On Sunday afternoon, September 18, 2016, John Wilson Oliver, Jr., of Morristown, TN, joined the Major William McTeer Camp No. 39 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW). So, what’s so special about that? What’s special is that he is the son of a Union soldier, John Wilson Oliver, Sr., who fought in the American Civil War. That’s what we call a “real son” of a Union veteran. Including John Oliver, Jr., there are only four “real sons” of Union veterans that remain with us.
Real son John Oliver, Jr. was born November 17, 1924 to John, Sr. and his second wife, Emily Taylor Oliver, at La Grande, Oregon. While his father died on May 8, 1934, he has vivid memories of his father donning his Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) medals and attending meetings at the local GAR post, the Oliver P. Morton Post No. 36. He was very proud of his father and told the Camp the story of a 4th of July parade in La Grande in which his father led the parade wearing his GAR medals and ribbons. Many times, he told the members of the SUVCW that his father would be proud that he had joined the successor organization to the GAR.
After his father’s death, he and his sister, Ruth, were temporarily placed in an orphanage in Portland, Oregon due to their mother’s illness and inability to care for them. Within a year, they were sent to live with an Aunt in Grainger County, Tennessee. In 1943, at age 18, he drops out of school, moves to Knoxville and secures a job with C. M. McClung Hardware. By 1951, he is living in Cleveland, Ohio and working in a steel mill but returns to Tennessee in 1956 to work at the new Magnavox plant in Morristown. During the 1970s, he learns to play organ, becomes a church organist and plays for various shows around the region. He also developed a love for riding motorcycles and continued this passion until he had to stop only very recently.
His father, Union veteran John Wilson Oliver, Sr., was born May 27, 1845 in Grainger County, Tennessee. He was mustered into service on June 15, 1863, into Company F, 4th Tennessee Infantry with the rank of private. The unit was organized at Camp Garber, near Flat Lick, Kentucky. The 4th Tennessee Infantry was then re-organized into the 1st Tennessee Cavalry at Camp Dennison, Ohio under the command of Colonel Robert Johnson. The unit was engaged in numerous actions in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia including the Battles of Franklin and Nashville and the pursuit of General Hood. He was honorably discharged August 2, 1865.
After the war, he returned to Grainger County, married his first wife Nancy, and moved in with his parents and worked the family farm. In addition to farming, the elder Oliver also became a Baptist preacher. By 1880, he and his family, including four children, were living on their own in Grainger County. They resided there until sometime before 1900. In 1893, it is known that he was the pastor of four Baptist churches in Grainger County and surrounding counties, riding a circuit on alternating Sundays. In the 1900 census, we find him living in La Grande, Oregon with his four children but without his first wife, who had likely passed away. He remained unmarried until about 1920, when the census shows 74 year-old John Oliver, Sr. and his second wife, 30 year-old Emily. The 1930 census shows John, Jr., age 5, and his sister Ruth, age 8.
The records show that Oliver, Sr. was very active in the GAR. He was a post commander (1919) and adjutant at his local post in Oregon and served as a National Aide-de-Camp to GAR Commander-in-Chief Elbridge Lafayette Hawk during Hawk’s term in office from 1927 to 1928.
The SUVCW’s ritual for initiation follows that of the GAR. Oliver, Jr. was initiated with a new Junior Member, Steven Jolley of Harriman, Tennessee. The new members were born 81 years apart, but shared a love for history and a desire to honor their own Union ancestor. McTeer Camp Commander and recently elected National Treasurer David McReynolds, representing SUVCW Commander-in-Chief Donald Martin, led the ceremony with Department of Tennessee Commander Michael Downs and McTeer Camp Chaplain George Lane participating. Downs presented Oliver, Jr. with a specially engraved membership badge in honor of the occasion. Oliver, Jr. received both a framed Camp Membership Certificate as well as a framed National Life Membership Certificate that formally recognized him as a “real son” of a Union veteran.
The Major William A. McTeer Camp No. 39 is based in Maryville, Tennessee and serves a broad geographic area from Athens, Tennessee in the south to the Tri-Cities in the north, including the Knoxville metropolitan area. The camp holds a monthly Camp Mess meeting the second Tuesday of each month at the Calhoun’s on the Creek Restaurant in Maryville. It also holds three quarterly educational meetings and an Annual Encampment, which are currently held at the East Tennessee History Center and Museum in Knoxville, Tennessee. All who are interested in Civil War history and honoring those who served to preserve the Union, whether they have a direct ancestor or not, are welcome to join. Information and an application to join may be found on the camp’s web site, www.mcteer39.org. The camp was honored to have received the 2014-2015 Abraham Lincoln Commander-in-Chief’s Award as the Most Outstanding Camp in the SUVCW.
The Civil War Courier is sad to report one real son passed away October 12, 2016, leaving only 3 real sons with us, including John Oliver Jr., the subject of this story.
-By David McReynolds
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