Civil War Brought to Life at Barnegat Library

By ERIC ENGLUND | Nov 20, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

When Dan Lynch’s wife was a principal at St. Rose Grammar School in Belmar, she would bring her husband in when the time came to teach students about the Civil War. He was always glad to offer his insights into the conflict that pitted the North versus the South from 1861 to 1865.

“It doesn’t seem that the Civil War is taught much anymore,” he said. “I run into people who can’t even tell me who fought in it.”

A Barnegat Township resident, Lynch belongs to a group whose members are very knowledgeable about the war – the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. He and a fellow group member, Jay Godin of Brick Township, displayed artifacts, family histories and diaries and other memoribilia Nov. 16 at the Barnegat branch of the Ocean County Library. They also wore Union Army outfits.

Lynch said SUVCW is an organization dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of veteran heroes who fought and worked to save the Union in the American Civil War. Organized in 1881 and chartered by Congress in 1954, SUVCW is the legal heir and successor to the Grand Army of the Republic.

He said it traces its roots to 1866, when the Union veterans of the Civil War organized into the Grand Army of the Republic and became a social and political force that would control the destiny of the nation for more than six decades. After it ceased to exist, the Sons of Veterans of the United States of America carried on its traditions. In 1925, the name was changed to Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, under which its federal charter was issued in 1954.

Lynch’s great-grand uncle, 1st Sgt. Felix W. Branagan, served with the Union Army with Company B, 8th New Jersey Volunteers.

“He was shot three times and was medically discharged,” said Lynch, a 79-year-old retiree from Verizon. “When you look at the diaries, what really stands out is the penmanship and grammar. They are very well written, a lot better than some very educated people.”

Lynch said in his writings, Branagan said he fought in many campaigns in Virginia, and often not in very ideal conditions.

“There wasn’t any transport like you have today,” he said. “They often had to walk many miles between battles. And when they slept in tents, they weren’t in comfortable sleeping bags.”

He said the Civil War was far and away at that time the bloodiest American conflict, with more than 360,000 Union soldiers losing their lives, while the Confederate war dead was around 260,000.

“But probably half the casualties didn’t die on the battlefield,” said Lynch, who is a distant relative of Maj. Gen. George McClellan, Union Army commander, who later served as New Jersey governor. “Because of all the walking done from battle to battle, many soldiers suffered from exhaustion. They easily could get illnesses like dysentery and various infections. Medical care wasn’t too great then. People didn’t know about bacteria and infections like they do today.”

Lynch said Branagan is buried at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Orange. He died of kidney disease in 1892 at age 52.

“There is also a monument dedicated to him for what he did after the war,” Lynch said. “He worked with veterans, helping them get jobs and (seeing) that their wives were taken care of. He also made sure that many veterans had headstones at the cemetery.”

Godin said Memorial Day has its roots in the Civil War, as observances sprang up shortly after the war because of so many lives lost.

“In the beginning it was known as Decoration Day,” said Godin, a 45-year-old locksmith. But during World War I, the United States found itself embroiled in another major conflict, and the holiday evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars.

Godin said that for decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date originally selected for Decoration Day. He said that in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May in order to create a three-day weekend for federal employees; the change went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

His artifacts included numerous bullets, such as the lead 58 caliber mini-ball.

“These bullets did a lot damage,” said Godin. “They were accurately shot from 800 yards away. They shattered bones. If you got hit in the arm or leg, you’d likely lose your limb.”

He spoke about two ancestors, Ernest Mintel and Samuel Keklar. Mintel, who died in 1917 at the age of 78, was a member of New Jersey 4th Battalion. Keklar, who died in 1865 at age 22, fought for the First Pennsylvania Reserve Company K, 30th Regiment.

Godin said the war took a psychological toll on many soldiers, and he believes it may have contributed to Mintel’s death. Mintel is buried in Rosedale Cemetery in Linden.

“He suffered a lot from depression,” Godin said. “When he died, his papers said it was from melancholia, which is what they call depression today.”

Godin said Keklar died from complications from catarrh, which is an

excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat, associated with inflammation of the mucous membrane. He said Keklar’s final resting place is believed to be in Richmond, Va.
“He died at a hospital in Richmond, so we figure that’s where he is,” he said. “But we’re still not completely certain. He never got a headstone. It’s probably just a small stone with a number.”

Godin said the SUVCW has approximately 6,000 members. He said people who are interested in Civil War history but do not have any descendants who fought for the Union can join as associate members.

“We have a way to go before we catch up with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who have around 60,000 members,” he said.

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