Being such a small town in the north, it’s surprising to discover how much Eaton Rapids and Eaton County contributed to the American Civil War. The Michigan Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Memorial Hall and Museum has started a collection of photos of those men who served during the war and who were members of the James Brainerd Post #111 in Eaton Rapids. Some have names that are still very familiar in the community.
Approximately 400 men, all honorably discharged Union veterans of the Civil War, formed the James B. Brainerd Post #111 of the Grand Army of the Republic in Eaton Rapids. In 1886 the group built a meeting hall downtown at 224 South Main, which is now the home of the GAR Museum. The wives and daughters of these men formed the Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC) and shared the building space.
“We have about 40 photos of the Brainerd Post men,” Museum President Keith Harrison said. “I only wish we had more photos of the women who were part of Corps #38, Woman’s Relief Corp; we only have six.”
A listing of all the members of the Brainerd post was made in the post Memorial Book. Some listings included additional information about each veteran and his experiences in the war. Most towns, large and small, had a similar organization of veteran soldiers.
Some of these photos were donated by the soldiers’ descendants, others were donated by collectors of historical items, some were passed on from other museums, some were found online, and some were found in the newspaper, usually as part of the soldiers’ obituary.
Also in the museum is a long panoramic photo taken of the members of the post on Main Street near the Red Ribbon Hall. Some of the members have been identified in the photo, but not all.
“For me, one of the coolest things about the photo collection is that so many of the past members of the post and their names are very familiar to me,” said Chris Allen, Vice President of the museum. “They are the ancestors of families that have lived here for decades. They’re a tangible piece of our local and state history.”
The most recent photo acquisition is a large, ornately framed photo of David S. Milbourn (1834-1916). This portrait had been in storage at the Courthouse Square Museum in Charlotte and they passed it on to the more appropriate repository. Written on the back in faded pencil was “ER, D.S. Milborn [sic}.” Research shows that Milbourn was 29 when he enlisted in Eaton Rapids in Company H, Michigan 6th Infantry. He is buried in Rosehill Cemetery.
Eli Cook (1842-1917) is another identified veteran. Cook was part of the Berdan Sharpshooters during the war, and later served as commander of the Brainerd GAR Post. Locating this photo was easier, as his great-great grandson, Harold Holcomb from Freeport, Michigan, has taken an interest in his family genealogy and has several photos and lots of information on his Civil War ancestor. Cook is buried at Rosehill Cemetery near his wife Elizabeth, who was involved with the WRC. Holcomb also provided a photo of Elizabeth Cook. He is a frequent volunteer at the museum.
Of special local interest, as he is survived by current residents of Eaton Rapids, is Albert Albathia Doxtader (1838-1928). He is the great-great-great grandfather of George Doxtader of Eaton Rapids. Albert Doxtader had quite a tumultuous time in the war. He enlisted in Company K, 36th Indiana Infantry. He was wounded in the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee on April 7, 1862, and left to die. It took 24 hours for him to be found and taken to the hospital. Doxtader came to Michigan to live in 1872 with his wife and sons. Doxtader is buried at Rosehill Cemetery.
Another interesting photo in the collection is that of Nathan “Nat” Davis (1846-1927). Davis started life as a slave in Louisiana. He served in the Civil War with the 102nd United States Colored Troops and after the war came to Eaton Rapids with Colonel Joshua Slayton. He opened a barbershop here and was an active member of the GAR post. Davis is buried in Rosehill next to his wife, Eurith, and their sons.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. the first two Wednesdays of each month, special holidays, and by appointment. Visit their website at garmuseum.com, or their Facebook page GARBrainerdPost111MemorialHallAndMuseum, or call 517-922-6427.