James Martinus Schoonmaker (1842-1927)

The following is from: Historic Structures Report: Appendices: Clubhouse, Brown Cottage, Moorhead Cottage, and Clubhouse Annex, for the National Park Service:

"James Martinus Schoonmaker, the oldest of nine, was born June 30, 1842, in Allegheny to James E. and Mary (Stockton) Schoonmaker. James M. attended Western University which he left at the outbreak of the Civil War to enlist as a private in the Army of the Potomac. In November 1862, James M. received a commission as colonel of the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry. In 1864, he was again promoted to command the First Brigade, First Cavalry Division of the Army of the Shenandoah and remained in that position until the end of the war.

After the war, although still active in military affairs such as being a member of the board of managers of the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, he engaged in private business. At first, he was involved in mining and shipping of coal, but in 1872, when he married Alice W. Brown, he went into the coke business with her father William H. Brown. After Brown's death, James M. inherited the Connellsville coke branch. Also, he was the chairman of the Redstone Coke Company and the Morewood Coke Company and owned Alice Mines. He sold his coke business to the H.C. Frick Coke Company.

Subsequently, James M. entered into banking and the railroad business. He and a few other businessmen organized the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company. In 1877, he was elected as a member of the board of directors and served in that position for fifty years culminating in being elected chairman of the board in 1918, a position he held up until his death. In the banking business, James M. was vice-president and a director of the Union Trust Company of Pittsburgh, a director of Mellon National Bank, and Union Savings Bank.

In addition, James M. Schoonmaker was involved in other organizations. He was president of the Western Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, and a member of the Pittsburgh Athletic Association, Pittsburgh Golf Club, Duquesne Club, and the Church of the Ascension of Pittsburgh and various other groups."

Alice W. (Brown) Schoonmaker and James M. had one son, William H. Alice died in 1881 and James M. remarried Rebekah Cook. Together they had two children: Gretchen Vandervoort and James Martinus, Jr.

James Martinus Schoonmaker died October 11, 1927, following an operation on his appendix."

The following information was provided by researcher John Leach:

"Schoonmaker was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor while serving as a colonel in the Union Army's 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry during the Third Battle of Winchester on September 19, 1864. He was just 22."

General Philip Sheridan said of his heroics, "At a critical point in the battle of Winchester, gallantly leading a cavalry charge against the enemy's left line, which was protected by earthworks, he drove the enemy out of his works, the last defenses, and captured many prisoners."

Schoonmaker was presented with the Medal of Honor on May 16, 1899."


The folllowing is from: David L. Geary and William R. Morris, "Schoonmaker's Great Civil War Reunion," Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 8, 2006:

On Monday morning, June 30, 1913, the people of Connellsville gathered along Main Street (Crawford Avenue) to embrace history not once, but twice. They gathered in oppressive heat and humidity that had caused several deaths in Connellsville, but that did not stop them. The people were there to see a parade.

This was not just any parade, but a parade of Connellsville's Civil War veterans, whose average age was about 75. Spectators would not only see those local heroes who made history saving the Union 50 years before, but also those who would make history one more time.

These veterans were marching off to attend the greatest veterans' reunion in American history. The Connellsville veterans would meet with other Civil War veterans from the North and South at the old Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg. The reunion would mark the 50th anniversary of the war. All of the veterans, from wherever they fought, would be guests of the people of Pennsylvania.

Excitement builds

Reunion excitement among the Connellsville veterans, their families, friends and others had been building for weeks. One of their former commanders who once lived in Connellsville was in charge of the entire reunion.

During the weekend, special trains pulling hundreds of coaches full of veterans from Oregon, Washington, Nebraska, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, California and other Western states had passed through Connellsville on their way to Gettysburg.

It was the largest number of railroad passengers ever to pass through Connellsville in a few days -- and it would be repeated a week later when they all went home.

The Connellsville veterans gathered at Brimstone Corner shortly before 10 a.m. Led by the Connellsville Military Band playing "Dixie," and applauded and cheered by onlookers young and old, almost 70 veterans in a column of twos marched down Main Street, across the Youghiogheny River bridge, to the Western Maryland train station.

More veterans, who because of their health couldn't march, met them at the station. Others drove to Gettysburg.

The reunion was so large that the main challenge for Connellsville veterans was not getting lost. There were 54,000 other veterans; 50 miles of streets lined with tents; 2,200 cooks who would serve meals; 2,000 officers and men from the Army; and thousands of volunteers and visitors.

