Sunday, May 27, 2018

The centennial of Carl Caviness's death, 20 May 1918

Carl L. Caviness's nephew, Staff Sgt. Patrick Dittmer, portrays his uncle at graveside during the 2013 Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour.

Memorial Day 1918, a Thursday, dawned in Chariton as many others had since the Civil War ended more than 40 years earlier. Fresh flowers were collected from gardens across town and brought to the courthouse where, at 9:30 a.m., the annual march to the cemetery began.

As always, members of the Grand Army of the Republic, now in their 70s and 80s, led the march --- many, having some difficulty walking by now, traveled by automobile. Horses and buggies were fast becoming a thing of the past. Up on the square during the previous week, City Council had voted to remove the hitching racks that still encircled the courthouse.

At the cemetery, members of the Womens Relief Corps (the G.A.R. auxiliary) took charge of the program, soldier graves were decorated and, just across the road at Spring Lake, flowers strewn upon the water in remembrance of the sailor dead. The year's afternoon program began at 1:30 p.m. --- in the Lincoln Theater on the south side of the square.

This was the last year the old guard would be in charge on Decoration Day, however, although surviving Civil War veterans would be honored for many years to come.


The Chariton newspapers of May 30, in addition to containing last-minute reminders of the Memorial Day program, also contained the news of Lucas County's first combat loss since the Civil War --- a young man named Carl L. Caviness, killed in France.

Although a few young men from the county had died of disease in the months following declaration of war and were lovingly remembered, this was the county's first combat loss. Here's how The Herald-Patriot reported Carl's death, under the headline "Died Fighting for His Country" ---

"Relatives in Chariton were apprised Friday of the death of Carl Caviness, killed in action while fighting for freedom in France. The news came as a shock, of course, but our people must steel themselves to receive such sad news just so long as the war with Germany continues. Letters received fairly regularly reported the soldier boy as being in good health and spirits and as yet there are no details of his death, although it was probably instant and painless.

"Carl Caviness served on the Mexican border with the troops from Charles City, though in enlisting he gave his home as Chariton, having resided here with his sister, Mrs. John Frazier, for eight years previous to enlistment. At Charles City, he was married just before leaving for France and his young widow, his mother, Mrs. Miranda Caviness, now living at Caldwell, Idaho, and another sister, Mrs. Carl Waugh, of this city, are left to mourn his loss. He enlisted at Des Moines in the First Iowa, but was later transferred to Co. E, Third Iowa, and it was while a member of this organization that death overtook him. He was a young man of excellent habits and character, loved by his family and friends. He was twenty-two years of age May 6th and left here March 29th, 1917, to join his regiment.

"The death of this young man brings closer to every home in Chariton the horrors of the conflict brought upon the world by the selfish ambition of the German ruler; it will also harden the determination to forever put a stop to the power of one man or group of men to plunge the world into war in order that their own ambitions may be gratified. The family will have the heartfelt sympathy of the entire community in the loss of the son, husband and brother."


It was learned later that Carl --- a battalion scout --- was investigating front-line German trenches with fellow scouts when hit by a German sniper's bullet on May 20, 1918.

In the months following the end of World War I, members of Chariton's newly formed American Legion post chose to honor Carl by designating themselves Carl L. Caviness Post No. 102.

And on the evening of June 3, 1921, Carl's remains --- as well as those of Pvt. Henry R. Johnson --- arrived in Chariton from France. Funeral services for both were held the following day and both were buried in the Chariton Cemetery.

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