Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hugh Kerr

Hugh Kerr was born on February 2, 1839, in New York City.

Hugh left New York and came to Michigan sometime before the war broke out.

He stood 5’8” with blue eyes, brown hair and a florid complexion and was a 22-year-old laborer and mill hand living in Muskegon, Muskegon County when he enlisted as a Musician in Company H on May 13, 1861. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers,” was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.) He was reported AWOL in August of 1862, but in fact by the second week of September he was a patient in Washington Street hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, having suffered a contusion and was reportedly “doing well.

Hugh was on detached service in October, and sick in the Regimental hospital from November of 1862 through January of 1863. He was discharged on February 5, 1863, at Third Corps hospital near Fort Lyon, Virginia, for valvular heart disease “caused by being run over by a caisson at the Battle of Bull Run [Second Bull Run] Aug. 29, 1862.”

Apparently Hugh returned to his family home in New York City where he reentered the service in the United States Marine Corps on June 9, 1863, for 4 years, and was transferred on August 1, 1863, to the Marine Battalion at Port Royal, South Carolina; he was subsequently transferred to the USS Canandaigua on November 29, 1863. By the summer of 1864 he was taken sick and transferred to Norfolk Naval Hospital on July 14, 1864, and was discharged for disability from Norfolk on either September or December 5, 1864.

After he was discharged from the Marines Hugh returned to western Michigan and was working as a lumberman and living in Whitehall, Muskegon County in 1870 when he married Minnie Sickman (1844-1926) on October 22, 1870, in Muskegon. They had at least one child, a son Richard Henry (b. 1871 or 1872).

By 1880 he was working in a mill in White River, Muskegon County, and living with his wife and son. He was working as a sawyer and living in Montague, Muskegon County in 1888 when he became a member of Grand Army of the Republic Henry Post No. 3 in Montague, and he received pension no. 836,303. He was still living in Montague in 1889 and 1890 and working as a foreman for the Montague Basket Company and also as a fruit grower. He was living in Muskegon Heights in 1894, but by November of 1897 he had settled in Fitzgerald, Ben Hill County, Georgia.

Fitzgerald had a curious and unusual origin and Hugh apparently played a role in its birth. According to one writer,

The town’s namesake, Philander Fitzgerald, was a Civil War drummer who later became a pension attorney and publisher of a veteran’s newspaper in Indiana. When a severe drought hit the Midwest in the early 1890s, Fitzgerald concocted a novel idea. “Why not start a soldier’s colony in the Southland and get all those old boys away from the bitter winters and drought?”

As the farm crisis deepened, calls went out for help. The first to respond was the state of Georgia, which sent a trainload of food for both farmers and their livestock. Fitzgerald sensed an opening and wrote to Georgia’s governor about his dream of a Southern colony. Though a rebel veteran, the governor wanted to develop his own state’s underpopulated farmland. So he invited Fitzgerald for a visit. The two men settled on a turpentine camp in the virgin pine forests of south-central Georgia.

Fitzgerald promoted the colony in his newspaper, sold shares in the venture, and bought several thousand acres in Georgia. Then, in the summer of 1895, 2,700 Northern veterans and their families trekked South, many of them in wagon trains. At first, the pine barren to which they’d decamped seemed as bleak as the dustbowl farms they’d left behind. Nor were the natives uniformly friendly. One foe of the project blasted the colony as “a blot on the fair state of Georgia,” and several landowners refused to sell the newcomers property.

But the “pioneers” planted crops, established a settlement, and invited Georgians from the surrounding countryside to a festival celebrating the colony’s first Southern harvest [in 1896]. “The organizers were worried about hotheads on both sides so they planned two parades, one for Union veterans, the other for Confederates.” But when the band began playing, veterans of the two armies spontaneously joined and marched through the town together. Thereafter, they merged to form Battalion One of the Blue and Gray and celebrated their reconciliation annually.

In 1863 Hugh applied for and received a pension (no. 836303.

Hugh probably remained in Fitzgerald until he died of paralysis on April 15, 1912, and was buried in Evergreen cemetery in Fitzgerald.

His widow was living in Georgia in April of 1912 when she applied for and received a pension (no. 743467).

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