(On this date, October 6, 2016, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present to the world for the first time anywhere the second member of the OCHF Class of 2016)
Farmer, soldier, teacher, pastor, politician, and businessman. John M. Galer had done it all in his long life – a useful life that has more than earned a spot in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.
John M. Galer was born on March 22, 1840, near what is now Penn State University in Center County, Pennsylvania. His father David Galer was second generation American-born and his mother Jane was fourth generation American-born. They both had German heritage and were part of what was known as the Pennsylvania Dutch community. His mother’s father and uncle had served in the Revolutionary War. John was the eldest of a family of seven children. When he was 14 years of age his parents moved to Bridgeport, Wisconsin, later moving to the Cox Creek area near the town of Littleport in Clayton County, Iowa. Here he grew to manhood and helped with the family farm.
In September 1861 John volunteered for Civil War duty and joined an all-Iowa cavalry unit. His enlistment records show that he was 5 feet 7 inches in height and weighed 140 pounds, with blue eyes, a sandy complexion, and flaxen hair. John was made a private – later being promoted to the rank of corporal – and assigned as a bugler. That unit was the 11th Pennsylvania Independent Cavalry, the 108th Volunteers also known as “Harlan’s Light Calvary”, under authority of the Secretary of War. John was in Company A. The 11th was mainly from Pennsylvania but Company A was from Iowa, Company M was from Ohio, and parts of Companies E and F were from New York and New Jersey.
On October 14, 1861 the 11th Pennsylvania was sent to Washington, D.C. On November 17th it was sent to Annapolis, Maryland, to be transported to the Fortress Monroe Virginia area where it was assigned to Camp Hamilton. This was part of the build up for Union Army General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign. John personally witnessed the legendary sea battle between the ironclads USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimac) that took place in Hampton Roads on March 8th and 9th, 1862.
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The Battle of The Monitor and the Merrimac
By John Galer [written in 1918]
In the spring of 1862, our regiment, [the] 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry, were camped on the North Shore of Hampton Roads. Company A, our company, lay within 7 or 8 rods of the water line and had an unobstructed view of the whole of Hampton Roads, We had learned through scouts and spies that the enemy were building an ironclad war vessel near Norfolk on the Elizabeth River, 12 or 15 miles south of Hampton Roads.
In the afternoon of March 8, we saw a heavy smoke coming from Norfolk and soon the Merrimac made her appearance and with her the Yorktown, Jamestown and other smaller Confederate vessels. Union vessels in the Hampton Roads consisted of the Cumberland, Congress, Minnesota, (all 84 gunships) and other smaller Union craft.
The Merrimac steamed directly toward the Cumberland and Congress near Newport News and made the attack on them. Soon nearly all the vessels in the Hampton Roads were mixed up to some extent, in the fighting, which lasted several hours. The Merrimac put the Cumberland in a sinking condition and called on the captain to surrender, but the captain answered, “No sir, we will go to the bottom first,” and they kept on fighting and firing until the muzzles of their guns were near the water.
A part of the crew swam ashore and were saved, but the greater part, among whom was a brother of Uncle Jimmie McIntire of Alton [Kansas], went down with the vessel.
The Congress kept up the fight until the Merrimac set her on fire by firing red hot shot into her and caused her to surrender, and she was burned to the water’s edge. But a few of her crew were taken prisoners as the guns from Newport News made it too hot for the enemy to venture out to take them. Most of the crew were rescued by small boats from Newport News. The smoke from the vessels and firing obscured the fighting to such an extent that we could not see all of it.
The Minnesota in the maneuvering ran aground, where she remained till in the night. The enemy vessels went back to Norfolk in the evening.
We were an anxious bunch for the reason that there were only about 5,000 of us, while only 2 or 3 miles behind us was General [John B.] Magruder with 35,000 ready to attack us as soon as the Merrimac made it safe to do so, which she expected to do on the morrow.
In the morning of the next day (March 9), the enemy vessels made their appearance, the Merrimac steaming directly toward the Minnesota and firing a challenge at long range. Just then a queer looking craft, the Monitor, which had arrived during the night and had taken position behind the Minnesota, moved out toward the Merrimac, placed a solid 11-inch shot on the side of the iron monster and waked her up to the fact that she had something different from wooden vessels to contend with, and they were soon engaged in heavy fighting to see which should prove victorious.
They kept up a very hot battle, being on the move all the time as ships in action always are, sometimes very close together, pouring the solid shot on each other’s iron sides with little or no effect. This continued till 3 or 4 p.m. when the Monitor succeeded in placing a shot in the stern of the Merrimac and put her in a leaking condition and caused her to give up the fight and start for Norfolk and never engaged in another fight.
The battle with the Merrimac is too grand for pen to describe though partly hidden by a smoke screen caused by the continuous cannonading.
On the morning of the second day, several rebel steamers decked with flags and carrying finely dressed passengers arrived expecting to see the whole Union fleet wiped off the map. When the Merrimac started to retreat, the finely-decorated steamers with the fashionably dressed sightseers went away in a hurry.