James Schoonmaker

On the first day of the reunion, July 1, in a grand welcome in a huge tent at Gettysburg, a former Army colonel many in Connellsville knew from their Civil War days and as a coal and coke operator would greet them. His name was James Schoonmaker.

In the years around 1900, James Martinus Schoonmaker had homes in Connellsville and Pittsburgh, but he called Pittsburgh home. He came to Connellsville to manage his coal mining and coke businesses. He had a remarkable Civil War background, and became one of the area's most successful businessmen.

Schoonmaker was born in Pittsburgh in 1842, son of a druggist and a minister's daughter. He was attending Western University (now the University of Pittsburgh) when the Civil War broke out. He dropped out and joined the local Union Cavalry as a private. He was quickly promoted to lieutenant.

A year later, when the war looked like it would take longer to win, he met President Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. Stanton ordered him to return to Pittsburgh and raise a regiment of volunteers. Three companies of the new regiment were from Fayette County, and quite a few volunteers were from Connellsville.

One of the companies was raised by Schoonmaker's younger brother, nicknamed "Bitsy."

14th Pennsylvania Cavalry

Schoonmaker was made commander and colonel of the new unit, the 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry. At slightly more than 20 years of age, he was said to be the youngest colonel in the Union Army. The 14th Pennsylvania fought skirmishes and battles throughout western Virginia and what is now West Virginia. At one time during the war, the entire regiment had to go without food for five days.

According to regional historian Robert B. Van Atta, Schoonmaker bought a guitar, thinking the regiment might like his playing and leading it in songs. Numerous letters from soldiers in the regiment recalled how much they appreciated this, and the guitar was scratched by a nail with names of all the regiment's battles.

Schoonmaker was a popular commander. Once when a private forgot to salute a top general, the strict Philip Sheridan, the general ordered the private to be hung by his thumbs. Schoonmaker stepped in, told the general what a good soldier the private was, and said he'd punish him instead. The general agreed, and Schoonmaker grabbed the soldier's arm and threw him out of the general's tent. Outside, where Sheridan couldn't see, Schoonmaker helped the soldier up, patted him on the back, and told him not to forget to salute. The private told that story for years, and after the war, he and Schoonmaker became great friends.

The 14th Cavalry was not in the action at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, but swung in behind to chase Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's retreating army. The unit's greatest battle came in 1864, at Winchester, Va.

In 1864, President Lincoln, a Republican, was up for re-election, and the Union Army was stalled against the Confederates in Virginia. The war had taken a terrible toll, no end was in sight, and some Democrats in Congress called for ending the war and letting the Southern states secede.

To rally voters to the Union cause, President Lincoln ordered the Confederates to be driven out of the Shenandoah Valley. While large parts of the South were in economic distress, Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and the area in eastern West Virginia, a new state created in 1863, continued to be in good shape and a reliable source of supplies -- especially food -- for the Confederates.

Medal of Honor

The Sept. 19, 1864, battle at Winchester marked the end of Confederate power in the Shenandoah Valley and eastern West Virginia. During the battle, Col. Schoonmaker, now the head of a brigade instead of a regiment, charged the unsuspecting Confederate left flank through a swamp, enabling a Union victory. That battle, and Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's burning of Atlanta earlier that month, solidified public support for the war and earned Lincoln re-election.

For his bravery at Winchester and his key role in saving the Union, Schoonmaker was awarded the Medal of Honor years later by President William McKinley.

McKinley was assassinated in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901. McKinley's funeral train, with the new president, Theodore Roosevelt, on board, passed through Connellsville on its way to Washington, D.C. McKinley was the last president to have served in the Civil War. Civil War veterans as well as others placed coins on the train tracks to be flattened by the funeral train as keepsakes, and men with bared heads and women and children silently watched the train pass. The funeral train passed through Connellsville again on its way to McKinley's burial site in Ohio.

Coal, coke, and railroads

In 1879, Schoonmaker inherited from his father-in-law, William Brown, of Pittsburgh, coal and coke fields around Connellsville. By 1882, he owned or had major interests in almost 1,500 coke ovens around Dawson and Uniontown in Fayette County, and in East Huntingdon Township in Westmoreland County.

As the coke trade blossomed and Schoonmaker's corporate empire and wealth grew, so did his influence. He became a member of the elite South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club near Johnstown, along with steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, coke magnate Henry Clay Frick, inventor of the spark plug Louis Semple Clarke, and other famous people of that time. The club's dam burst in 1889, causing the Johnstown Flood and killing 2,200, one of the worst disasters in American history.

