Madera said goodbye on 4th of July
Madera County Historical Society
For more than 50 years, Madera held a 4th of July parade down Yosemite Avenue in honor of American Independence. Its celebration in 1913, however, took on special meaning. The town was saying goodbye to an old soldier on that day.
One hundred five years ago a huge parade inched down Yosemite Avenue as it always did on the anniversary of our nation’s Independence. Crowds lined the street to see the procession and then flocked to Courthouse Park to hear the music and orations. It was there that they shared the news.
On July 4th, 1913, homeopathic physician Dr. Howard L. James passed away. Madera had lost another of its Civil War soldiers.
Although he was retired, Dr. James was widely esteemed in Madera County, and his sudden death at his home on North D Street from some undisclosed intestinal ailment left the town stunned. He had taken ill the night before and spent his last hours in great pain, surrounded by his family.
On the next day after the 4th of July parade, R.C. Jay and Son handled the funeral, which commenced from the home of his daughter, Mrs. R.L. Bennett, on North C Street. The body was escorted to the cemetery by the handful of local Civil War veterans that made up the dwindling ranks of the Madera chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic.
Slowly the old soldier’s remains were lowered into the grave and later a military tombstone was placed to mark his final resting place. Like the newspapers and the eulogists at the time of his burial, it too announced that Dr. James had been a veteran of the Civil War.
Now, a century has passed, and not a single person on this earth is alive who remembers that old gentleman soldier and what he went through as he did his part to hold the Union together. There is none alive this day who remembers the stark terror he must have felt as he prepared to charge up Kenneesaw Mountain. Thus it is left to the imperfections of historical perspective to preserve a poignant piece of Madera’s past.
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The young soldier’s heart began to beat as if it might explode. He gripped his rifle and awaited the inevitable order to advance. His comrades-in-arms from Company G, 9th Infantry Regiment of Indiana volunteers, were marching to the sea with General William T. Sherman, but first they had to dislodge Joe Johnston’s Rebels from Kenneesaw Mountain, near Marietta, in northwest Georgia. It wasn’t going to be an easy task.
On May 7, 1864, 21-year-old Sergeant Howard James had drawn his rations and along with 100,000 other Union soldiers, set out for Atlanta from Chattanooga. By now he was a seasoned soldier, having enlisted in response to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers in Laporte, Indiana, on April 24, 1861.
He was used to the rumble of the caissons, the rhythmic movement of the cavalry, and the echoing tramp of thousands of foot soldiers. He had heard it all many times over the past three years as he moved with Company G, as it melted into a regiment, then a division, then a corps, and finally into one of the three armies that made up Sherman’s Department of the Mississippi.
Sergeant James had fought in two severe battles in May, one at Resaca and one at New Hope Church. He had come through both engagements unscathed, but now he lay positioned at the foot of Kenneesaw Mountain, on the top of which Rebel soldiers waited in their entrechments.
Finally the call came and up the mountain he ran with 16,000 other Union soldiers. Under a broiling Georgia sun, Sergeant James and his comrades assaulted the enemy’s fortifications, but it was a disaster.
One Rebel soldier later wrote, “They (the Union forces) seemed to walk up and take death as coolly as if they were automatic or wooden men.” Two thousand of General Sherman’s finest soldiers were killed that day and as many more were wounded. Among the latter was Sergeant Howard James. He had taken a minie ball in the left hand.
Sherman’s troops finally prevailed and continued their march to the sea, but for Sergeant Howard L. James, his war was over. Such was his wound that he was sent back to Chattanooga and mustered out. He was paid $20.10 for a past due clothing allowance and awarded $4 per month as compensation for the permanent disability his wound had created.
Upon returning to Indiana, James married Rebecca Sterrett and started a family. After making several moves through the Midwest and obtaining a medical license to practice homeopathic medicine, Howard James responded to advertisements for cheap land near Madera. In 1893 he moved his family to the newly created county.
Howard James spent the last twenty years of his life in Madera, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, and, as has been noted, when he made his exit at age 70, he was followed to the grave by a contingent of his fellow veterans of the Civil War.
Today, they are all out there in Arbor Vitae — 32 of them —Madera’s forgotten heroes. Like Sergeant Howard L. James, time has passed them by, and all that remains are those military tombstones reminding us that Madera’s history reaches back to that gigantic struggle that defined our nation. It seems a fitting thing to remember.