Reenactors honor Lake County's last living Civil War veteran

David Rolston died in 1939, at his home in Chase at age 95

CHASE — With Civil War reenactors on site, nearly 70 people reflected on an earlier era Saturday afternoon at the Chase Village Cemetery during an impressive and touching ceremony in honor of David Rolston, the last living Civil War veteran in Lake County. 

Rolston, who served in Co. K, 11th Michigan Cavalry, died July 24, 1939, at his home in Chase at age 95, and laid to rest with military honors at Chase Village Cemetery, west of town. 

The ceremony Saturday drew participation from Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, Department of Michigan, (who hosted the event) with camps: Alexander French Camp 28, of Big Rapids, and General Orlando M. Poe Camp 444, of Cadillac, and the Sisters of Frances Finch Auxiliary No. 9, out of Traverse City, as well as the Lake County Honor Guard. 

Also in attendance were several members of the Rolston family, including great-grandchildren Richard Moote, and his sister, Donna Moote Schwallier, who recently learned they were descendents of Rolston through DNA, through their father's dad. Their grandmother was Sadie Bell Randall, from another old Chase area family. 

"Two years ago, my son, because of COVID, would go on the computer and talk to Ed Rolston and Gordon Rolston in Tennessee, and between the three of them, they determined John (son of David Rolston) was our grandfather. Two years ago, it was over a 100-year old mystery — my dad would never tell who his father was," Moote said, who was glad to be there to honor his newly discovered great-grandpa.

The grave of Rolston was decorated for the occasion with red white and blue flowers, and Civil War items such as a rifle and bayonet. With the reenactors dressed in the blue uniforms of the Union soldiers, a weeping widow in black sitting near the graveside also added to the emotional tribute. 

MORE PHOTOS

More photos of the ceremony honoring David Rolston may be found at lakecountystar.com.

To start off the ceremony, Chris Vallilo, Midwest folk singer, who was in the Baldwin area for a Folk Friday concert at the Lake County Historical Museum, played an instrumental rendition of "Battle Cry of Freedom," and "The Vacant Chair," both Civil War tunes. 

"I was really touched by the reenactor in black sitting near the grave" Vallilo later said, adding how impressed he was how people came together to honor and preserve this local history.

During the ceremony, the Auxiliary sisters placed a floral tribute on the grave, with the great-grandchildren of Rolston also taking part, as the Senior Vice commander Gerald Lintemuth recited the poem, "Dear Ancestor."

"On behalf of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, I wish to thank you for coming today," Commander Brent Sible said to the public. "We are here today to honor and forever mark the resting place of the last Civil War veteran of Lake County, David Rolston." 

Prayer was led by Chaplain Norvil Brown. 

"Supreme Ruler of the universe, God of Battle and of peace, we thank Thee this day and hour for this blessed privilege of meeting here as sons of soldiers to pay homage to a nation's dead. We thank Thee that in the day of trouble and the hour of danger that Thou in Thy infinite wisdom raised up men who were ready to do battle, and if need be, to die so that this country might be preserved," he said in prayer. 

The Memorials Officer David Smith read an excerpt from past Commander-in-Chief Perle L Fouch, addressing the last encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1949, which reflected on the trials and sacrifice of soldiers during the Civil War. 

"As all the veterans here gathered are aware a soldier cannot leave his post without being properly relieved. Private David Rolston, you are now relieved. I have the post. Rest in peace," Smith said. 

Sible spoke about Rolston and his engagements, how he enlisted in Co. K, 11th Michigan Cavalry on Aug. 31, 1864, mustering in at Grand Rapids, serving nine months, two weeks and two days, mustering out at Knoxville, Tennessee, on June 16, 1865. 

He relayed the history of the involvement in the 11th Cavalry and the many skirmishes and battles, such as at Saltville, where the brigade the 11th was attached to, carried the main work, and 86 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing in the 11th. 

The Lake County Honor Guard then paid tribute with three volleys fired by the rifle team, followed by a hand salute during the playing of "Taps."

After the benediction by the chaplain, Sible offered closing words. 

"Our services of dedication have ended. In the name of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and the Auxiliary of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, I thank you, for your courtesy in permitting us, who are bound by special ties to them, to honor the dead. 'Taps are sounded — lights are out — the soldier sleeps. Camp 28, dismissed," he said. 

People enjoyed Root Beer, Ginger Ale and water, and were invited to look at Chase and Lake County Civil War archives, along with a historic flag displayed from Major Fox Post for the Grand Army of the Republic, founded by Chase Civil War veterans, at the Chase Township Public Library. 

Cheryl Zill, of the Chase Township Public Library, who helped organize the event at the Chase end, said the day went excellent.