Archive for February, 2014

The Story of Martin Scrote

Battle of Fort Blakely

Battle of Fort Blakely

During these days of Civil War sesquicentennial, here is a story of a distant relative who, unlike my two direct ancestors who fought in the war, didn’t make it home.

When I was in high school in my hometown of Vandalia, IL, I used my grandma Crawford’s notes and my own research to trace the history of our Crawford family. My great-great-great-grandmother Susan Straub Crawford, a widow, had moved from central Ohio to Fayette County, IL in about 1849 with her eight children. My project was the history of the descendants of these eight children, of which my great-great-grandfather Andrew was the third.

But the first of the eight was named Mary Ann, and she died at the age of thirty in 1856. Buried in the same country cemetery as her mother and six of her seven siblings, she has a broken tombstone, and a Find-a-Grave memorial here. Her husband’s name was Martin Scrote, and at the time I knew some relatives of him and his second wife Caroline (buried in Vandalia’s main cemetery and memorialized here). I included Caroline’s and Martin’s descendants in my family history, too.

What happened to Martin Scrote (who would be my great-great-great-uncle-by-marriage)? At the time, I never found out. But not long ago, a hometown friend named Betsy Brannon Mills and I, chatting on Facebook about genealogy with another friend, put two-and-two together, and we realized we both had a family connection to Martin. She was a distant niece of Caroline. Betsy had done better than me and found information about him: he died in the Civil War. Here is her material:


Company “I”, 97th Illinois Infantry
SCROTT, Martin
Sep 8, 1862
Killed at Ft. Blakely, Ala., Apr 9, 1865
The 97th Illinois led the assault on Fort Blakely on the afternoon of April 9, 1865, the last battle of the Civil War, six hours after Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Martin Scrote was one of the 80 men of the 97th killed or wounded during the siege. This is from the Adjutant General’s report of the 97th at the battle:

On the 9th of April, at 4 o’clock, the general commanding had decided to storm the rebel works and the Ninety-seventh was selected to lead the assault. Promptly the men were in the rifle pits with rifles instead of with pick and shovel. It was a quarter to five when the commanding ofiicer of the Ninety-seventh gave the command, FORWARD NINETY-SEVENTH! CHARGE! and the whole Regiment, as one man, with a deafening hurrah, rose above the works, and with a gallantry seldom equalled in the annals of war. started on their dangerous mission.

Twenty minutes afterwards they were in Blakely and five thousand rebels and thirty-five pieces of heavy artillery, still hot of their deathly work, were captured. Eighty (80) killed and wounded in the Ninety-seventy were the human price of the victory, besides the losses of other Regiments that followed the Ninety-seventh.

The same night the Regiment slept in the main fort and General E. R. S. Canby, commanding the military Division of the Gulf, sent the following note to the commander of the Regiment: “Thank you! May God bless you and your brave boys.”


My friend hometown found the Adjunct General’s roster of the 97th: http://www.civilwarindex.com/armyil/rosters/97th_il_infantry_roster.pdf

She also found information about his likely burial place:


Mobile National Cemetery
1202 Virginia Street
Mobile, AL 36604

Mobile National Cemetery was established in 1865 after the Port of Mobile fell into Union hands under the assault of Rear Admiral David Farragut during the Civil War. …. When Union forces first took Mobile, they interred their casualties in portions of the city-owned Magnolia Cemetery, but following the Army’s request for additional burial space, Mobile provided the Union troops with three acres. The first interments were remains from surrounding military sites and forts. An inspector’s report of the cemetery, dated February 1871, states that of 841 burials only 124 were identified. ….
Mobile National Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Monuments and Memorials
The 76th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment Monument was erected in 1892 by survivors of the Battle of Port Blakely, Ala., in honor of their fallen comrades. ….

841 Civil War dead, which includes 628 Union soldiers, 23 civilian employees of the U S Army, 112 Unknowns, and 78 US Colored Troops representing 10 Infantry regiments from various states. There are also 4 Confederate soldiers interred in the cemetery.


This was all interesting information—and, of course, very sad. I couldn’t help thinking about the narrator-character Paul in All Quiet on the Western Front, killed when the war was nearly over. Our hometown kin Martin had the distinction of perishing on the very day Lee and Grant met at Appomattox.

Another sad thing is that Caroline Haley Scrote, his second wife, was not quite 38 when she was widowed (actually the second time), and she lived to be 95. As my hometown friend Betsy, who found all this information, comments, one wonders what kind of information she may have received, if any, about Martin’s death and burial.

But one of the Scrotes granddaughters married a prominent local attorneyanother married the owner of a local clothing store, and the extended family of a daughter includes Fayette County natives whom I’ve known over the years. Though Martin is buried in an unknown grave, his descendants became part of the fabric of our common hometown.

