October 26, 2014

Arenac Civil War veterans to be honored May 18 with grave markers

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ARENAC TWP. — A pair of Arenac County Civil War veterans laid to rest in unmarked graves will finally be getting recognized in a ceremony May 18 at the Arenac Township cemetery.

John Caton and Henry Serens will be receiving grave markers through the Veterans Administration office, which promises a free grave marker to any veteran who has a surviving relation that can sign off on the application.

Arenac County Historical Society member Brenda Matt, who places flags for veterans at the cemetery, said she only knew that the two men were there because of Eileen Wyatt-Burns, whose family knew where all of the graves were, even unmarked ones, and has kept track of that information since the 1940s.

Matt did much of the legwork on getting the grave markers together, including getting proof of service and tracking down living relatives of the two men; Standish’s Mike Unger is Henry’s great-great-grandson, while Charity Shaffer of Custer is the great-great-granddaughter of John.

“At one time the township and community could apply for veterans to get markers, but now they want the next of kin to do it,” Brenda told in the Independent last October. “But I feel if they served their country, they deserve a marker.”

Unger said he had known he had an ancestor who served in the Civil War since he was a child, as his family has had Henry’s war rifle since he was mustered out of the service in 1865.

“When I was a kid, my dad would show me a gun that Henry had brought home from the civil war, and we still have that gun,” Unger said. “It was always amazing to look at this gun. It has the bayonet on the end, and the cowhorn for the powder — the powderhorn — and this thing was, with the bayonet on it, about seven feet tall. If you or I were to hold it straight out, we probably wouldn’t be able to hold it out for more than 30 seconds. It’s that big and that heavy.”

Unger said all of Matt’s work getting the paperwork together really surprised him, and since she told him she was seeking the marker, he said his family has learned quite a bit about Henry.

Henry was among the first settlers in Arenac County, and worked as a logger, hunter and fisherman in the Pine River area. He enlisted in the service on Aug. 29, 1864 and served in the Michigan 29th Infantry for two years before being mustered out Sept. 6, 1865. He then returned to Arenac County and worked as a farmer.

He and his wife Ann had five children — John, Guy, Gertrude, Henry and Fredrick — and it is through Guy’s family line that Unger is related. Unger said he and his family are looking forward to seeing the ceremony May 18, along with the Civil War re-enactors scheduled to be there.

Shaffer was aware that her great-great-grandfather John Caton had served in the Civil War, and said she spent 20 years trying to track him down.

“I did know had a (Civil War) veteran in my family, knew it all of my life, because my mother and grandmother always talked about it,” Shaffer said. “My mother actually has the wallet that they were issued.”

In the course of her search, she posted a message on ancestry.com asking that if anyone had information about John and where he was interred, to get in touch with her. It was then that Matt got in touch with her regarding her own effort to get a grave marker for John.

“I am so excited about it, it’s almost like I can’t wait,” Shaffer said. “I have searched and searched for so many years, and when I finally made the contact with Brenda… I can’t tell you how excited I was.”

She said the rest of her family is similarly excited, particularly her mother, who is John’s great-granddaughter. Shaffer said she has not had the chance to visit Arenac Cemetery yet, but intends on being there for the marker ceremony.

According to an obituary published in the Independent Feb. 20, 1914, John was one of the earliest pioneers of Arenac County before he died at the age of 70 in the village of Arenac.

He served as sexton for the Arenac Cemetery for more than 28 years, and planted flags on the veterans’ graves on Decoration Day, now known as Memorial Day. In 1911, he was appointed by the Arenac County Board of Supervisors to provide for the relief and burial of old soldiers, sailors and marines, as well as their widows.

He had a son, John Caton Jr., and it is through his line that Shaffer said she is related.

The ceremony will take place at noon on May 18, and will include members of the local Arenac County honor guard along with the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War re-enactors.

Jim Petrimoulx, member of the Civil War re-enactment group, has counted at least 101 Civil War veterans interred in Arenac County, though Matt believes there are more than that, since both John Caton and Henry Serens were not listed in his database.

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