Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"Chariton Patriots" at Arlington National Cemetery

I probably shouldn't be giving away the answers to January table-tent trivia questions, having just submitted them Monday to Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street, however.... I'm betting not that many who play the monthly trivia game read this. Besides, one of those questions leads down the path to even more trivia --- and I'm devoted to trivia.

The question is, "what is Chariton's oldest continuously operating business?" I'm guessing many will answer "Piper's." Wrong.

The correct answer is The Chariton Newspapers, publishing in various configurations since 1857 when The Patriot, now half of Herald-Patriot, was founded. The Leader, known at various times as The Democrat, is owned and published by the same company these days, too.

The related piece of trivia is that both the founder and first publisher of The Patriot, John Edwards, and another of the earliest editors and publishers, James Wilson Ragsdale, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, that legendary resting place of many national heroes.

John even has "Patriot" inscribed at the top of his tombstone, located in an area of the cemetery where privately financed monuments have long been allowed. But the designation, I suspect, refers to his character and not to his status as founder of an Iowa newspaper by that name.


Edwards, an Indiana attorney, brought his young family west to Chariton during 1853 and four years later, founded The Patriot. But he also was an accomplished politician, elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1856, 1858 and 1860. 

When the Civil War broke out, John parlayed his political connections into a commission as lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to Iowa Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood. Promoted later to full colonel, he was given command of the Eighteenth Iowa Volunteer Infantry and ultimately brevetted brigadier general.

Rather than return to Chariton after the war, John accepted an appointment from President Andrew Johnson as U.S. assessor of internal revenue in Arkansas and held that position from 1866 until 1869. In 1870, John was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas --- kind of. Although declared the winner, Edwards actually had come up some 3,000 votes short. He served two years, but was under challenge during the entire term and yielded to the actual winner during 1872.

After that, John established a law practice in Washington, D.C., where he remained and prospered until his death during April of 1894. He was buried with considerable splendor in Arlington behind a tombstone that, I'm sure, his family felt appropriate to his wartime status as brigadier general.


Ragsdale, known as "Sonny" during his early years in Lucas County but later as "Wils," also was an Indiana native brought by his parents, Daniel and Eliza Ragsdale, to Van Buren County, Iowa, about 1850. He arrived in Lucas County as child with his father and stepmother, Cynthia, and settled in the Salem neighborhood of Benton Township.

Both James and his brother, George H. Ragsdale, enlisted for service from Lucas County during the Civil War in the 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry --- James was 15 at the time and lied about his age.

After the war, the brothers enrolled at what was known then as the Cornell Seminary in Mount Vernon, Iowa; then during the late 1860s they purchased jointly John Edwards' Patriot, which had passed into other hands during the war years.

Although the brothers remained lifelong friends, their business partnership did not endure and James moved on with varying degrees of success to newspaper work in Albia, Creston and Corning before acquiring a newspaper in Walla Walla, Washington, during the early 1870s. After a short stay there, he moved south to California and stuck, finding success as both a dairy farmer and a newspaper man.

He also developed considerable political skills and served in both the California House and Senate before snagging during 1897 a political appointment from President McKinley as consul general to Tientsin (now Tianjin), China.

James had found his niche, at last, in consular service and served 10 years in China before being transferred first to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he retired.

After retirement, the Ragsdales lived primarily on the East Coast. He died at age 84 on May 31, 1932, while vacationing in Miami, Florida, and his remains were taken to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.

Unlike his Patriot counterpart, however, James rests under a simple government-issue stone among the ranks that identifies him only as corporal, Co. C, 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.

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