LIMA — On a late summer day in 1935 John Alexander Ream’s thoughts went back to a day 72 summers earlier when he was a 20-year-old soldier in the Union Army.
It was July 18, 1863, and Ream’s unit was surprised by rebel forces in Wytheville, Virginia. The Union forcers were “decisively licked and routed,” Ream told The Lima News reporter Tex DeWeese. Ream, DeWeese added, “was with the 34th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in charge of Captain James Anderson of Lima.”
During the attack Ream was shot in the elbow and lay for a time in the street before making his way to a building where Union doctors were caring for the wounded. “While in this place, the rebels returned to take Ream and his associates prisoner,” DeWeese wrote Sept. 15, 1935.
“‘Surrender, you Yankee sos-and-sos,’ Ream said the rebels shouted when they entered.”
At the time he talked to DeWeese, the 92-year-old Ream was one of a handful of surviving Allen County Civil War veterans. When he died eight years later at the age of 100, he was the last, having survived a notorious Confederate prison and outlived most of his fellow Civil War veterans — the last of whom died in 1956 — as well as two wives, all his siblings and even the Perry Township village where he grew up.
“What more than a year of war, a bullet wound, and months in a war prison camp failed to do, the infirmities of age accomplished Thursday as Lima lost her last surviving Civil War veteran. John A. Ream is dead,” the News wrote Dec. 30, 1943. “The son of John and Lydia Bresler Ream, he was born in 1843 on the banks of Sugar Creek in Allen County. When he was 3 his mother died and his father took him to Springfield where he lived with an aunt. Six years later his aunt also died, and his father, who had remarried, brought the children from Springfield to South Warsaw, Allen County, where he remained until his enlistment.”
Ream’s father, John Ream, came to Allen County in 1834 “and has resided here ever since,” the Allen County Democrat wrote Jan. 10, 1878. Ream told DeWeese in 1935 that his father helped lay out the town of Amherst where he grew up. “The junior Ream was about 13 at the time,” DeWeese wrote.
Amherst, which was located just south of the intersection of Amherst and Ream roads in Perry Township, was platted in June 1847. By the time DeWeese spoke with Ream, Amherst was long gone. South Warsaw, which stood on the south bank of the Auglaize River near the intersection of Schooler and Warsaw roads about two miles northeast of the site of Amherst, was still in existence in 1935.
On his 99th birthday on April 14, 1942, while America was embroiled in World War II, the News again interviewed Ream at the home of his youngest son, C.B. “Brooks” Ream who lived in the family farm on the southeast corner of Amherst and Ream roads. At the time, Ream was one of two surviving Allen County veterans of the Civil War. The other, 94-year-old John M. Reed, died in August 1942 after falling on the front porch of his home at 220 N. Jackson St. Reed was the father of Lima Schools Superintendent J. McLean Reed, who later became the first dean of Ohio State University’s Lima Campus.
The News recounted how Ream and his older brother, Daniel, who died at 87 in 1927, enlisted in the Ohio Volunteer Infantry in August 1862 and how, on July 18, 1863, Ream’s unit “encountered Confederate soldiers in a little skirmish during which his left elbow was shot away. He was taken to a hospital at Lynchburg, Virginia, where he was attended by Confederate doctors and nurses.”
After several months, he was taken to Libby Prison in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. “He spent five months in Libby prison where starvation all but took his life,” the News wrote. “Upon his parole, he walked three miles before he sighted the American flag, which to him he says was one of the most wonderful sights in his lifetime.
“Although he is crippled physically, his memory is remarkable for a man of his years and he loves to sit and talk with his friends about his many exploits of his war career and other highlights of his long lifetime. He recalls among his Civil War comrades such names as Sam and Charles Naus, Cad Curtin, Chris Graham and Dan Gross, all of whom are deceased.”
Ream was mustered out of the Union Army in July 1865 at Wheeling, West Virginia, and returned to Perry Township to farm. “On June 1, 1867, he was married to Melissa Jane Simmons, of Wapakoneta, and four children were born to the couple,” the News wrote. “She died while he was still a young man and later he married Mary Brantner, who also preceded him in death. He had been a widower since 1901.” Ream had three children with his second wife.
Later in his life, Ream lived with his niece, Emma Crumrine, at 1032 Hughes Ave, and often was interviewed by Lima News reporters, particularly around his birthday on April 14.
On April 11, 1943, just before Ream turned 100, he was visited by a News reporter. “Most of the time the aged man spends resting in bed, but he always is willing to talk to a new acquaintance and to tell of his experiences in the war,” the reporter wrote. “Ream is unable to explain why he has lived to become a century old, other than that it was just ‘meant to be.’
“He’s had a couple of close shaves in his long life — one in the Civil War when he sustained an elbow injury which made him a partial cripple and the other time when he fell, when he was only a few years old, and cut himself severely with a hatchet.”
Asked by the reporter if there was anything he’d still like to see, Ream referred to World War II. “I’d like to see the war end and have the boys come home,” he told the reporter. Ream didn’t live to see it.
His funeral services were held in the Olive Methodist Church, which was near South Warsaw. He is buried in Fairmount Cemetery near Uniopolis with his second wife.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.