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Chula Vista was home to Civil War vets Susan Walter | Sat, Apr 30 2011 12:00 PM

Many of our citizens lived important parts of their lives outside of California before they took up residence here in the South Bay. For instance: the Civil War.

Three men who served in the Civil War lived in my house. All these men fought for the Union, and all were in Kentucky at one time or another.

John M. Davidson enlisted in June of 1863 and mustered out December 1864. He was assigned to the 47th Kentucky Mounted Infantry, Company B. In January they were chasing the infamous Morgan. They slogged through a 24-hour march in freezing weather, only to sleep in the open - in the mud.

Davidson, beginning as a hale and hearty farm boy, became sick. He went to a hospital, was treated, released, returned to the front, returned for further treatment, and never recovered his health.

James H. Wright (aka Right) was only 18 when he enlisted in the Kentucky 47th in October 1864, joining Company C. Listed as AWOL, actually he had switched to the 4th Mounted Infantry. He was discharged August 1865 in Georgia. He saw action in Wilson's Raid, which was highly successful for the Union with 6,820 prisoners taken and only 725 Union casualties.

George Witten McCoy had served as a private from January 1865 and was discharged July 1865 in the 60th Illinois Infantry, Company A, which was part of the Kentucky Brigade.

Among other engagements, he took part in the Battle of Bentonville that was fought March 19-21, 1865, in North Carolina; this was considered one of the decisive last battles of the war.

Many other men in the South Bay had served in the Civil War. For instance, Albert Haines, who became president of the Heintzleman GAR (Grand Army of the Republic); Allison Crockett, who died in 1909 of complications from a Civil War wound that had never healed; Charles W. Darling of the New York Volunteer Infantry; here these men lived within a few blocks of each other.

Most of our Civil War soldiers in the South Bay arrived here after the war ended, when large numbers of veterans came to California. The major reason they came was for their health, as the warm climate was believed to be healthful. The health benefits were apparently real.

Barbara Palmer's study on Civil War veterans in San Diego County showed that 945 of these veterans lived into their 80s and 64 men lived to ages 90 to 107.

Our Union veterans became members of one of two branches of the GAR in San Diego County: Heintzelman Post #33 and Datus E. Coon Post #172.

The two posts supported each other and were not in competition. The GAR sponsored a number of reunions between Civil War veterans of both sides for several years.

For instance, in August of 1897, Camp Abraham Lincoln, located on twp blocks in San Diego, attracted "a big crowd of old soldiers" ... "a camp of the Blue and Gray in this city, where old soldiers on either side of the late unpleasantness" could "meet and discuss old times."

There truly was conviviality: Confederate vets were warmly welcomed, and "we will recount over the wondrous deeds we performed 30 odd years ago." This was no small affair: The event lasted about two weeks with events scheduled every day. Two hundred tents were erected, the "social pavilion" had seats for 2,500 people and on Aug. 7, 3,000 people were in attendance.

What were our people doing? Well, among the daily reports, were: "Seven boxes of lemons donated by local fruit men have been distributed among the campers and lemonade is on tap everywhere."

Chula Vista was probably the source, after all the soldiers I listed above were from Chula Vista, "Lemon Capital of the World," and they were all orchardists.

The event for one day was to go to Tia Juana on the N C & O train; passing twice - of course - through National City and Chula Vista.

During the biggest dance, "old veterans hopped around in quadrilles with fair daughters of the present generation..."

There's a story about an elaborate march of the "horribles," a requirement that the men - attired as women - kiss the donkey from New York, and that day also a parade of 200 (dignified) women was held.

And then how about these hijinks: "At the (Datus E.) Coon corps headquarters an old boy who undertook to make off with a melon was taken bodily out into the street by the women and laid in the dust. Later a whole wagon load of watermelons arrived; the ungentlemanly old soldiers raided the contents, unhitched the mules and took off all four wheels from the wagon."

They must have had fun!

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