, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil who returns there regularly as a business consultant, grew up in southeastern Minnesota. A descendant of Union soldiers, he says his curiosity and Civil War obsession were stoked by stories of two soldiers killed at the Battle of Nashville and buried in his hometown Greenwood Cemetery in Plainview.
Cpl. Austin Carroll and Sgt. Charles Dawley left letters spelling out that, should they die, they wanted to be buried back in Minnesota. Fliés is researching a handful of other soldiers beyond the known 18 who also might have been brought back.
His research can be tedious but includes plenty of eureka moments. He tracked down the lost grave of Maj. Michael Cook, a revered state senator and namesake of Cook County, beneath a crumbling headstone in Faribault.
Capt. George White died in the same Battle of Nashville but was proving more elusive.
Fliés checked Civil War and Veterans Administration records, then he quizzed folks in White's hometown of Waseca.
"They said: 'Good luck, we've been looking for George for 150 years.'"
Undaunted, he followed clues to New Hampshire, where White was born and librarians again wished him well, saying they've been burying folks there since the 1600s. Fliés kept poking away at the genealogy, learning White's sister had been a well-known anatomy professor in Philadelphia. A newspaper obituary said she was buried in a family plot in Franklin, N.H.
"I called back the state library and said, 'OK, you don't know where George is, but how about Emily White?'"
Within 15 minutes, they'd found Capt. White's tombstone, mentioning the Fifth Minnesota Volunteers and his death near Nashville.
Closer to home came the befuddling case of Pvt. Edmund Sampare. His family changed the spelling of their name to Semper, a common practice that derails many a researcher. Armed with a sharp probe and a vague map of St. Paul's Calvary Cemetery, Fliés made four trips to the graveyard, poking his probe over a large swath of unmarked grass until -- voila! -- he hit something hard.
Six inches under the grass, hidden for decades, lay Sampare's memorial plaque, placing him with Company A of the 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters.
"It was a tremendous aha moment," said Fliés, who organized a ceremony that dedicated a gleaming new gravestone for Sampare in September.
Sampare was killed in the war's bloodiest battle near Antietam, Md. A captain of that sharpshooter unit, Dudley Chase, suffered a minor wound in that battle.
Fliés knew of Chase from a veterans' post that bore his name. The camaraderie of Civil War buffs then kicked in.
Hope to ignite curiosity
Osman, a historian and St. Olaf alumnus, had known Frear, a St. Olaf professor, for decades since first seeing his great-grandfather's gun in Northfield. He connected Frear and Fliés, who said "it's quite unusual and rare to meet a living descendant with so much information" to fill in the holes of a soldier's story.
"My great-grandfather was sent home from Antietam for a short while to recuperate, but it wasn't earth-shaking," he said. "So after a little rest, he went back to war."
Chase's accuracy with a rifle, proven in shooting drills that required hitting five bull's-eyes from 300 yards, placed him within the sharpshooters.
In his assisted-living apartment, Frear has several artistic shadow boxes he's created. The first one is dedicated to his great-grandfather -- one of 1,500 killed on each side of the Chancellorsville bloodbath. The box includes a playing card, inkwell, uniform buttons and photographs of Capt. Dudley P. Chase. He originally was buried at the cemetery on Lake Street and Cedar Avenue in Minneapolis but was moved in 1923 by family members to Minnetonka, where Woodlawn Avenue traffic now whizzes past his grave.
"I'm very pleased that they are taking the trouble to recognize these veterans of a long-past war," Frear said. "His gravestone is thin marble, and it's weathered so bad you can't read it."
Once the new stone goes up in May, Frear hopes it will ignite the curiosity of passersby.
"More than just the story of my great-grandfather," he said, "I'd liked them to know the facts of the Civil War."
Curt Brown • 612-673-4767