At the end of the first day, death or prison seemed certain and we felt very despondent, but when victory came on the evening of the second day, we sure had a time of great rejoicing.
John Galer, Osborne, Kansas
Company A, 11th PA Cavalry.
P.S. – Hampton Roads is a body of water extending west from the Atlantic Ocean, nearly circular and about 14 miles across.
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John served in the Union Army as a volunteer in Company A, 13th Pennsylvania Cavalry for nearly four years. Most of this time was spent in the Portsmouth, Norfolk, Suffolk, Williamsburg, Richmond and Petersburg Virginia areas as well as expeditions in the Camden, South Mills, Edenton, and other parts of North Carolina. He was honorably discharged in 1864 – “sent home to die”, as he said – suffering a serious relapse of measles which had taken the lives of many men in his Company.
John soon recovered and went to Clayton County, Iowa, where he taught school for ten years. Esther Gifford was one of his seventeen-year-old pupils. They were married on April 19, 1866. When she earned her teaching certificate in 1869 Esther also taught for three years until the birth of their first child.
In 1877 John and his brother-in-law, Sylvester Palmer, rode by horseback to Osborne County, Kansas, where they looked over the land and, liking what they saw, filed on two homestead claims. They then returned for their families and in late spring 1878 started the long trek to their new land in three or four covered wagons. The two families lived in tents while building their new homes. John promised his wife that their home would be of stone, as she was deathly afraid of snakes. The house was at first only sixteen by eighteen feet in size. As the family grew rooms were added, and the family also enjoyed having the first windmill in the area. John had faithfully kept diaries of his early life and Civil War experiences, but they were destroyed in a flood soon after the family’s arrival in Osborne County.
They built a sod schoolhouse where all community gatherings were held. John taught school for two years, without pay, until the district was organized. He became a lay-preacher and often conducted church services there when the minister could not come.
In October 1889 John Galer was voted in as the Osborne County Republican Party’s nominee for Osborne County Clerk in the 1890 general election. Those plans were laid aside when Zachary T. Walrond resigned his position as the Kansas House of Representatives member from Osborne County, having been appointed Attorney General for the Indian Territory. After considerable debate John Galer was appointed to fill out Walrond’s unexpired term, which ran until December 1890. John served in the House with distinction and then declined to run for re-election, choosing instead to return home to his Mount Ayr Township farm.
Esther Galer was only 49 years old when she died of a heart attack in November 1898.
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Mrs. John Galer Dead.
An unusually sad occurrence was the death of Mrs. John Galer of Mt. Ayr Township, on Saturday evening. Mrs. Galer, her two daughters, and two of her sons were in Alton Saturday afternoon making Christmas purchases, and providing numerous things necessary for a grand time to be had at the Pleasant Plain school house Christmas Eve.
They started homeward at about five o’clock in the evening, and when about three miles south of town, just beyond Ed. Ives’ place, Mrs. Galer was suddenly stricken by an attack of neuralgia of the heart, to which she had been subject, and fell from the wagon. She was picked up in great pain and made as comfortable as possible in the vehicle and all haste was made toward home. Mrs. Galer’s condition became rapidly worse, and she asked to be taken to the nearest house. The party drove as rapidly as possible to Clate Gregory’s and she was carried into the house, where she expired almost immediately
A most heartrending scene here presented itself. A loving mother surrounded by her beloved ones in the midst of preparation for a joyful commemoration, was called hence by Him whose birth-time she loved to honor.
The sad announcement was hurried on to the husband who awaited her coming in the home her presence had brightened for so many years.
Mrs. Galer was a refined and well educated woman, and the twenty years or her life spent in Osborne County has always been exemplary of the best that culture and a true conception of the responsibilities of life can offer. She was a member of the M. E. church and the leading spirit in the church work of that community. For the past seventeen years the infant class in Sunday school had been her especial care, and many a young man and young woman has carried with them into the world the influence of her teachings and motherly counsel.
She was born in Iowa, September 1, 1849. She leaves a husband and eight children to mourn. Her remains were laid to rest in the Pleasant Plain Cemetery on Monday. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. Dugger of Natoma. – Alton Empire, December 22, 1898, Page One.
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John, at age 59, was left alone to raise the five children still living at home after his wife’s death.
In November 1903 John moved to Alton, Kansas and went into business for the International Harvester Company in partnerships first with John Hadley and later with Charles Thomas.
“John Galer, while working in his store last Saturday, just before noon, was stricken with an attack of heart trouble, and fell unconscious, remaining so for perhaps ten minutes. He revived, however, and was about the store the rest of the day.” – Alton Empire, May 13, 1909.
John retired in 1910 and for the rest of his life lived with family members in Alton, Osborne, and Downs. He enjoyed always being the oldest veteran in all the area parades, and often made presentations in schools, usually being requested to retell his story of the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack. John died at the home of his son in Downs, Kansas on November 29, 1929.
