Wednesday, March 20, 2013

More about Carl L. Caviness

Carl L. Caviness is not an unfamiliar name in Chariton. Ask, and many will be able to tell you that our American Legion post is named in his honor --- Carl L. Caviness American Legion Post No. 102. But beyond that, virtually nothing is remembered about the young man, killed in France during 1918 at age 21 by a German sniper, the first Lucas Countyan to die in combat during World War I.

During July of 1919, when young Lucas County veterans --- now long dead --- formed themselves into an American Legion post and applied for a charter, there was no debate about who its name would honor: Corporal Caviness. When his body was repatriated from France to Chariton during 1921, the courthouse lawn overflowed when an estimated 5,000 people arrived for his funeral. But time passes and memories fade.

That's changing a little now because two of my favorite Terrells, distant cousins by marriage of Carl, took it upon themselves a couple of years ago to track down as much information as they could find about him. And quite recently, the Legionnaires passed on to the Lucas County Historical Society the organization's earliest history book --- and the only known photograph of Caviness as an adult, in uniform.

As it turns out, Carl had kind of a rough childhood and ended his education in the Chariton schools after completing the ninth grade. At age 17, he enlisted in the Iowa National Guard, and served three years --- including time on the U.S.-Mexican border --- before being transferred to the American Expeditionary Force headed for France. He married at Charles City during 1917, then shipped out, arriving in France on Dec. 6 of that year. On May 20, 1918, while on patrol, he was shot by a German sniper --- and was gone.

There were no banner headlines in the Chariton newspapers when that happened, just the small front-age story that follows in The Chariton Leader of May 30:


Carl L. Caviness, of this county, has given up his life in battle in France, having been killed in action, Monday, May 20th. His sister, Mrs. John Frazier, received a message Friday afternoon, conveying the sad intelligence of his death. When a young boy he was a member of Co. H, of Chariton, and was in service on the Mexican border for several months. About a year ago he visited relatives in Chariton, after which he joined the Rainbow division in New York, sailing for France shortly afterward. He was a son of Mr. and Mrs. David Caviness, of near Lucas, and made his home in Chariton, with his sister, Mrs. John Frazier, and attended the city schools. His death is a severe blow to his mother, who resides in Caldwell, Idaho, and to other members of the family, and to his many friends. It is the sad messages from our boy us in the camps and across the seas that make us realize more fully that we are at war and reminds us of our duties as citizens here to protect them in every possible way.


At the time Carl was killed, the military units in which soldiers served in combat situations also were in charge of their remains in case of death. As a rule, fatalities were buried quickly (usually within 24 hours) near where they fell.

Winfred E. Robb, chaplain of the 168th Infantry, wrote to Carl's widow on May 23, 1918, "We laid Carl's body away beside those of several other American soldiers in a small American cemetery. We shall take good care of his grave and see that it is well marked."

Once the war was over, the military's Graves Registration Service collected the remains of U.S. troops from scattered locations and consolidated burials in large military cemeteries. Families of the deceased then were asked to decide upon final disposition --- remains could be left in European cemeteries or returned to the United States for burial in national or private cemeteries. Carl's widow, Ruth, and mother, Minerva, decided on repatriation.

On Friday evening, June 3, 1921, the bodies of Carl and another Lucas County boy, Henry R. Johnson (who had died of influenza), were met at the C.B.&Q. depot in Chariton by family members, friends and members of the newly-formed Carl L. Caviness Post 102 of the American Legion. Sam Beardsley took charge of Carl's body; Johnson's body was taken to the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gust Johnson, near Cain Church in English Township.

Funeral services for Johnson drew an estimated 300 people to Cain Church the Sunday morning following and burial was made in the Chariton Cemetery.

That afternoon, funeral services for Carl, attended by an estimated 5,000 people, were held on the Courthouse lawn and at the Chariton Cemetery.

"The funeral train formed at the Beardsley Undertaking Parlors on North Grand Street," according to The Chariton Herald-Patriot of June 9, "and was a fitting memorial to the departed soldier. The flag draped coffin was elevated on supports above the sides of the hearse and flowers were banked on either side until the rough box was entriely concealed, while flags soared proudly above, proclaiming that the pride of America in its defenders and that work well done will always be rewarded. The escort of nearly 100 ex-service men in uniform led the cortege to the courtyard through the streets and square which were profusely decorated with the national emblem from both residences and business houses.

"The public service opened with a beautiful funeral march by the band, and was followed by community singing of 'America.' Chaplain Holland read the ritualistic services of The American Legion and Rev. McKim delivered a stirring address in behalf to the deceased, taking as his text the scripture reading: "And their works shall follow them." His remarks were to the effect that while the occasion was primarily to honor the dead, the best honor we could pay to one who had died as this son of America had died, was to see that his living comrades suffered none for their having served in like capacities. His words were comforting for he pointed clearly that the dead had not died in vain if their service had left behind them a memory which would be cherished for coming generations.

"Following the brief services in the courtyard the procession formed in order to march to the cemetery. The band led, followed by the post buglers. Then came Old Glory, waving proudly aloft its message of freedom and liberty and supported on either side by armed guards, emphasizing that the nation's heroes are ever on guard and will die rather than suffer any  stain on the flag they love. Next came the uniformed escort, comprising nearly all of the local Legion post, as well as a delegation from the Russell post. This in turn was followed by the hearse and its burden of a brave soldier begin fittingly buried by his beloved 'buddies.' Following were the relatives and as many as 200 autos filled with the county's citizens who were anxious to do all they could in paying honor where honor was due. The music furnished by the band was fitting to the occasion and the entire march was patriotically impressive.

"The service accorded at the grave was full military honors and this was carried out in all its beauty and soslemnity.

"At the conclusion of the grave ceremony on Sunday, Chaplain Holland accepted with a few words the flag which had accompanied the body from France as a gift from Carl's mother and wife.


Here is the Caviness obituary as it was published in The Herald-Patrion of June 9:

"Carl L. Caviness was born near Chariton on May 6, 1896. He resided in Lucas county all his life prior to entering the military service, having lived at Lucas and also near Derby, in addition to living at Chariton, where he received his education including the ninth grade, which he finished in 1912. At the age of 17 he enlisted in Co. H, Iowa National Guard, in which organization he served three years, part of the time being on the Mexican border. He later enlisted in Co. E, 1st Iowa Infantry, at Des Moines on July 12, 1916, in which organization he served on the border. After returning from Mexico he was transferred to Co. E, 168th Infantry, 84th Brigade, 42nd Division, A.E.F.

"On Sept. 1, 1917, he was married to Miss Ruth Cress of Charles City, and left the United States soon after for France. He started on the ship President Grant, but for some unknown reason that vessel returned to New York. Several days before Thanksgiving he again started for France, arriving there on Dec. 6, 1917.

"He was rated with his company on active service and was known as a battalion runner, his duties being to carry messages from headquarters to the trenches. He asked to be transferred to patrol duty. This was granted and it was while on this dangerous duty that his death occurred, he being sniped by the enemy May 20, 1918, and was 21 years of age when killed. His comrades rescued his lifeless body from the German lines and a military burial given him, Chaplain Winfred Robb officiating, and Capt. Ernie Johnson of this city being in charge of the firing squad."

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