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Colfax historians to right a 24-year-old wrong

Jasper County Civil War vet’s grave marked by wrong headstone type

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013 11:37 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, April 12, 2013 11:49 a.m. CDT

Corporal Jacob Binkerd of Colfax was one of thousands at the Battle of Vicksburg. For decades local residents have passed his grave in McKeever Cemetery, north of Colfax. Only those with knowledge of history and the military coupled with a strong desire to “never forget” would notice something was amiss and needed to be rectified.

May of 2013 marks the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Vicksburg. Iowa sent many of their young men to this historic battle. Many would never return home again.

“There is a spectacular monument in the Vicksburg National Park that was dedicated on November 15, 1906,” according to Tom Gaard of the Iowa Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. “Governor Albert B. Cummins, General Grenville Dodge and a delegation of 150 Iowans were present for the dedication that cost the State of Iowa $150,000. At 64 feet wide and 29 feet high in the center portion the monument is comprised of six bronze relief sculptures and a large equestrian statue.”

In May of this year Governor Branstad and thousands of Iowans will attend the rededication of that refurbished monument in Vicksburg. In early April a smaller but just as important project will take place at a single grave in Colfax.

Young men often have a sense of invincibility and desire to make a meaningful mark in the world. Perhaps that is why, even today, our country has the ability to have an all-volunteer army. In this sense things weren’t so different 150 years ago.

Today there is so much information available from all over the world at our fingertips. We can only imagine what a young Jacob S. Binkerd of Jasper County, Iowa knew of the war in which he was about to enlist in October 1861.

This was a time when many thought what would become known as the Civil War would last no more than 90 days. Many may remember from history text books how some civilians would go out to picnic on the hills near early battlefields. For Corporal Binkerd who enlisted in October 1861, in Company B of the 13th Regiment of Iowa volunteers his service would extend much longer. His discharge would not come until July of 1865 in Louisville, KY.

In a later request for an invalid pension we know that Jacob Binkerd, like many young Iowans, served in some of the most deadly battles of the war. He was at Vicksburg and was also on Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”

In the time after the war, documents from the Department of the Interior show that he was born in Ohio 1841, and married Mary Jane Richey in 1864 in Jasper County. The young couple had at least four children. They were, Mary Ann, born in 1866, Charley in 1868, Elizabeth in 1870, and Frank in 1872. At the time of Binkerd’s pension request in 1915, all the children, save for Frank, had died.

Corporal Binkerd had lived in Iowa, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, and, finally, California by the time of his death in 1921. It was Jasper County, Iowa that had been his family’s true home, and so it was Colfax that he chose as their final resting place.

Pension records show that the government paid for the transportation of his body back to Iowa. His son, Frank, brought the body back for burial. It is not known if or why the grave remained unmarked for the next 68 years. There was nothing in the pension record to show that a headstone was ordered.

In 1989, Catharine J. Henderson assisted Beverly Brodie in getting a military gravestone. Brodie, of Akron, Iowa, furnished a 200+ page history of the family of Anderson Richey (1820-1901) — of whom Binkerd is a son-in-law — to the Jasper County Genealogical Society. While the intentions were very honorable, what happened next would apparently go unnoticed for the next 30 years. The stone was delivered, placed and stands today.

It would not be until 2010 that David A. Wharff noticed a severe wrong that needed immediate correcting.

“It was Memorial Day four or five years ago that I first noticed the [grave]stone,” said Wharff. “And here’s this big tall one that looks like a civil war monument. It reads: ‘BINKERD, Jacob S. 26 MAR 1841 - 3 NOV 1921  1ST CORP CO B 13 IA INF C.S.A.’ And I said ‘Wait a minute…’”

Wharff noticed what the untrained eye would simply skim past. The 13th Iowa Infantry wasn’t a Confederate infantry — noted by the C.S.A. —, it was Union. The pointed, instead of rounded, top of the stone was a style reserved for soldiers of the Confederate Army. It was also engraved with the Southern Cross to denote service to the Confederate States of America. Wharf mentioned this to Larry Hurto, a board member of the Colfax Historical Society.

“Wharff was the first to bring it to my attention several years ago,” said Hurto. “He and I are both members of the Colfax Historical Society, and the burial (Block 1, Row 10) is in a cemetery (McKeever) just north of the “Spring City” (Section 23, Poweshiek Township, Jasper County).”

As many already know, this year marks the Civil War Sesquicentennial.  As Archivist of the CHS, Hurto is currently involved in a project in which he is trying to identify all Colfax men who served in the Civil War. He wants to make certain that each of the men whose burial place is known has his grave marked and identified as a Civil War veteran. To date, Hurto has come up with 113 names.

While pursuing cemetery records by the Jasper County Genealogical Society (JCGS), of which Hurto was a former President (2001), and published by the Iowa Genealogical Society in 1995, Hurto found the following entry (p. 733):

BINKERD, Jacob S. 26 MAR 1841 - 3 NOV 1921  1ST CORP CO B 13 IA INF C.S.A.

Not only does this note the mistake on the stone, it shows the error was notice as early as 1995.

Hurto has speculated to how this sort of thing goes unnoticed and unchanged for so long.

“It seems to me that someone in the Veteran’s Administration took a pointed Confederate-style tombstone and had it engraved with Binkerd’s dates and service information when the request for a marker was finally received,” said Hurto. “Whoever that was must not have been familiar with the two different styles of marker, or else they were simply careless.”

Rickie D. Bickle and Barbara Hug also played a role in getting Binkerd’s gravestone corrected. Hug met Bickle after each gave a presentation at a Keo-Mah Genealogical Society workshop on Oskaloosa.

“As we talked he told me about identifying the Jacob Binkerd grave at McKeever Cemetery and that it had a Confederate stone instead of a Union stone,” said Hug. “In fact he had the paper work completed to get the stone, but did not have any place to have to stone shipped to.”

It was through Hug that Bickle was introduced to Hurto. After arranging a meeting the three got together and Bickle provided Hurto with all the information needed to get the order for a new grave marker.

It was through his particular interest in the Civil War that Tom Gaard of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) found out about the mismarked stone. Due to the unusual happenstance of the mismarked stone — this being Gaard’s first experience — he chose to lend his support.

“Jacob Binkerd enlisted for a three-year term early in the war,” Gaard said. “He then reenlisted which took him through the end of the war. He and his family — his two brothers served in the army as well — were obviously very patriotic and the idea that he would be buried with the headstone of his enemy, seems bizarre and disgusting. He must be rolling over in his grave.”

Hurto shares Gaard’s sentiment towards honoring those willing to serve their country, especially those that go beyond the call of duty.

“Corp. Binkerd honorably did his duty to his country by enlisting in the cause to preserve the Union.  He believed so firmly in this cause that he re-enlisted at the end of his initial term of service (1861-64), serving until he was finally mustered out at war’s end in 1865.  It is insulting to the memory of this Ohio-born Iowa veteran to even suggest that his loyalties or service were to the Confederate States of America,” Hurto said.

As the ground thaws in early April many of these dedicated volunteers and nameless others will trek out to McKeever Cemetery with a 243 lbs granite stone in the correct Union Army style. They will dig out the old stone at its foundation and replace it with this final marker as a reminder and final honor to a young soldier’s dedicated service to his country. They, like most Iowans, “will never forget.”

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