Friday, February 05, 2010

Fernando Page - update 1/24/2011

Fernando Page was born in 1841 “at the top of Lyon Street hill” in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the son of Loren M. (1811-1886) and Jane E. (Soper).

In 1836 Fernando’s father came to Grand Rapids from Vermont, where he had been alternating his work between painting and district school teaching, and soon after he arrived in Michigan he married New York native Jane Soper. By 1850 Fernando was attending school with two of his siblings and living with his family in Grand Rapids; and by 1860 Fernando was working both as a farm laborer for David Smith in Walker, Kent County and a painter with his father and living with his family in Grand Rapids’ Second Ward.

Fernando stood 5’6” with blue eyes, brown hair and a light complexion and was 20 years old and probably living in Kent County when he enlisted in Company K on May 13, 1861. (Four of Fernando’s brothers also served in Michigan regiments during the War: John S. in the First Michigan Engineers & Mechanics, Charles F. in the Eighth Michigan infantry, James B. in the First Light Artillery and Enos in the Tenth Michigan cavalry.)

“He seemed to be a mark for bullets almost from the start,” wrote the Grand Rapids Herald many years after the war. On Sunday, July 21, 1861, at Bull Run “he was shot in arm, but after a few weeks returned to his Regiment full of fight. A short time after that he was shot in the hip during an engagement, and another bullet found its way into his leg just above the knee.”

It was while on picket duty on April 16, 1862, near Yorktown, Virginia, that Page was wounded severely in both feet. “As soon as he was discharged from the hospital,” wrote the Herald in 1912, “he joined McClellan’s campaign starting down the Virginia [peninsula] to Yorktown. He was always successful on foraging tours, and it was because of his fondness for this pastime that he became legless for life. While on a chicken hunt he was late for roll call, and as punishment was detailed for extra duty on the picket line, and sent to an advanced outpost near the rebel's position.”

Dan Crotty of Company F wrote after the war that during an artillery barrage “we hear a shout to the left and front of our post. Pretty soon a man is borne to the rear, and we find that Fernando Page, of company K, has both feet shot off by a premature discharge of one of our own guns. As he passes our post we observe that both feet hang only by pieces of flesh. Poor fellow, his soldiering is done.”

Two days after Page was wounded, George Miller of Company A, wrote home that while there “has not been many of our men killed yet but now and then one will expose himself too much and get hit. One of company K men while on picket had the misfortune to have both his feet shot at the ankle. The poor fellow will have to hobble through the world the rest of his life with wooden feet.” Many years later, the story was told that

A shell came whizzing through the air and cut clear through the bones of both legs just above the ankles. One foot hung by a narrow piece of flesh, and Page whipped out his knife and finished the amputation. His companion carried him in a blanket to a hut a mile away, where a practitioner who was in the improvised hospital for a few day's experience performed the necessary operation. It was not successful and 5 operations followed. It was after the first amputation, when the doctor and attendants believed death to be inevitable that the courage and will power of Page predominated even his terrible sufferings.

Where other men would have died, Page laughed at death. He heard the doctor prophesy his end, and came back with “The h___ you say, doc; I'm not going to die, not by a damnsite.” 24 hours after the operation Page challenged another soldier to a game of poker. The soldier, who had a wounded foot, told Page that it would not be wise for him to move about, so Page reached for a board standing near his bed, made a toboggan of this, and slid down the board to the bedside of the young man. When the doctor came in expecting to make arrangements for his funeral, Page was chuckling over his luck in winning $40 from the other soldier in a game of poker.

Fernando was subsequently hospitalized in New York and discharged on July 14 from David’s Island Hospital in New York harbor, and discharged from the army on August 16, 1862, at Detroit for “loss of both feet.” (His brother Charles was killed on May 12, 1864, at The Wilderness, Virginia.)

After he left the army Fernando returned to Grand Rapids, and in April of 1863 ran for election as Second Ward Constable but was defeated by Isaiah Peak.

Fernando married Michigan native Jane S. Tubbs (1848-1892), and they had at least one child, Charles A. (1868-1880).

By 1868-69 he was employed as toll collector on the west end of the Bridge Street bridge where he resided as well, and he was still living there as the bridge tender in 1870, along with his wife and child. Fernando also worked for several years as a demonstrator for a Philadelphia artificial limb company. In fact, “Page managed to make [such] good headway with artificial feet” that following his appointment as Doorkeeper to the U.S. House of Representatives in the late 1880s, “few realized when they saw him hustling around the House of Representatives that he had suffered such terrible injuries.”

Fernando lived in Grand Rapids for many years. He was working as an insurance agent and living with his wife at the corner of North and Curtis Streets in Grand Rapids’ Fifth Ward November of 1880 when his only son, Charlie A., died of diphtheria. (Next door lived Enos Page, probably Fernando’s brother.)

Fernando was living in Grand Rapids in 1885, on North Avenue northeast of Curtis in 1889 and at 859 Curtis in 1890, although by that time he was working as Doorkeeper for the United States House of Representatives in Washington, DC. In the late 1880s Julius Houseman, an influential businessman and politician from Grand Rapids had secured for Page the appointment as House Doorkeeper, and Page lived out the remainder of his life in Washington, DC.

According to one report written in June of 1890, “Page, a soldier employee of the house of representatives whose home is in Grand Rapids, and who is accused of using Congressman [Charles] Belknap’s frank for mailing democratic literature, is a republican. He was formerly controller of Grand Rapids. He was promoted to his present place through the influence of Mr. Houseman when in Congress. It is quite likely that he had authority to use Mr. Belknap’s frank, of, indeed, he used it at all.”

Fernando was a widower still living in Washington, DC when he married his second wife Fanny or Fannie M. Miller (1850-1926), on October 17, 1895, in Ionia, Ionia County. (Fannie was living in Concordia, Kansas, and was the former widow of John Tate who had served in Company I, Old Third, during the war, on .)

He was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association and Grand Army of the Republic Custer no. 5 in Grand Rapids until he moved to Washington, and he received pension no. 11,992, drawing $72.00 in 1883 for the loss of both feet.

Fernando died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Saturday, April 27, 1912, at his home at 338 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC and his body was sent home to Grand Rapids where it arrived on Wednesday April 31. The funeral services were held at O’Brien Bros. chapel and from the residence of his sister, Mrs. William Brethour, 1011 Caulfield on Friday May 2. He was buried in Oak Hill cemetery: section J lot 33.

His widow was still living in Washington, DC, in May of 1912 when she applied for and received a pension (no. 755912).

1 comment:

K.L. said...

On April 16th, Dan S. Root wrote the following in his journal:
"About noon one of my company, which was stationed partly between the two firs, had both feet taken off by the premature explosion of one of our own shells. He was sitting having a game of euchre with some of his comrades when whizz and in a twinkling his feet disappeared. We carried him back a short distance and Surgeon Sherman, I believe of the 18th N.Y., amputated both legs. He bore it like a hero and will probably recover. We placed his amputated feet under a log. And thus our regiment offered its first sacrifice in battle to the rebellion."

On April 26, ten days later, he wrote:
"I went down to the hospital this afternoon and paid the sick and wounded of our company. Page, the man who lost both feet, is as gay as a lark."