Schoonmaker sold his coal and coke interests to Henry Clay Frick, and then plunged his profits into railroads where he could make more money. He helped form and led the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad, which had Connellsville at one end and Pittsburgh then Youngstown at the other. Connellsville was also at the intersection of several railroads, so P&LE's Connellsville terminus was ideal. P&LE's old headquarters and associated buildings in Pittsburgh, built around 1900 by Schoonmaker, are now Station Square, a retail and entertainment complex.

Biggest ship

Schoonmaker also became a financial backer of Pittsburgh's Shenango Furnace Co., founded by William P. Snyder who had a long association with Andrew Carnegie to whom he sold his Clairton Steel Works in 1906. Snyder had everything to make iron, except a way to get iron ore across the Great Lakes to his plant near Pittsburgh and iron from the plant to his markets. So he built a fleet of Great Lakes ships, and the biggest one was named the Col. James M. Schoonmaker. When it was launched in 1911, it was the largest bulk carrier ever built in the world, and held that record for 26 years. It had a bright green hull, bright orange top and a loud three-chimed horn.

New owners renamed the ship the Willis B. Boyer. It was taken out of service in 1980, restored to its original glory, and is now a floating museum in Toledo, Ohio.

The Great Reunion

In 1911 Schoonmaker accepted Pennsylvania Gov. John K. Tener's call to be chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission for the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg. It would propel Schoonmaker to national fame.

Civil War veterans from both the North and South attended, whether they fought at Gettysburg or anywhere else during the Civil War. Many came in their old uniforms, carrying drums, tattered battle flags, and other mementoes of 50 years before.

The veterans -- the youngest was 61 and the oldest claimed he was 112 -- camped in thousands of tents grouped according to states on the old battlefield. Many veterans said they came to show younger folks there weren't any hard feelings and that they were all Americans.

The veterans came from all the states, including New Mexico, which sent one veteran.

To make the four-day reunion a success, Schoonmaker worked alongside some of the nation's most famous Civil War veterans, politicians and businessmen. The president (newly inaugurated Woodrow Wilson, soon to lead the nation into World War I), vice president, the chief justice (former President William Howard Taft), governors, senators and congressmen all attended the reunion, and the U.S. Army, Boy Scouts, American Red Cross, and thousands of volunteers participated. Most importantly, as more veterans said they would attend and Pennsylvania did not have enough money to host that many, Schoonmaker successfully obtained federal help.

No-cost reunion

For veterans who would live in tents -- and most did to recapture the old days -- lodging and meals were free from the people of Pennsylvania. Veterans only had to pay their way to and from Gettysburg, but most states paid the way for their veterans. Pennsylvania did, too.

There were special touches. The women of Virginia, for example, made new Confederate uniforms for any Virginian who wanted one. There were tent hospitals, field post offices, electric street lights, and in a time before mechanical refrigeration, an underground water system that delivered ice water to bubbling fountains for veterans all over the battlefield. On July 3, there were two-hour fireworks displays all over the battlefield.

Schoonmaker, as the man who put together the reunion, welcomed all the veterans on the first day. He said, "It matters little to you or me now, my comrades, what the causes were that provoked the War of the States ... but it matters, oh, so much to us that our heads were covered in the day of battle ... spared to see the old soldier of the North stand shoulder to shoulder with the old soldier of the South ... and to establish our country as a power second to none on Earth."

U.S. Army military bands were always at the ready, to play anything, anywhere, on request. Great fun was had when one state would "attack" another. Connellsville veterans spent most of the days walking the battlefield, talking to others, and seeing other veterans dedicate many new monuments for all to see in the years to come.

Pickett's charge, 1913

The most heart-wrenching moment was the re-enactment, exactly 50 years later to the minute, of Pickett's Charge. The 1863 charge was grand and glorious, but resulted in a devastating defeat for the Confederates. Many regiments were all but wiped out. No one knew it at the time, but it marked the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

Only the survivors of the 1863 charge could participate in 1913. Hundreds of thousands of onlookers, including Schoonmaker and the Connellsville veterans, cheered, then gasped. These were not many young men carrying rifles toward the Union line, but a group of a few old men with white hair and beards waving hats and umbrellas -- and an old Confederate battle flag from that charge.

They met Union survivors of Pickett's Charge, with their own old battle flag, at the famous Stone Wall, the "High Watermark of the Confederacy." The Confederate and Union survivors hugged each other, and cried. But the emotion continued. A grizzled Union veteran of Pickett's Charge, holding a new silk American flag on a pole topped by a gold eagle, spoke to the Confederate survivors. He said:

"Since the days of Betsy Ross, the 'Stars and Stripes' have been the emblem of our nation. It was your flag and our flag in the closing days of the Revolution. We had no quarrel then. It was your flag and our flag when we marched upon the Mexican capitol. Grant and Lee supported it then. It was our flag when you raised the 'Stars and Bars,' but we continued to hold and cherish it, not alone for ourselves, but for you. And now, when we boast of a united country, it is still your flag, as it still is our flag."

