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The Carr Family and the Civil War: Veterans in Tacoma

Written by Synthia A. Santos, I Corp Historian, Fort Lewis, WA

Originally published in the Eureka Times, 2008 Spring issue

Updated for blog publication in 2020 by Holly Stewart, Program Manager

This is the last in a five part series about the Carr family's Civil War service.

Job, Rebecca, Anthony and Howard Carr each served with the Union Army.

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During the Civil War years, Washington Territory was growing with migrating easterners. Popular opinion favored the North during the war. After the war ended, many veterans heeded Horace Greely's New York Tribune article about supporting the building of the transcontinental railroad and headed west. "Go West Young Man, Go West!" Railroad advertisements encouraged veterans, including Job Carr, to homestead on valuable timberlands newly opened by the "iron horse," and the expanding lumber industry offered great promise.

A Fraternal Organization for Veterans

In 1866, Union veterans of the Civil War organized the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and became a political and social force that would control the destiny of the nation for more than 60 years. Founded in Illinois, it soon grew to have hundreds of posts across the northern and western United States.

GAR members engaged in a variety of activities to socialize, including fraternal meetings, post gatherings, and state and national encampments. GAR meetings were ritualistic and patterned after Masonic tradition. Charity for needy comrades and widows was foremost in their support for one another. They raised funds through fees and donations to pay rents, buy food and cover medical and funeral expenses of needy veterans and widows. They were concerned for the plight of their fellow soldiers and started soldiers' homes to help indigent disabled veterans.

They founded the GAR to commemorate dead comrades, and instituted the observance of Decoration Day in 1868. Known today as Memorial Day, it is more encompassing, honoring all American veterans who have passed on, regardless of era.

Membership in the GAR was open to individuals who had served in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Revenue Cutter Service during the Civil War, thereby limiting the life span of the GAR. The GAR was dissolved in 1956 following the death of its last member.

The Civil War was the central event in the lives of most of the men who served in the armed forces. Many of them had never traveled more than a few miles beyond their homes, and the war took them to places they otherwise would not have seen, made them participants in great events, and often left them with scars that constantly reminded them of how much they had sacrificed. During the post-war years, thousands of men joined veterans' organizations such as the GAR in the North and the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) in the South. They revisited the sites of their battles and fellow veterans' gravesites, raised monuments to commemorate their service, and in large numbers, wrote reminiscences about their part in the war.

The GAR in Tacoma

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Job Carr in his GAR uniform, source: Carr Family Collection

Locally, fellow veterans of the Tacoma GAR Custer Post No. 6 were instrumental in supporting the development of the City of Tacoma. Two of these key GAR members were Job Carr and John Wilson Sprague. Job Carr served as the first commander of the local GAR post. His sons Anthony and Howard were also GAR members.

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General John W. Sprague, source: Tacoma Public Library

As well as both being Civil War veterans, Job Carr and General Sprague each hold the distinction of being a first mayor of Tacoma.

Carr was elected to serve as the first mayor of Tacoma City (Old Town Tacoma) in 1875.

Sprague was elected to serve as the first mayor of Tacoma in 1883, when the towns of Tacoma City and New Tacoma (downtown) merged.

The positions GAR members held in Tacoma and their contributions to the community were significant. Many GAR members are now interred in the Old Tacoma Cemetery, Oakwood Hill Cemetery GAR section, Orting Soldiers Home Cemetery, and Retsil Soldiers Home.

When Job passed away in 1887, his funeral service was held at the GAR Hall. Along with friends and relatives, a large delegation of members of the post attended. He was dressed in his GAR uniform with the badge pinned on his coat. The handles of his casket bore the initials "G.A.R." General Sprague presided over the ceremony.

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Howard Carr, Jane Bradley Carr, Margaret Carr Wenworth, and Anthony Carr at their father's gravesite in the Old Tacoma Cemetery,

source: Carr Family Collection

Historically, the presence of church and fraternal organizations has played an important role in the development of young towns by providing many social and charitable activities to the community. Many settlers had personal ties with the Civil War and its aftermath, and many of their grandparents were directly involved with the Revolutionary War and the follow-up War of 1812. These citizens took fierce pride in their country and those who fought for it. The memory of GAR veterans in Tacoma and the local area is not readily evident, and even the cemeteries where they are interred do not keep a separate listing of these valiant men. It is important to these veterans that their departed comrades were remembered and respected by maintaining and visiting their grave sites, and they hoped that following generations would continue to remember them by caring for their final resting place and memory.

About the Author

Portions of this article by Synthia A. Santos first appeared in Fort Lewis Military Museum's publication, The Banner, in 2002. Ms. Santos served as the I Corps Historian at Fort Lewis and is active in historical associations in Pierce County. Permission to reprint portions of her original article was granted by Ms. Santos.