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May 28, 2001 John Henry Myer Marker Dedication
Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association

Comments Delivered By John F. Cummings, May 28, 2001

Dedication of SCV Iron Cross Marker

Grave of John Henry Myer

Fredericksburg, VA

As the first year of war ended in April of 1862, the Confederate government enacted its first Conscription Act. This required that all white males between the ages of eighteen and thirty five would serve in the armed forces for a period of three years or unless the war ended sooner.

Thus, John Henry Myer, seven months away from the age of 36, entered the rank and file of the Confederate Army. A private in the 40th Virginia Infantry, Company H. A common soldier of this army, one of the majority, a non slave owner. A man with a young family, a prosperous businessman, a respected citizen of Fredericksburg. A man, like many of his peers, who would enter this war knowing their role as honorable participants in a cause that they little understood. Yet he would serve, knowing his duty, his place, as an element of the Second American Revolution. And, like his peers, he was also a man possessed with anxiety for the safety of his family and the need to see to their security.

John Henry Myer came to America from the Kingdom of Hannover in 1845, arriving in Fredericksburg in 1846 and setting up shop on William Street as a saddler. In 1852 he would mysteriously change vocations becoming a baker and confectioner. This apparently suited Myer well, as the 1860 census records indicate he was out producing all other bakers and confectioners in Fredericksburg. He expanded the rear of his shop at 212 William Street to accommodate the growing business.

His family also grew, typically of Victorian families. Two daughters and a son who would live to adulthood and two sons and a daughter who would die as infants. Adversity would beset his business in 1853 as fire broke out in another building on the block, spreading into several structures, including Myer's, but insurance fortunately covered the loss and he endured.

In the spring of 1861 war erupted in South Carolina which had seceded from the United States the previous December. As the Federal Government moved to put down what they saw as a rebellion, other southern states left the Union, and on April 17 Virginia joined the Confederacy. Here was sealed the fate of the Old Dominion State. It would become the principle battle ground in the east. Fredericksburg was a major commerce center and in the route to the southern capital in Richmond. It was imminent that Fredericksburg would suffer harshly.

As the Federal army threatened Richmond by way of the Peninsula the next April, the Confederate Conscription Act came into effect.

Within a month of Myer's conscription Fredericksburg was briefly occupied by the Federal army and visited by Abraham Lincoln. As winter later approached General Robert E. Lee realized that Fredericksburg was to be Union General Burnside's spring board to attack Richmond. The Army of Northern Virginia braced for that eventuality. When the hard hand of war finally struck Fredericksburg, the Myer home and business stood in the epicenter of destruction. A Federal bombardment took a devastating toll on the town and terrorized its civilian inhabitants. The Myer property escaped with little damage, but the impact on the minds of his three young children was undoubtedly horrific.

Many of the Confederate military service records are vague, quite a few of them being destroyed near the end of the war, and it is because of this that the first half of Myer's service is not certain. The 40th Virginia was engaged from the Peninsula in 1862 through to end of hostilities at Appomattox where 20 men representing the regiment surrendered. However, we are unsure if Myer participated in the campaigns of Second Manassas, Sharpsburg, here at Fredericksburg or even Gettysburg. We do know for certain that on the eve of the battle of Chancellorsville, John Henry Myer was able to close a land deal, the purchase of a 400-acre farm near Spotsylvania Court House. It was here that Myer sought to safeguard his precious family. Far from the devastation of war. On this farm his children could enjoy the lovely countryside, the fields and orchards, the quiet creeks and the abundant wildlife.

And we do know for certain that the following spring, May of 1864, John Henry Myer was actively participating in the fight against The Army of the Potomac in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House and the North Anna River.

Just a year of solitude for his family on the farm. As the second week of fighting at Spotsylvania opened, May 14, General Grant moved his right wing under cover of darkness with the intent on striking a weak Confederate Right wing. Had several days of constant rain not turned the landscape into a quagmire, Grant's plan may have ended the war right there. The attack was not able to go off as planned, but during the early morning movement of the Federal Fifth Corps, Confederate dismounted Cavalry and a battery of Artillery were spotted on a prominent hill about a mile to the east of the Fredericksburg Road. This hill was now known locally as Myer's Hill.

It was determined that this hill was to be taken and during the day long exchange of hostility a man who is identified as a tenant of the Myer farm was seen firing repeatedly on the Federals. This, unfortunately for Myer and his family, did not set well with the Federals and on the next day, May 15, 1864, the Myer home and all its outbuildings were set to the torch.

From the 40th Virginia's position in the Confederate works about two miles from his farm, it is undoubted that John Henry Myer was able to view the billowing black smoke from the direction of his farm. He had to know that his family was once again displaced by this war.

The armies eventually left the Spotsylvania Court House area on the 21st of May, and they moved south, closer to Richmond. Lee entrenched his men once again, this time behind the North Anna River.

Somehow, and again the records sketchy, John Henry Myer was captured near Jericho Mill. From there he was moved as a prisoner of war to Port Royal VA and then on to Point Lookout Prison in MD. Here Myer endured hardships until December when he took the opportunity to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States and go home.

He returned to Fredericksburg, reunited with his family and resumed his pre war business.

He would later form a partnership with Frederick Brulle as a miller of flour. They built the Germania Flour Mill and operated into the next century. Despite additional hardships, the accidental destruction of the mill in 1876 and the death of his dear wife Mary in May of 1877, Myer continued to endure. Even with the demands of his thriving business, John took the time to give back to his community, serving 30 years as a town councilman. He was instrumental in bringing Fredericksburg out of the ruin of war.

Sadness continued to cast a shadow over this bright life. In 1884 his daughter in law, Annie Claiborne Goodrick Myer, died seven months after giving birth to a daughter. But now Father and son took comfort in one another, both now widowers. They were noted to be constant companions, but again tragedy would strike in 1900, when at the age of 48 John Jr. would die of appendicitis.

The aging Myer maintained, continuing to reside with his oldest daughter Mary and her family the Eckenrodes. In 1906 John Henry Myer formally retired from business and public service.

On December 5, 1909, he was stricken by paralysis and died in his sleep. An obituary remembered him as " a man of strictest integrity, active and progressive in his business life, a member of the Presbyterian Church, a Mason and an honored citizen"...... "A Good Citizen Gone" ran the headline.

Myer's youngest daughter Annie, was always active in charitable organization in Fredericksburg throughout her long life and was a founding member of the Fredericksburg Chapter of the UDC. One of Myer's grandsons is perhaps his greatest legacy to Virginia, Hamilton James Eckenrode, who became Virginia State Historian and Archivist. In the 1920's he was placed in charge of the Virginia Historical Markers program which we all enjoy today along our state's highways.

Thank you all for coming here today and helping to make this memorial service possible.

Copyright 2001, all rights reserved.

Spotsylvania Battlefield Education Association

PO Box 1964

Spotsylvania, VA  22553

(540) 582-7469

email: spotsylvaniabea@msn.com