At that moment, he rushed forward with the American flag, and thrust it high into the air above the two old battle flags. Veterans from both sides, some on crutches and some with empty sleeves from battlefield amputations, again embraced. The flag was given to the Confederates.

The speaker then said to all: "You have truly made this ground more sacred by uniting upon it in bonds of amity and fellowship. You who trod these dusty roads to wage a deadly war may now return to your homes to await the last muster, conscious when the final summons comes you can face eternity with the mantle of charity and kindness covering the last vestige of enmity that may have found a lurking place in your hearts."

Reunion ends

At noon on the last day of the reunion, the Fourth of July, as sounds of church bells rolled across the old battlefield, flags were lowered to half-staff. For five minutes cannons boomed over the battlefield while the old veterans stood at attention to honor their dead comrades. Then the flags were briskly raised to full staff, the assembled bands played the National Anthem, and veterans from the South, as well as the North, saluted.

The event was front page news for a week in practically every newspaper from coast to coast, including The Daily Courier, and was covered by newspapers in Europe, too. A reporter from London, England, wrote nothing like it had ever taken place in the history of the world. One American reporter perhaps said it best. He wrote, "Their duty was done. They had healed a nation."

The man at the center of it all, the man who had put it all together, was James Schoonmaker.

Schoonmaker's legacy

Col. Schoonmaker died at Pittsburgh's Allegheny General Hospital in 1927, age 86, after an appendicitis operation. News of his death was on the front page of The Daily Courier.

He still had wounds from a saber cut on his left arm from his Civil War days. He was buried in the Civil War veterans section of Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery, near the graves of Henry Clay Frick and the Mellon and Heinz families. A government issue gravestone, emblazoned with the Medal of Honor, marks Schoonmaker's grave.

Schoonmaker had married Alice Brown, of Pittsburgh, who died in 1881, leaving a son. He soon remarried and had several children by his second wife, Rebekah.

As his fortune grew, Schoonmaker gave large donations to help the blind and for many years served as president of the Pennsylvania Association for the Blind, founded in 1910 and which still exists. He also helped establish Pittsburgh hospitals.

In 1999, Schoonmaker's descendents donated his Medal of Honor, which he wore at the Gettysburg Reunion, to the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. In 1864, on the approach to Lexington, Schoonmaker was ordered to shell the town. He refused, saying the innocent would suffer. He directed cannon fire on VMI, the Confederate military college, instead. There was no resistance. When he walked into the VMI buildings he found the cadets had fled, their books still open on their desks.

Expected to burn the school, Schoonmaker did not because he said it was "unnecessary and unwarranted." He lost his command. Although VMI was burned later that day, Schoonmaker's commander later apologized for his hasty judgment, and restored Schoonmaker's command. In 1914, Schoonmaker helped VMI get money from the federal government to pay for the damages by Union troops 50 years before.

VMI has graduated some of the nation's top leaders, including Fayette County's own George C. Marshall in 1901. He was America's top general in World War II, commanding the largest military force the U.S. ever had. Later, as secretary of state, he was architect of the Marshall Plan which rebuilt Europe and earned the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Schoonmaker family fortune, which began in Connellsville more than 100 years ago, continues to have a positive impact on Western Pennsylvania and beyond. It's distributed by the Schoonmaker Foundation of Pittsburgh for causes in the arts, education, history and health care.

Civil War veterans

During the Civil War, men from Connellsville joined any one of 16 companies raised in Fayette County, though others joined companies formed in neighboring counties. Each company had 100 men.

Companies made up regiments, like Schoonmaker's 14th Pennsylvania Cavalry. Regiments had more than 1,000 men. At Winchester, Va., in 1864, Schoonmaker commanded a brigade, made up of from four to six regiments.

Within Connellsville's city limits, most Civil War veterans were buried in Chestnut Hill and Hill Grove cemeteries. Connellsville's last Civil War veteran died in 1937.

Over the years, many Civil War veterans in and around Connellsville attended the town's Memorial Day services -- even marching in parades as long as they could. The main service was always at Hill Grove Cemetery. As the veterans aged and so they wouldn't have to stand around the flagpole at the top of the hill, stone benches were built for them.

The benches are still there.

Last updated: October 5, 2022

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