PORTAGE PATHWAYS: John Grate
was living link to Civil War
By Roger J. Di Paolo
As a young man, John Henry Grate was an eyewitness to history.
A lifetime later, as a very old man, he was himself a part of history, a living link to a distant past.
John Henry Grate spent virtually all of his 104 years in Portage County, where he was born on Aug. 1, 1845, in Edinburg.
For roughly two years, however, he was stationed with the Union Army during the Civil War, serving with the Sixth Ohio Cavalry Regiment and later with the Army of the Potomac.
He was 19 years old when he witnessed Robert E. Lee’s surrender of the Confederacy at Appomattox Court House, Va., on April 9, 1865. Eighty years later, as the nation fought its second world war, he was able to share tales of his experiences in the Civil War as one of the last surviving veterans of that terrible ordeal.
Grate was among 1,800 Portage County men who marched off to defend the Union, enlisting in October 1863 from Newton Falls. Modest about his experiences in the war, according to one account, he experienced his only “close call” when a bullet came uncomfortably close to his cap.
Returning from the war, he became a buggy maker, pursuing a trade he had learned during his youth. A skilled woodworker, he was employed for many years by the Heiser buggy works in Yale, the community located at the crossroads of Atwater, Edinburg, Deerfield and Palmyra. He worked there until it closed because of the advent of the automobile.
He later farmed on his property in Atwater’s northeastern corner, marketing dried corn through an evaporator works on his property. After the evaporator works burned, he retired and moved to Atwater Center in 1918, spending the rest of his long life there.
He was proud of his Civil War service and was active in the Ohio Department of the Grand Army of the Republic, a veterans’ organization that, with the passing of time, inevitably dwindled in size. He attended national encampments of the G.A.R. and faithfully turned out for Memorial Day observances in Atwater.
When he was nearly 100 years old, he was elected commander of the Ohio G.A.R. unit and, in 1946, was named national commander of the G.A.R. By that time, however, only a dozen veterans were able to travel to the annual encampment.
Hundreds of Commander Grate’s neighbors, however, turned out to salute their community’s celebrated resident when Atwater observed “John Grate Day” on Jan. 31, 1947.
“The gentlemanly commander took the celebration in stride, wisecracking his pleasure upon being the central figure in “all the fuss,”’ Evening Record reporter Loris Troyer wrote in an article headlined, “It Was a “Grate’ Day for Atwater.”
Representatives of the Spanish-American War and both world wars paid tribute to the Civil War veteran, who related some of his wartime experiences from eight decades earlier.
Later, seated in a rocking chair, he greeted scores of well-wishers. Among them was 88-year-old Homer Hillyard of Atwater, who told Commander Grate, “I saw you march off to war,” recalling a vivid memory he had experienced as a 3-year-old.
Grate, who drove his car well into his 90s, was reported to be in excellent health except for failing hearing. When he was 100 years old, he was summoned for jury duty in Ravenna but excused because of his age.
Portage County’s last surviving Civil War veteran was two months short of his 104th birthday when he died on June 7, 1949, a week after missing Memorial Day rites in Atwater for the first time in decades. He had made plans to dissolve the Ohio G.A.R. unit later that month.
“Taps sounded today throughout Heaven’s camps as John Henry Grate of Atwater, one of three remaining Ohioans who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, reported for final orders to the first-ranking Commanding General,” Evening Record reporter Kaye Birkner wrote in Grate’s obituary.
He was buried in Atwater Cemetery, with military rites conducted by Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
A year after his death, Atwater dedicated a marble monument honoring the 49,000 Ohioans who fought for the Union ” including John Grate and 71 other men from Atwater ” on a site on S.R. 183 near the cemetery.
The monument stood proudly for nearly 60 years until it was toppled last week after being struck by an errant driver. It is hoped that this reminder of the service of Commander Grate and his comrades in the nation’s bloodiest conflict will be rebuilt.
John Henry Grate
Portage Counties Last Civil War Veteran
Born: August 1, 1845, Edinburg Twp.
Died: June 7, 1949 at 2:10 PM in his Atwater home- 104 years old
During 1946-1947, Mr. Grate was National Commander of the Ohio department of GAR (Grand Army of Republic). Ceremonies were set when he felt that he could not longer carry on in the tradition of an active soldier for Jun 18, 1949 to close the books on the GAR unit. When it became apparent that Mr. Grate would not be able to attend, the ceremonies were canceled.
Full military rites were held by the sons of the Union Veterans Organization of Alliance at the Cassaday and Turke Funeral Home of the same city. His burial was in Atwater Cemetary.
Mr. Grate lived in Portage County all of his life with the exception of the two years he spent fighting the “War Between the States”. John enlisted as a Private in Newton Falls in 1863. When the South surrendered at the Appomattax Courthouse on April 9, 1865 Mr. Grate was onlooking for this historical event. John Henry Grate was Portage Counties last surviving civil war veteran. Mr. Grate participated in every Memorial Day Parade possible until May 1949.
Grate married his wife, Laura, in 1873. John was a buggy maker by trade, learning the skill as a youth in Palmyria. His specialty was in the woodwork on some of the finest buggies of the era, manufactured by the Heiser Buggy Company of Yale. With the Automobile’s era approaching quickly, the firm went out of business. After leaving the buggy business, Mr. Grate farmed near Atwater and operated an evaporating plant whose dried corn was in high demand throughout the northern Ohio area. The couple moved into Atwater west of the railroad tracks on Main Street (now currently Waterloo Road) after his retirement in 1918.
Mrs. Grate passed in 1944 at the age of 90- shortly before they shared their 71st Wedding anniversary.
Information obtained from:
"Atwater Historical Society, Preserving the Heritage of Our Founders, Atwater, Ohio
Town 1, Range 1 In the Western Reserve Est. 1799 And Vicinity Old Records And History ***** Atwater Twp. Portage Co., Ohio Please use our contact page to obtain a copy of this book for further exciting information regarding John Grate and the History of Atwater