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When my family and I visited a museum in Ireland this past summer, we passed an exhibit of historical bedroom furnishings. The description included a quotation from poet Isaac de Benserade: “In bed we laugh, in bed we cry; And, born in bed, in bed we die. The near approach a bed may show Of human bliss to human woe.”

I thought of that quotation again this past month, when I had a terrible cold and slept a lot. Weak, I took five short naps during one of the worst days.

We say a lot about Christian discipleship, and it usually focuses on things to do, attitudes to develop, ways we fall short of Christ-like love, and so on. But a very large portion of our lives (and a large range of our emotions) revolve around the privacy and vulnerability of the bedroom.

There, we sleep for a third or a fourth of our 24 hour days. Add another hour or two hours a day (or thereabouts) getting ourselves ready for the day or ending the day. Typically, people have sex in the bedroom. When we’re sick…. we’re in bed even more. And at the beginning and ending of our lives (as de Benserade puts it) in bed is where many of us will be. My mother, in fact, was not ambulatory at the end of her life and spent most of her final years in bed if she wasn’t in her wheelchair.

When I was in school, I studied on my bed, with my books spread over the covers. That was the way I did my first committed Bible study, working on my college courses in Bible content, New Testament Greek, and other classes. I still study that way sometimes.

God, who is never absent from any portion of our lives, is our caregiver and sustainer as we lay, sick or asleep, or sexual, or reading a book. Many of us carry our problems into bed and we lay sleepless worrying about things. Psalm 6 expresses this kind of sorrow and distress:

I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping (Ps. 6:6)

God sustains us whether we are distressed or whether we are sick:

The Lord sustains them on their sickbed;  
in their illness you heal all their infirmities (Ps. 41:3)

Sleep is even a divine gift:

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives sleep to his beloved (Ps. 127:2)

Psalm 63:6 is another good verse:

….when I think of you on my bed,  
and meditate on you in the watches of the night…

The noted author of spirituality books, Joyce Rupp, speaks of the moments before she drifts off to sleep and the moments between waking and rising. She considers these as wonderful prayer times when she can fall asleep mentally communicating with God in trust and peace, and then when she wakes up, God is in her first conscious thoughts and she can give her day to God. Our daily discipleship is sustained by prayers offered in our PJs to the Lord.

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Lincoln Motels

At the University of Akron, I taught colloquia for the Honors College called “Life and Times of Lincoln” and “American Highways and American Wanderlust.” I enjoy the subjects of Lincoln, his life and career, and the Civil War. I also enjoy the subjects of American roads, highway businesses, road-related commercial architecture, and signage.

I’ve published a few things on these subjects, but nothing like my friend Keith Sculle, who has (with John A. Jakle) authored an excellent “Gas, Food, Lodging” trilogy—-The Gas Station in America (John Hopkins University Press, 1994), The Motel in America (John Hopkins University Press, 1996), and Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile Age (John Hopkins University Press, 1998)— as well as the books Signs in America’s Auto Age: Signatures of Landscapes and Places (University of Iowa Press, 2004), Motoring: The Highway Experience in America (University of Georgia Press, 2008), and most recently Picturing Illinois: Twentieth-Century Postcard Art from Chicago to Cairo (University of Illinois Press, 2012). I reviewed this last book this past month for Springhouse magazine.

As I was thinking about Lincoln’s upcoming 205th birthday (tomorrow), I still had postcards in mind and thought: are there many motels that carry Lincoln’s name? I knew of a few, and I assumed there were (or had been) many more. And I knew that many motels were depicted upon postcards.

I searched eBay and collected a small sample of postcards of motels named for Lincoln. These cards nicely show the variety of architectural styles and motel signage that typify eras of highway travel. I didn’t take the time to look online to see how many of these places still operate. There are many other such motels, and surely many more that have carried the man’s name because they were on the old Lincoln Highway/U.S. 30. I remember the A. Lincoln Motel on Route 66 in Springfield as much larger (as depicted here) than the older postcard below. The sign outside was notable.

So …. here is my quirky way of commemorating Lincoln’s birthday this year. On frigid winter days like these, pictures of old motels can elicit a nice feeling of summery nostalgia for the open road, family trips and vacations past, and in this case, a sense of Lincoln’s heritage. What a treat it might be, to relax and sleep at a place named for Honest Abe!

I remember another Lincoln Motel, in my own hometown of Vandalia, Illinois. It stood on St. Louis Avenue (part of the original alignment of U.S. 40). When I was a kid in the 1960s the motel still operated and had a sign along the street, but the sign was removed long ago and, sometime during the late 1990s, the place was razed. It wasn’t much larger than 10 or 12 rooms or so and seemed out of place in what was, by then, just a residential neighborhood no longer along a transcontinental highway. The little motel was a remnant of earlier days of travel, one of those hometown places you remember when you were little.

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