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J. M. Galer Passes Away
Civil War Veteran and Early Osborne County Settler Answers Final Call
John M. Galer, well known and loved Osborne County man, passed to his reward Friday morning. Mr. Galer had been bedfast for only a few weeks previous to his death and until that time retained his faculties in a remarkable way for one of his age. He went to Kansas City a few weeks ago for an operation and since has not been able to be out much. Tuesday of last week he became decidedly worse and death came early Friday morning.
Mr. Galer came to Osborne County at an early day and reared his family here. He was loved by all who knew him for his jovial disposition and kindly ways and will be missed by all who knew him. He homesteaded south of Alton and for a number of years made his home in Alton. He was one of the few remaining veterans of the Civil War and was a member of the G.A.R. Funeral services were held from the Methodist Church in Osborne Sunday afternoon in charge of Reverend Leroy F. Arend, pastor of the church, and assisted by Rev. Ludwig Thomsen of the Congregational Church. The Masonic Lodge, of which the deceased was a member, had charge of the services at the grave. Masons from Alton, Downs and Osborne lodges were present and the oration was given by H. A. Meibergen, of Downs. Three of his comrades, Selah B. Farwell, Benjamin F. Hilton, and Robert R. Hays, attended the funeral. Burial was made in the Osborne Cemetery by the side of his wife who had recently been removed from the Pleasant Plain Cemetery to the Osborne Cemetery.
The following is [taken from] the obituary that was read at the funeral services:
The eldest son, Earl F., died at Lambert, Oklahoma six years ago. Those left to mourn his passing are: Mrs. L. C. Beisner, Natoma Kansas; Mr. W. E. Smith, Hays, Kansas; George G. or Skidmore, Missouri; Charles M. of Downs; John F. of Burr Oak, Kansas; Mrs. C. A. Peach of Grand Junction, Colorado, and Mrs. Ray Tindal of Osborne with whom he has made his home for the last ten years. All were present with their father during his last illness except George, who was unable to come. He also leaves 31 grand children and 13 great-grandchildren.
In 1880 he was converted and joined the Methodist Church of which he has since been an active member, transferring his membership to the Osborne M. E. Church several years ago. On 1886 Mr. Galer was ordained as a local pastor, and often filled the pulpit for other ministers when necessary.
Mr. Galer has been a Mason for over 60 years, having joined the lodge in Iowa, later transferring to the Alton lodge where he was a charter member, and at the age of 70 was conferred the honor of a life membership in that order. He was also a member of the Eastern Star and served several terms as Worthy Patron.
He was a charter member of the General Bull Post No. 106 G. A. R. at Alton, Kansas until it disbanded, after which he joined the O. M. Mitchell Post No. 69 at Osborne, Kansas.
In 1903 with his three younger children, he moved to Alton, Kansas, where he made his home until the marriage or his youngest daughter in 1910, since that time making his home with his son, Charles and daughter, Mrs. Ray Tindal.” – Alton Empire, December 5, 1929, Page One.
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“John Galer is no more. He was one of the finest men to settle in Mount Ayr [Township] in the early days, although he was not one of the earliest settlers. Yet 1878 is considered early . . . Mr. Galer was a progressive farmer. He was always experimenting with grains and grasses, trying to find out the kind best adapted to this part of the country. We remember way back in 1900 when we were the trustee of Mount Ayr Township. Mr. Galer came to us with the idea of purchasing a road grader for the township. We studied the situation over with him and the result was we purchased the first road grader and were derided for so doing, but time has proven it was a good move. Mr. Galer was one of the first township officers, having been appointed to office when the township was organized . . . He was always held in respect by all who know him. After he left the farm he engaged in business with J. M. Hadley for a while. Mrs. Hadley sold out to Charles Thomas and the firm name was then Galer and Thomas for some time. They were in the pump and windmill business and the name of Galer and Thomas may yet be seen on many windmills . . . He is gone and the least that can be said of him is that he was a good man. We heard him say once that a man that didn’t care for children or flowers was no man at all. He was a lover of both; also, he could always be heard whistling – a sure sign of a cheerful disposition. He was a deep thinker and in an argument was always willing to believe his opponent had as much right to his way of thinking as he had, but like Henry Clay, he would rather be right than president. John Galer will be sadly missed by his many friends, but his ending at an old age is the culmination of a long and useful life.” – Charles E. Williams, 1996 Osborne County Hall of Fame inductee, in the Mount Ayr Department column of the Alton Empire newspaper, December 5, 1929, Page Four.
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SOURCES: Chris Beisner, Surprise, Arizona; Richard Smith, Manhattan, Kansas ; “John Galer”, The People Came, Osborne County Genealogical & Historical Society, Osborne Publishing Company, Osborne, Kansas (1977), page 313; Alton Empire, December 22, 1898; Alton Empire, November 12, 1903; Alton Empire, May 13, 1909; Alton Empire, December 5, 1929.