Special ceremony to honor Civil War soldier on anniversary of his death

Charles M. Culver died 75 years ago on July 14, 1943. He was the last Civil War soldier to die in Fillmore County. He entered the war as a 12-year-old drummer boy with Company B of the 5th Minnesota.
By : 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Bluff Country Newspaper Group

On Saturday, July 14, the Fillmore County Historical Society (FCHS), in conjunction with the Chatfield Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), will honor the last Civil War soldier to die in Fillmore County, Charles M. Culver.

The installation of a Last Soldier Commemorative Flag Marker will be held during a gravesite ceremony at the Chatfield Cemetery. This Saturday will be the 75th anniversary of Culver’s death, as he passed away on July 14, 1943.

Debra Richardson, director of the Fillmore County History Center, invites the public to join in honoring Culver, a longtime Chatfield resident who marched off to war under the watchful eye of his father, Norman Culver.

Charles Marion Culver was born in Dryden, Lapeer County, Mich., on Oct. 1, 1849, and he enlisted in the Union Army on Jan. 17, 1862.

Richardson related, “Charlie enlisted as a 12-year-old drummer boy with Company B of the 5th Minnesota on Jan. 17, 1862. Charlie’s father, Norman Culver, served as lieutenant of the company.”

Richardson’s collection of files on the young Charles Culver illustrates the boy and the man as he led his life after the war.

“Beyond primary research in our genealogy library, we unfortunately do not hold any Culver family objects in our collection, but over the years as FCHC director, I compiled a research file on Charlie Culver, available to view in our archives by appointment. As well, I have accumulated four full vertical file drawers of primary source research on Fillmore County’s service during the Civil War,” she said. “This began as a personal project in 2011 during commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of the War Between the States. Although a proposed book project proved too expensive to pursue, I have donated these files to the history center in hopes that a future FCHC director, or independent scholar, will find it financially feasible to bring the material to publication.”

She outlined that now is the time to visit Charlie Culver’s grave and salute him for his bravery as a child heading into the battlefield.

“The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is currently spearheading a nationwide mission to commemorate the last Union soldier to die in each county. Richard Serfling, a member of SUVCW, became aware of this project and passed the information to me,” Richardson said. “I suggested to our board of directors that we participate, and they unanimously approved purchase of the flag marker and sponsorship of the ceremony.”

Richardson said this ceremony is a chance to pay respects to Charlie personally, and to all Fillmore County veterans, generally, as well as a chance to see and participate in a living history event.

The Chatfield VFW is in charge of the ceremony, with Jerry Spelhaug, commander. The script is provided by SUVCW organization in Harrisburg, Penn. Officers and board members of the Fillmore County Historical Society, which donated the cost to purchase the marker, will be present.

“Gil Richardson, my son, will reenact the role of Charlie Culver, representing the 5th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Company B. Richard Serfling, will reenact the role of his grandfather, Private John Serfling, who enlisted Feb. 10, 1862, serving three years,” Richardson added.

 The director stated it’s important to take a moment to honor not just the soldiers, but their accomplishments. “Beyond honoring local history, it’s important to acknowledge Fillmore County’s unique contributions to state and national history,” she said. “In this case, recognizing Chatfield’s own Charlie Culver as the youngest Minnesotan to officially serve in the Civil War — as well as acknowledging him as the oldest living Civil War veteran to have died in our county, and the oldest Dakota Uprising-US/Dakota War veteran in the entire state of Minnesota at the time of his death in 1943.”

She added, “In the period just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, the county of Fillmore held the distinction as the most populous county in Minnesota, surpassing either Ramsay or Hennepin counties. A long list of Fillmore County men served their country to preserve the Union and left behind a patriotic legacy to be proud of. From brevet general Judson W. Bishop, colonel of the Second Minnesota Infantry, Company A, to 12-year-old boy drummer Charlie Culver, we remember their individual stories and show honor to their names.”

 This isn’t the first time that FCHS has held observations of historic wars and the soldiers who fought in them. “FCHS spearheaded a commemorative ceremony at Lenora Cemetery in 2012 with a service at Lenora Church, to honor veterans of the War of 1812 who moved west in their later years to settle and die in Fillmore County,” Richardson recalled. “Wreaths, and in two cases, new gravestones, were set at the gravesites of these veterans.”

 For now, the mission is to gather at one of the county’s 100 cemeteries — assembling at the sacred resting place of Fillmore County’s past — to pay honor and respect above the earthly remains of a local boy who left his mark upon the pages of local, state and national history, Richardson concluded.

 The observations will take place at Chatfield Cemetery at 3 p.m. this Saturday, July 14. For those who are unable to attend, the ceremony will be featured in the next issue of Rural Roots, the Fillmore County Historical Society newsletter.