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Series of misfortunes could not darken life of Civil War vet

Series of misfortunes could not darken life of Civil War vet

Hugh McLaughlin endured hardship, but remained resilient and content – and agile – into his second century. (File photo)

Series of misfortunes could not darken life of Civil War vet

One of the last veterans of the Civil War was featured in the May 25, 1939, Banner. He reportedly fought for the Union Army in both battles of Bull Run, Gettysburg and others in Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. His was a tale of missed documentation – and a direct hit to his hand in the Battle of Gettysburg that limited his abilities. “If only” seemed a theme in his life, from the day he was born, but it did not define how he lived.


Probably the oldest man in Barry County, and a very interesting character, is Hugh McLaughlin, who will be 99 July 26. He lives about two miles east of the city on what is known as the Center Road.

Though badly crippled from injuries received while serving in the Union Army in the Civil War, he is still able to move around to a much greater extent than one would think possible of a man of his age. Naturally, his memory is impaired, but he can recall many things that happened during his life.

He resides in a little home with Charles Sawyer, a good friend who is a Belgian.

McLaughlin was wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg, a ball crashing through his left hand, making it difficult for him to use it, since the fingers are stiff. He served in the 3rd Michigan Cavalry, the captain of his company being George Winans*. One reminder of his Army service is a big bunch on the lower right side of his back, caused by the kick of a cavalry horse.

Mr. McLaughlin was born on a ship about two miles out from New York City, when his parents were on their way to America. His mother died as a result of childbirth.

He relates that his father first settled in Pontiac. The father again married. He remembers that he was placed as a child with different families by his father. In some instances, the people who took him in became ill or died, and in those cases, he again lived with his father, but only for a short time in each instance.

Mr. McLaughlin said he had to work for his hiving when a mere boy, and worked hard. He had an opportunity to go to school, but for only a few weeks. His teacher became the wife of Capt. Winans.

When the Civil War broke out, he was working for Mr. Winans. He wished to enlist, but he was not then 21 years of age, and the authorities did not feel they could accept him until he was of age. However, he was determined to join the Army and expressed a willingness to go with Capt. George Winans’ company, which was recruited in Ovid.

He was permitted to go, although he could not then enlist. (It was possible to join the Army before 21, if with signed parental permission, which, in this case, he apparently could not get.)

He then went south with Capt. Winans’ company and at first was given only such work as he was accustomed to do, such as chores around the camps, etc.

However, he wanted to be and considered himself a soldier in the regular Army; and to all intents and purposes, he was a regular soldier. Although he has no proof of his enlistment, he wore the Union blue.

He served in the first and second battles of Bull Run. He was with his company in battles in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. His company later was a part of the force of Gen. Sherman in his famous march to the sea.

The wound he received at Gettysburg became more troublesome, so he was put in a hospital. He cannot remember the name of it, nor its location now. When they could do no more for him and because he was so weak and could not give satisfactory service with his crippled hand, he desired to go back to Michigan to rest up, intending to again enter the Army. However, before he could re-enlist, the Civil War ended.

He received the pay of a regular soldier, which was $16 per month. He was not present with his cavalry company when the war ended and the troops were disbanded, so he did not receive an honorable discharge, although he had served 3 ½ years.

Because of his crippled hands, friends have tried to get him a soldier’s pension, but they always have run up against the fact that they could not find a record of his enlistment, nor was there any record that he had been discharged from the Army. As a result of this unfortunate situation, he has never been able to get a pension, although he had given 3 ½ years to save the Union.

He spent five months in Libby prison. He said one cannot imagine the terrible suffering he endured, as did all the Union soldiers in that terrible place. All the prisoners had to eat while he was there was corn meal, uncooked. It was difficult to get water that was fit to drink. He finally made his escape and rejoined his regiment.

Mr. McLaughlin was engaged to a young woman in Ovid when he began his Army service. They agreed that when he returned they would be married. As soon as he could arrange, after the war was over, he married this woman, and they lived together until about 13 years ago, when she died. They never had any children.

He is a mason by trade, but has been unable to work for some time. His injured hand was always a severe handicap. Work at this trade could not be carried on in cold months. He did the best he could when he had an opportunity to work, but was unable to accumulate property.

Mr. McLaughlin has lived in Barry County for about 13 years. Part of that time, he was in the county home, another inmate there was Charles Sawyer, the Belgian, who now lives with him and has for about five years.

McLaughlin draws an old-age pension of $16 per month. Mr. Sawyer gets occasional jobs and always works when he can find something to do. Between them, they manage to get along nicely in this little home, the use of which is generously donated by the owner, Mr. Todd.

His pal is a good cook and prepares breakfasts and suppers for the two. Mr. McLaughlin is able to get his own dinner.

He has a fine philosophy of life. He is not a pessimist and rarely looks on the dark side of life. He appreciates his partner, and they have a good time together.

His eyesight will not permit him to read much, and his limited education hinders him from reading newspapers or books. He likes to visit with folks, and is a friendly, kindly man who has tried to do his part in the work of life. He has had hard things to contend with, but they have never made him sour nor critical of his fellow man.

So, in spite of his handicap of 99 years and the fact that he never has been able to get a pension from the government, he has no harsh criticisms to offer. He is thankful he can get along as well as he does on the small old-age pension he receives. It is too bad he cannot have a soldier’s pension also. He merits it, but the red tape in Washington, his own advanced years and the fact that his Army friends and officers who knew about his Army record had all passed on, will probably make it impossible for him to ever get a pension for his war service.

*Winans was a captain in the 3rd Michigan Infantry.


Internet searches not available in 1989 lead to a little more information today. McLaughlin died in December 1943, at 103 years old. He was buried in the Irving Township Cemetery. Next to him is Lena McLaughlin, (1867-1926). However, she was born after the Civil War. So, perhaps she was his second wife. She had died 13 years earlier, as the article indicated.

The 1940 Census shows McLaughlin living with Charles “Sohier,” perhaps the spelling before the Anglicized version of Sawyer. McLaughlin is 99 and Sohier/Sawyer is 54.

In the 1945 plat map, A G. Todd is listed as owning 120 acres on the north side of Center Road where it intersects Mathison Road, and Alden Todd owns 120 acres on the south side of Center Road, east of Mathison.


The Grand Rapids Herald printed McLaughlin’s obit Dec. 20, 1943.


Hastings Man Dies at 103

Hugh McLaughlin, Barry County’s Oldest Resident, Is Dead

Hastings – Barry County’s oldest resident, Hugh McLaughlin, died Sunday morning in Pennock Hospital at the age of 103. He resided in Hastings.

Mr. McLaughlin was born July 26, 1840, on a boat that was bringing his parents to the United States, from Ireland.

On last July 19, he fell from a railroad bridge about 18 feet to the banks of the Thornapple River and was uninjured.

Mr. McLaughlin claimed that he was a Civil War veteran, but long ago gave up trying to officially establish that he served in the war. He said he enlisted as a cook in the Michigan division and then was transferred to active duty, serving in the Bull Run, Lookout Mountain and Gettysburg battles.

There are no survivors.

Funeral services will be Wednesday in St. Rose Church, followed by burial in Irving Cemetery. The rosary will be recited at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Walldorff Funeral Home.


Compiled by Kathy Maurer. Sources: Hastings Banner,,,,, Grand Rapids Herald.

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