This month marks the 176th anniversary of the birth of a Kenosha historical figure you may never have heard about.
That’s probably because not long after Lansing A. Wilcox was born in Southport, Kenosha’s former name, on March 3, 1846, his family headed back to New York, then made an about-face and returned to Wisconsin to settle near Cadott, Chippewa County north of Eau Claire.
Wilcox’s claim to fame came upon his death: he was the last survivor of the Civil War soldiers in Wisconsin, and one of the last five survivors in the USA.
Lansing was the oldest of seven children and was still a young boy when his family returned to Cadott. The Civil War began when he was a teenager and it had been going on for three years when he enlisted on Feb. 17, 1864 in Chippewa Falls just before his 18 birthday.
He joined up with Company F of the Fourth Wisconsin Calvary and left for Baton Rouge, La., where he served under General Nathaniel P. Banks.
After the war his regiment established a 240-mile mail route in Texas. He mustered out on May 28, 1866, in Brownsville with the rank of corporal.
Upon his discharge he returned to Chippewa County and worked at the sawmills for many years.
He moved to Kansas for a period, got married to Ameila Ginnold and had two children, Jessie and Alonzo. The marriage ended in divorce (a rare occurrence at that time) and Lansing returned to his Wisconsin home in 1887, working as a carpenter and farm laborer.
We find him next in 1895, at age 50 when he took up residence in the Veteran’s Home in Marion, Grant County, Ind..
Living at a veteran’s facility may spell the decline of life for some, but not Wilcox. The second half of his life was about to begin with life renewed.
The following June, he married Mary Ann Harget, who was six years his senior. At his request, he was discharged from the Veteran’s Home in Indiana on Feb. 25, 1897.
The 1900 Federal Census finds Lansing and Mary back in Cadott, and there they remained for the next 20 years. Lansing got appointed as postmaster of Cadott on June 2, 1902, and served in that post for a decade. (He’s now age 64, if you are keeping track.)
Life threw Lansing a curve ball and he became a widower in 1926. He moved into the State Home for Veteran’s in Waupaca.
Lansing was very active in veterans affairs of the age, and served several times as State Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (the fraternal organization composed of the Union Army, Navy and Marines who served in the Civil War). He also served as the National Senior Vice-Commander of the GAR.
Peak enrollment in the GAR came in 1890 with 410,000 members and each year a national reunion, or “encampment,” was held in different cities across the country. Encampments were also held in each state annually, too, and Wilcox was a frequent attendee.
On a personal level, Wilcox was entering a new phase as love blossomed yet again. On Oct. 4, 1928, he married the widow Mary F. Sutherland, who was eight years his junior. They both were residents at the State Home and the ceremony was performed by the chaplain there. The newlyweds traveled to Tacoma for the winter.
Two years later, he and Mary F. pop up in the 1930 Federal Census living in their own home in Midland, Pierce County, Washington. He is now 84 and obviously thrives in the married state.
When Mary F. died, he moved into the State Soldiers Home in Pierce. He was still there in 1941, but made his way back home to Wisconsin once more.
Lansing had one more marriage up his sleeve: in 1942, at the age of 96, he married Marie Buttke, 64, a resident of Cadott. (He must have had a thing for girls named Mary, as the three wives he had in the second 52 years of life were named Mary or Marie.)
Last visit to Kenosha
The GAR State Encampment was held in Kenosha on June 9-11, 1946 and Lansing made the journey here.
He addressed the gathering in a firm, strong voice, telling everyone how happy he was to return to the place of his birth at the age of 100 and how proud he was to see its outstanding growth from the little village of Southport to its present industrial status.
With the death of Josiah Cass of Eau Claire in 1947, Wilcox became the last surviving Wisconsin Civil War veteran in Wisconsin.
He was, he said, “waiting for the last trumpet to call me home.”
Reports said he walked two miles a day up until the age of 102. He returned to the Grand Army Home at King for the last 18 months of his life and died there on Sept. 29, 1951, at the age of 105.
His funeral at Cadott was one of the largest in the history of the community, with state police, National Guardsmen and marching veterans accompanying his flag-draped coffin to Brooklawn Cemetery.
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