Every tombstone has a story for South County author Jim Gregory — but some have more than others.
In his latest endeavor, the 64-year-old author of “World War II Arroyo Grande” is looking for the stories behind the tombstones of about 50 Civil War soldiers buried at Arroyo Grande District Cemetery.
Gregory, who can trace some of his own ancestry back to Confederate soldiers and officers, said he was inspired to start his next nonfiction book, “Patriot Graves: The Union Civil War Soldiers of Arroyo Grande, California,” when he found a list of Union soldiers buried in the cemetery on findagrave.com and immediately began asking himself why they would have moved to the West Coast.
“I think the reason they came out here is that this was a fresh start, and they could leave the old stuff behind,” Gregory said. “Arroyo Grande was a place for them to heal.”
After the war
After winning the war in 1865, many of the Union soldiers returned home as changed men. While their Southern counterparts were greeted with fanfare and hero worship, many Northern soldiers returned to their daily lives hardened and crippled, unrecognizable to their families and unable to adjust to peacetime living, Gregory said.
“There are of course the parallels to our Vietnam War veterans,” Gregory said. “But what struck me are the parallels to World War I, as well, with (Ernest) Hemingway and all of them. They were restless and always on the move, as well.”
Gregory said that of the 23 soldiers he has so far been able to trace through census data, seven moved once from the state they’d served as soldiers, seven moved twice, and nine moved three times or more.
Once they settled in Arroyo Grande, these men became the farmers, blacksmiths, builders, pediatricians and founders of the town we know today. Some testaments to their work still exist, such as historical homes and farms.
Even Arroyo Grande High School owes some of its existence to the work of Erastus Fouch, a member of the 75th Ohio Infantry who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. Fouch was instrumental in establishing Arroyo Grande Union High School in the late 1890s.
“I’m not going to say that they didn’t have struggles when they came out here,” Gregory said. “But, man, if you just look at the families they raised and the descendants they left behind, it looks to me like a lot of them turned out pretty well. That’s something to be said for little old South County of San Luis Obispo.”
Gaps in the stories
There are still some pieces of the puzzle missing. Gregory said because he doesn’t have access to any letters or first-hand accounts from the soldiers buried in Arroyo Grande, he’s had to rely on other means to paint the picture of the men who traveled here. From diaries and letters of other soldiers in the same regiments as the veterans to census data, Gregory said it has been slow moving trying to piece together the details of these men’s lives.
He has even put out a plea to locals who have information on any of the 50 soldiers he’s researching, or have information about any other local Civil War soldiers.
In the meantime, Gregory said he is trekking along with the manuscript, which is about 75 percent completed, he said.
This is the former Arroyo Grande High School teacher’s second book. He released “World War II Arroyo Grande” in January through Arcadia Publishing. For his new book, Gregory said he instead plans to self-publish it, and he has started a Kickstarter campaign to help raise money for it.
As of Sunday, the campaign has raised $962 of his $3,500 goal. The fundraising campaign ends April 12, and if he fails to reach the goal, he doesn’t receive the money. Gregory said he would also be open to working with a local publisher if self-publishing proves to be too hard.
Do you know these men?
Gregory is looking for information on any of the following Civil War veterans:
- Abbot, Austin: unknown-1894, 7th Michigan Infantry
- Abbot, Seneca: unknown-1895, Michigan Light Artillery
- Adams, Alexis: unknown-1907, 12th Maine Infantry
- Adams, Herbert D.: unknown-1895, 12th Maine Infantry
- Alcott, John H.: 1829-1904, 16th Wisconsin Infantry
- Ash, William John:1834-1892, United States Navy
- Bair, Adam: 1845-1917, 60th Ohio Infantry
- Bakeman, Henry: unknown, 2nd Iowa Infantry
- Belot, Francis X.: unknown-1906, 4th Minnesota Infantry
- Bouchard, Henry: 1842-1943, 155th Illinois Infantry
- Brassford, John William: unknown, 11th Illinois Infantry
- Brewer, Joseph: unknown-1921, 11th New Jersey Infantry
- Bristol, Charles E.: 1848-1916, 87th Ohio Infantry
- Brown, John D.: 1842-1910, 34th Illinois Infantry
- Bussell, Harrison Marion: 1835-1906, 1st Colorado Cavalry
- Clark, Charles S.: 1848-1916, 1st New Jersey Cavalry
- Craig, Francis A.: unknown -1912, 73rd Illinois Infantry
- Cutter Hoisington, Lauretta H.: 1826-1915, Union Army nurse*
- Davis, Jacob: 1833-1895, 58th Indiana Infantry
- Denham, Morris: 1833 -1916, 12th Wisconsin Infantry
- Dowell, James A.: 1832-1919, 16th Kansas Cavalry
- Fouch, Erastus: 1844-1926, 75th Ohio Infantry
- Hodges, Thomas Exley: 1846-1933, 45th Missouri Infantry
- John, George A.: unknown, 73rd Indiana Infantry
- Keesey, Otis M.: unknown-1917, 98th Ohio Infantry
- Keown, Thomas H.: 1846-1933, 12th Missouri Cavalry
- Knotts, Emery: unknown-1912, 145th Indiana Infantry
- Lane, William: 1835-1923, 24th Iowa Infantry
- McBane, Samuel: 1834-1901, 123rd Ohio Infantry
- Merrill, Richard P.: 1844-1909, 130th Pennsylvania Infantry
- Miller, Isaac Dennis: 1843-1896, 24th Iowa Infantry
- Miller, Samuel B.: unknown, 24th Iowa
- Monroe, George: unknown-1930, 148th Ohio Infantry
- Morgan, James: 1837-1915, 80th Indiana Infantry
- Munger, Timothy: 1838-1911, 8th Ohio Cavalry
- Purdy, George Henry: 1840-1913, 11th West Virginia Infantry
- Rice, John S.: 1829-1910, 10th Minnesota Infantry
- Ross, Irwin L.: unknown-1898, 13th Michigan Infantry
- Runels, Steven Vitalis: 1845-1927, 47th Ohio Infantry
- Shaw, Steven Vitalis: 1843-1902, 74th Illinois Infantry
- Shinn, Granville: unknown-1907, 118th Illinois Infantry
- Smith, Otis W.: 1844-1923, 95th Ohio Infantry
- Spears, John W.: 1833-unknown, 3rd New York Cavalry
- Stevenson, James G. 1829-1910, 74th Ohio Infantry/154th Ohio Infantry
- Stobridge, William Haze: unknown-1903, 12th Ohio Cavalry
- Ullom, Sylvanus: unknown-1914, 25th Ohio Infantry
- Whiteley Sr., Thomas: unknown, 4th Massachusetts Militia
- Wood,Thomas: 1832-1911, 29th Missouri Infantry
- Wright, Jefferson: unknown-1905, 55th Ohio Infantry
* Cutter Hoisington is buried in the Halcyon Cemetery at the Temple of the People, not Arroyo Grande District Cemetery.