Otter Tail County’s earliest veterans: ‘Cap’ Colehour survives Civil War injuries, preserves his story in manuscript
According to Mason’s History, published in 1916, “Otter Tail County was not formally organized until after the close of the Civil War, and consequently did not contribute any soldiers to that memorable conflict.”
It’s true that there were a few people living in this area prior to 1862, but the county is credited with no enlistments, either by volunteers or draft. Despite that, it is estimated that over a thousand of the men who fought in that struggle came to Otter Tail County after the war was over. The Grand Army of the Republic, an organization comprised exclusively of veterans of the Civil War, had a local post in Fergus Falls that enrolled 264 veterans.
One of the most remarkable histories of a veteran from that era survives in the letters and stories of James Allison “Cap” Colehour, who settled finally in Battle Lake. Born in Pennsylvania and raised in Illinois, when the war broke out he enlisted in the 92nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry and volunteered for a three-year term of service, or the length of the war. A year later, he was transferred to the Mounted Infantry.
James served in many battles during the war and was injured several times. After the war, he dictated the story of his war experiences to his son James in a manuscript labeled “Outline of Our Daddy’s Wanderings During the Early Sixties or Three Years with Old Glory Amid Hardships, Joys and Privations.”
During the war, James wrote many letters back to family members. Those letters, along with artifacts from Colehour’s Civil War years, are now preserved in the Prospect House and Civil War Museum in Battle Lake. Beginning Nov. 1, a traveling exhibit from the Civil War Museum will open at the ITOW Veterans Museum in Perham, along with other displays and programs about the 1800s.
Information for this article came from Mason’s History of Otter Tail County and the Prospect House and Civil War Museum in Battle Lake. For more, visit www.HistoryMuseumEOT.org.