VINTON — The Vietnam Memorial Wall recently displayed at the Bob Evans Farms in Rio Grande is a traveling memorial to the fallen soldiers of the Vietnam War.
Though virtually unknown, a number of memorials exist in the United States that pay tribute to the heroes of another war, one that was fought in America and considered one of the bloodiest of all wars — the American Civil War.
The states of Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio all have something in common when it comes to memorials honoring the soldiers who fought in the American Civil War. These states have memorials (which have been referred to as “living memorials” on occasion) in the form of annual events that feature the soldier’s meal of beans.
Why memorials that feature a soldier’s meal of beans? Simple. These events were all sponsored at one time by Union veterans of the Civil War, and these veterans prepared beans at these gatherings. The old soldiers at Vinton (Gallia County) asked the community to remember them by continuing the annual bean dinner in that community when they were gone, events they first called “Campfires.”
The people in Pennsylvania conduct an annual event at McClure, Pa., known as the McClure Bean Soup Festival for the heroes of the Civil War. Indiana has the Fontanel Bean Festival at Fontanet, Ind., for the same purpose. Ohio has six (known) Civil War bean dinners that honor those long-ago heroes.
Ohio’s memorial bean dinners take place in the following communities: Vinton and Rio Grande (in Gallia County), Wilkesville (in Vinton County), Limerick (in Jackson County), New Castle (in Coshocton County) and Celina (in Mercer County).
Due to the fact that five (if not all six) of Ohio’s Civil War bean dinners were at one time sponsored by members of the Grand Army of the Republic, a quick glance at the history of this organization in Ohio is in order. (The GAR was a Union veteran’s organization similar to today’s American Legion, VFW, etc.)
Efforts to organize the GAR in Ohio began in mid summer 1866. Gen. B.F. Potts, of Carrollton, was appointed provisional commander of the Department of Ohio GAR. Potts assigned two aides, Capt. Henry C. Howe, of Toledo, and Capt. B.F. Hawkes, of North Fairfield, to help muster in posts. By Jan. 30,1867, these gentlemen had mustered in 135 GAR posts in the Buckeye state.
It was on this date that they met in Columbus to officially organize the Order in Ohio. On that occasion, 88 members (delegates) were present including Dr. W.W. Mills, from Gallipolis. A gentleman listed as James A. Harper was also among the delegates. It is known a gentleman by this name lived in Gallipolis.
Mills was a former surgeon in the 18th O.V.I. Regiment and the gentleman identified as James A. Harper (if from Gallipolis) was the editor of the Gallipolis Journal. Harper was the former captain of Company K, 1st Regiment of the Reserve, Gallipolis, Gallia County, Ohio. Harper is also mentioned as having been a 1st lieutenant in the Gallia Guards.
H.C. Jones (probably Homer C. Jones, from Vinton County) was at this official gathering as well, as was C. H. Grosvenor, from Athens County, both of whom later attended many GAR bean dinners, or political rallies in southeastern Ohio. Unknowingly, these gentlemen all played a role in bringing about today’s existing Civil War bean dinners by helping establish the GAR organization in Ohio.
Mills and Harper would have been members of Blackaller Post No. 134 GAR in Gallipolis, the only GAR post organized in Gallia County at that time. Due to a great decline in GAR membership that began 1868, this post soon ceased to exist. All signs indicate no new posts were organized in Gallia County until 1881 when Blessing Post No. 126 GAR was organized in Gallipolis.
Between 1880-81, the GAR experienced a rebirth in membership and a significant number of new posts were organized in Ohio and elsewhere.
The second GAR post to be organized in Gallia County during the rebirth ofthe GAR Order was Corwin Post No. 259 in Vinton. Corwin Post was mustered in by comrade “Vance” of Blessing Post on Oct. 13, 1882. (Comrade “Vance” was probably Col. John L. Vance, editor of the Gallipolis Bulletin, and former captain of Company B, 4th [West] Virginia Regiment. Vance was later a welcome speaker at many of the local GAR bean dinners.
On the first anniversary of Corwin Post in 1883, the members of this post conducted a soldier’s campfire emphasizing the soldier’s meal of beans with the words: “Bill of Fare: pork, hard-tack, slap jack, beans.” (Gallipolis Journal, Oct., 18, 1883.) This was the documented beginning of the annual Vinton bean dinner.
The annual Vinton bean dinner — slated for Saturday, Aug. 2 — takes place in the Vinton Community Park in Vinton just off Ohio 160 along the banks of Big Raccoon Creek. The dinner is sponsored by American Legion-Vinton Post 161 and Auxiliary.
The annual Rio Grande bean dinner — scheduled for Aug. 9 — is conducted on the grounds of the Bob Evans Shelter House at the Bob Evans Farm in Rio Grande on old U.S. 35. The shelter house is at the far end of the field across from the original homestead, restaurant and museum. The dinner is sponsored by the Rio Grande Memorial Association.
The Limerick bean dinner in Jackson County — set for Aug. 16 — is held on the grounds of the Limerick Grange Hall in the village of Limerick on Limerick Road off U.S. 35 north of Jackson. The dinner is sponsored by members and volunteers of the Limerick Grange No. 1917.
The New Castle bean dinner in Coshocton County — set for Aug. 17 — is held at the McElwee Park in New Castle just off Ohio 36 in northeastern Ohio. The dinner is sponsored by Trustees of New Castle Township.
The Celina Bean Bake in Mercer County — slated for Sept. 1 — is conducted seven miles west of Celina off Ohio 29, three-fourth’s of a mile north on Erastus Durbin Road in northwestern Ohio. The bean bake is sponsored by the Eichar DeCurtins Post 5713 of the VFW.
The annual Wilkesville bean dinner in Vinton County — scheduled for Sept. 6 — is conducted on the grounds of the Joseph Freeman Legion Post just across the Meigs County line off of Ohio 124 east of Wilkesville. The dinner is sponsored by the American Legion-Joseph Freeman Post No. 476 and Auxiliary.
In general, good food, refreshments, live music and games await those who attend these events. Bean serving usually starts around noon and lasts several hours.
A parade precedes the annual Vinton bean dinner, and those wishing to participate in the parade should gather at Vinton Elementary School around 10:30 a.m. Watch for posters and listen for radio announcements for more information concerning these events.
The public is welcome and invited to attend these events. By doing so, they will help maintain Ohio’s unique Civil War legacy — its unbroken link with the American Civil War.
John Holcomb is a local historian and member of American Legion-Vinton Post 161.