2 Madera soldiers beat their swords into plowshares
Madera County Historical Society Although Frederick J. Quant’s tombstone says he served with the 2nd Mass. Cavalry during the Civil War, the inscription is misleading. He fought with the California 100, which was attached to the 2nd Mass. Cavalry. Quant and his comrades from California fought under the California Bear Flag and kept their separate identity.
Frederick Quant and George Mordecai were bitter enemies. They just didn’t know it. Given half a chance, either man would have killed the other, for they were soldiers who were on opposite sides in the American Civil War. In April of 1865, these two corporals squared off for one final showdown at Appomattox and thereby wove a patch of irony into the fabric of Madera’s history.
George Washington Mordecai was a native of Richmond, Virginia. For the first 16 years of his life he learned the ways of the Old Dominion — manners, respect, and duty — from his closely-knit family. He was just one month into his 17th year when he enlisted in the elite 2nd Company of Richmond Howitzers and marched off to war on May 17, 1861.
Mordecai saw action in some of the most active theaters of the Civil War. He fought in the Peninsula campaign, the seesaw battles in the Shenendoah Valley, and was wounded at Spotsylvania in 1864.
Frederick John Quant was 7 years older than Mordecai. He was born in England, but his family left their ancestral home and moved to New York in 1842. As a young man, he absorbed the ethos of the northern yeoman, which included a strong anti-slavery stand and carried it to California when he migrated there in the late 1850s.
In 1862, Fred Quant followed his own call to duty and enlisted in the California 100, which was then sent east and attached to the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. As a horse soldier, Quant fought in many of the same campaigns in which Mordecai took part, particularly the Shenendoah battles.
By the spring of 1865, however, the end was near. The Confederate army was on the verge of collapse when, on April 9, Mordecai’s unit, a part of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, camped out near the McLean House, not far from Appomattox Courthouse. A little more than two miles away Quant and his fellow cavalrymen in Grant’s Army of the Potomac prepared to apply the coup de grace.
When the dust settled that day, both men learned that their war was over; Lee surrendered to Grant.
Quant was discharged and returned to California while Mordecai was pardoned and, along with thousands of his comrades in arms, trudged home to attempt to begin life anew.
In 1868, Mordecai came to the San Joaquin Valley and became a pillar of society as one of its most prosperous farmers and cattle ranchers. Quant settled in Brentwood and also turned to the soil for sustenance.
Then one day in 1888, a strange thing happened. A couple with six children and all of their belongings pulled up in two wagons to a parcel adjoining Mordecai’s property. They had been traveling for a week and had finally reached their new home.
Mordecai, of course, was curious and went to introduce himself. That’s when he found out that his new neighbor was Frederick Quant!
In another place and another time, they had stood poised, ready to shoot each other. Now after more than 20 years, the two old soldiers once more stood face to face, this time separated by the grain and grapes of Madera County.
Quant lived on his place another 28 years. When he died in 1916, they dressed him in his Civil War union uniform and buried him in Arbor Vitae Cemetery.
Mordecai lived until 1920, and at his demise was buried in the family cemetery at Refuge, his ranch.
This writer has visited the graves of both men on numerous occasions, and each time he is struck by the fact that their tombstones serve as a constant reminder that they were veterans of the war that marks such a watershed in American history.
Quant has a military marker that signifies his service in the Massachusetts Cavalry. Mordecai’s tombstone carries his Howitzer badge at the top with these words engraved at the bottom, “He served with Lee and Jackson and surrendered at Appomattox.”
They fought on opposite sides of America’s bloodiest conflict, and then became neighbors in Madera County. There is no evidence that the two men ever became good friends, but their children did, so some degree of mutuality must have evolved.
Apparently the two old soldiers beat their swords into plowshares, but they never, never forgot, and neither will we. They have seen to that. Their tombstones will always tell us that some memories will never die.