28TH PVI, the GAR MUSEUM, AND THE MIFFLIN GUARD: MEMORIES OF THEIR SHARED ROOTS AND COMMON BONDS*
Tom Ricks, Mus.
Co. C, 28th PVI
SUVCW Counsel, Anna M. Ross, Camp #1
If we give any thought to it, we might have the impression that the 28th PVI arose independent of other units or organizations. In fact, one might think that the men who founded the 28th PVI, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Museum and the Mifflin Guard had little or nothing to do with each other’s beginnings. Well, nothing could be more further from the truth.
In fact, the 28th PVI, the GAR Museum, and the Mifflin Guard share several common roots in their histories. The GAR Museum needed a ceremonial guard for the GAR. Bud Atkinson, who had been a member of the Sons of Veterans Reserve (SVR), the military side of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), and Margaret Atkinson had already been involved in “saving” the GAR Museum at the Ruan House which had a failing treasury and membership. In 1982, Andy Waskie, Bruce Cavender, Rich Yeager, Charlie Evans and Greg Bohm had all become members of the 110th PVI re-enactors at that time. Bud and George Powell who were active in the GAR and SUVCW met Andy who talked them both into joining the 110th PVI. Slowly it was becoming clear that the GAR Museum had more and more men in Civil War uniforms as members of the 110th PVI grew, and the Museum began to ask Andy Waskie and others to help with the Sundays and tours at the Museum, assist in living histories and fund raisers for the Museum. In 1988, Bud contacted the Commanding General of the SVR and asked how the Museum could form a new SVR unit. The Commanding General told Bud that he would make him a Sergeant and approve the establishment of a SVR unit if he added five men as co-founders. At Bud’s suggestion, Andy Waskie, Greg Bohm, Rich Yeager, George Powell, and Bud agreed to create a SVR unit.
Bud was also a Board Member of the Frankford Historical Society, and knew from an article in a booklet on the Frankford Civil War soldiers that a Frankford veteran, Sgt. Fernandus W. Stearn, the hero of Ft. Pulaski, lived on 1430 Unity Street in Frankford which was a block from the Ruan House and GAR Museum. The company and regiment of Sgt. Stearn was “Co. C, 28th PVI”.
Bud therefore suggested that the new SVR adopt the name of Sgt. Stearn’s company and regiment in honor of Sgt. Stearn who is buried in Frankford at Cedar Hill Cemetery where the GAR and 28th PVI continue to gather and honor the veterans on Memorial Day. Sgt. Stearn’s 28th PVI had originally been formed into 15 companies along with a battery of artillery (Knapp’s Battery) by John White Geary, the Mexican war hero. Furthermore, the original 28th PVI was brought to Philadelphia from around the State and trained in Frankford at the present site of the Frankford High School football stadium, then known as Oxford Park. The idea was immediately accepted by Bud, Andy, Greg, Rich, and George, the papers submitted and Co. C became members of the SVR. Andy Waskie was 1st Lt., Greg Bohm as Sgt., George Powell as Corp. and Rich Yeager as Pvt. Bruce Cavender stayed with the 110th at the beginning, but joined the 28th PVI re-enactors soon after along with Jules Ferraro both as the new SVR unit’s first recruits. Charlie Evans who remained in the 110th throughout, nonetheless, continued to support the 28th in helping out in the Museum and falling in with the 28th PVI for parades. Bud Atkinson remained part of the GAR Museum Board attending all the 28th PVI meetings and coordinating the Museum open houses, fund raisers, and living histories with the 28th men and the SUVCW. So, the “founders” of the Co. C, 28th PVI, first and foremost a SVR unit, and then SUVCW members, were now eight.
Now, up to 1988, the men of the new 28th PVI had been part of the 110th PVI and had participated with the 110th PVI in Civil War re-enactment as part the National Regiment (NR). The creation of the new SVR unit (the 28th PVI) created tensions between the GAR men and the 110th PVI which feared that the new SVR unit would break away and affect the 110th enrollments. The new 28th PVI SVR unit, however, saw itself as participating in the GAR on the one hand while re-enacting in the field with the 110th PVI on the other. The men of the 28th argued that its partnership with Bud Atkinson and the GAR Museum was different from its re-enacting role in the 110th PVI with whom the 28th PVI brigaded as the 110th PVI during NR re-enactments.
In 1990, the men of the 28th PVI finally decided to end the tensions by becoming a re-enacting unit both at the GAR and in the field with the NR separating themselves from the 110th PVI. When the 28th applied for membership into the NR, the 110th volunteered to sponsor them during the usual one-year probation to be voted on in 1991. After much discussion at the end of the probationary year, however, the NR denied the 28th its membership, it seems, based on the recommendation of the 110th ! There were, of course, several versions of the reasons for denial. Nonetheless, at that very meeting, the 12th NJ stepped up immediately and volunteered to sponsor the 28th PA for another one-year period in the NR. In fact, a number of units within the NR protested the denial of membership claiming that the 28th PVI was a qualified unit, practiced exemplary field and camp discipline, and upheld the historical memory of Civil War veterans. The three most vocally supportive NR units were the 12th NJ (Rich Mendoza and Andy Siganauk), the 26th PA (Bob Hall and Bill David), and the 61st NY (Scott Washburn and Bill Johnson); the same units who had already been meeting along with the 28th PVI at Fort Mifflin near the Philadelphia International Airport as a convenient site for their training of troops and public living histories. Indeed, the “Fort Mifflin Four” were already a band of brothers who lived in the area conveniently close to Fort Mifflin, trained regularly at the intact Revolutionary and Civil War Fort, and shared great experiences within the National Regiment over the previous years.