NEW CASTLE — The Grand Army of the Republic was founded in 1866 in Decatur, Ill., for veterans of the American Civil War and the organization reached its largest enrollment in 1890, with 490,000 members. Following the death of the last member, Albert Woolson, in 1956, the organization was dissolved.
GAR membership peaked in Ohio the same year with 49,011. As the organization declined with the passing of Civil War veterans, it was succeeded by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
Originally the dinners were a time for the veterans to gather for a reunion. The meal was similar to what soldiers ate in the field where beans were a staple.
Today New Castle’s event is one of four GAR bean dinners typically observed in Ohio. Vinton, Rio Grande and Wilkesville also hold dinners. However, following the June storm extensive damage forced the Vinton community to cancel their 2012 event.
There’s just one more piece of history. New Castle’s bean dinner commemorates the Charles C. Nichols Post which was formed in 1897.
Nichols was born in Belmont County in 1822 and he died in Tennessee during the Civil War in 1865.
He fought at Lawrence, Kan., and spent time pursuing gold wealth (which he didn’t attain) in Colorado. His family history includes a letter he wrote while in Colorado in 1860. He described the men he traveled with as he journeyed west of Pikes Peak; finding gold in South Park, which one of his companions described as “the Garden of Eden;” and of discovering extremely large petrified stumps there. He also wrote about missing home.
He returned to Ohio and entered the military service in 1863. Specifically, he was a captain in the Ohio Volunteers Infantry, Company K, 183rd Regiment, Federal Army during the “War of Rebellion.”
His volunteer enlistment form states that at 41 years of age he had sandy hair, a light complexion, and was 5-feet, 8 1/2 inches tall. He only served two and a half months.
He died of dysentery on Jan. 1, 1865, at Clifton, Tenn., in a military hospital at the age of 42. He was buried at the family cemetery.
The first Charles O. Nichols GAR bean dinners were held, beginning in 1867, at the Nichols’ farm west of New Castle.