Our Hometown Heroes - 11/8/2017

Our Hometown Heroes-11/8/2017

On vacation this September I drove through a small town on the coast of Massachusetts and saw something I’ve never seen before. On every third or fourth power pole leading down the main streets were placed banners honoring the men and women of that area, past and present, who had served our country in the armed forces. The banners had a photo of the person and told of the time period and branch in which they served. I thought to myself, what a great way to honor those who have sacrificed their time, money and careers, and some even their lives, to help keep our country safe. These banners are a great way to remind people to think outside their own daily struggles and remember there are others with even bigger burdens they carry for the good of us all. I thought to myself, wow! This must be a great town where people pay such respect to their sons and daughters, husbands and wives, that they would honor them in such a way. Then I thought, wait a minute, our own North Country area has its own long and rich history of men and women dedicated to the service of our country. We certainly have no shortage of those who gave or still give to our ongoing struggle for survival. This Veterans Day, I am proud to be able to tell you the story of three, out of the many, local heroes who have made the ultimate sacrifice. During the Civil War, the age of a person seemed to have no barrier as to whether you were accepted for service. One such person was Charles Wheelock, a very successful businessman and produce farmer from Hawkinsville, on the Black River. He was almost 50 years old when in 1861 he left his family and farm and led Boonville’s 97th regiment of Civil War volunteers. After helping organize two previous units, there was a call for still more recruits. Charles was given the task of organizing a third local regiment, which he headquartered and trained in Boonville. He became the unit’s Colonel and they soon found themselves on the battlefield. His health was poor and doctors ordered him to quit the field and return home to regain his health. He refused, stating, “I will not leave the field while there is a man to stand by me, unless I’m carried off.” (This would later become the case.) Charles’ men loved and admired him for the care he showed them. They regarded him as a father figure who looked after them as he would his own children. If you ever visit Gettysburg, there is a very well-known story that took place during the battle of Gettysburg, you will hear that involves Boonville’s most famous son, Colonel Wheelock, and a Miss Carrie Sheads whose home still stands along the main street. From Carrie’s memoirs, she states, “A colonel rushed into the breakfast room and a rebel after him, demanding of him surrender. The colonel, being a very large man, could scarcely breathe and begged time to regain his breath. He told them to shoot him, that he would not surrender, and if, he said, I had my men you would not take me. When the confederates demanded his sword, he refused and told the enemy, “It had been given to me by friends and I promised to guard it sacredly, and never surrender or disgrace it, and it never will as long as I live.” During a distraction, Wheelock handed the sword to Miss Sheads, who concealed it in the folds of her dress. When the officer returned, he convinced them another confederate had already taken the weapon. “It was a sad sight to see them take that gray-haired veteran, Carrie wrote, but it was joyful to see him return and reclaim his sword,” as Wheelock would soon escape and return to the field of battle. Less than two years later, during the battle of the Wilderness, he would succumb to poor health and the scrounges of war, and pay the ultimate price in service to our country. Another North Country native, Sgt. Thomas Burk of Harrisville in Lewis County, would actually receive our country’s highest award, The Medal of Honor, for his actions in carrying an injured Colonel Wheelock off the field of battle. For more on this story, please pick up a copy of the Boonville Herald.