Fishtown’s Civil War legacy honored

A new me­mori­al hon­or­ing five broth­ers from Fishtown who fought in the Civil War was un­veiled last week­end at Palmer Cemetery.

  • Civil War re-enactors stand at attention during an unveiling ceremony for the Willingmyre brothers memorial at Palmer Cemetery. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

  • The descendants of the Willingmyre brothers of Fishtown, who all fought in the Civil War, unveil a memorial to their famous ancestors at Palmer Cemetery. SAM NEWHOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Just over one hun­dred and fifty years ago, the United States was split in two, and the Civil War was ra­ging.

On Sunday, the Fishtown com­munity came to­geth­er to hon­or the sac­ri­fice of five broth­ers from that neigh­bor­hood who fought for the Uni­on in the Civil War. They un­veiled a new me­mori­al in Palmer Cemetery in hon­or of the Will­ingmyre broth­ers, two of whom died in ac­tion while fight­ing for the uni­on.

Tears were shed. Civil War re-en­act­ors fired a 21-gun sa­lute. Over 100 neigh­bors honored the Amer­ic­an flag.

For a mo­ment, his­tory came back to life.

“This is about help­ing to pre­serve our neigh­bor­hood his­tory and hon­or­ing Phil­adelphia’s in­volve­ment in the Civil War,” said The Rev. Ed­ward Brady of St. Anne’s Par­ish dur­ing the ce­re­mony.

For the el­ev­en des­cend­ants of the Will­ingmyre broth­ers who came to Fishtown last week­end, the com­munity’s re­cog­ni­tion of their an­cest­ors was a mean­ing­ful and touch­ing trib­ute.

George T. Will­ingmyre, 65, of Spen­cerville, Md., is a dir­ect des­cend­ant of Daniel Will­ingmyre, who was a Phil­adelphia po­lice of­ficer be­fore be­com­ing a sol­dier and go­ing to war. He died on Ju­ly 2, 1863, dur­ing the Battle of Gettys­burg. 

George has a his­tor­ic mus­ket and cor­net trum­pet that he in­her­ited from his Civil War-vet­er­an fore­fath­er and which he shared dur­ing the ce­re­mony.

“I’m get­ting to the age where I won­der, what’s go­ing to hap­pen to all of these things?” George said. “Events like this make me real­ize how im­port­ant it is.”

This ce­re­mony was the product of a year of re­search by Fishtown res­id­ent Deb Loner­gan. 

“I was do­ing re­search on my fam­ily,” said Loner­gan. “When I found out about the five broth­ers that all fought in the Civil War, I just thought it was in­cred­ible.”

Loner­gan was already a long-time Civil War buff, but has nev­er un­der­taken a re­search pro­ject like this be­fore, she said. After gath­er­ing the de­tails of the Will­ingmyre broth­ers’ his­tory and con­tact­ing their liv­ing re­l­at­ives, she and Jim Kings­mill, a trust­ee of Palmer Cemetery, ap­plied to the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict for funds for a me­mori­al. They re­ceived $2,500 for the ce­re­mony last week­end.

“I just feel really honored,” said Donna Will­ingmyre, 63, George’s wife. “That’s amaz­ing to me, that someone took the time re­search and hon­or someone that’s not even from their own fam­ily.”

An audi­ence made up of vet­er­ans from Amer­ic­an Le­gion Elm Tree Post #88, Civil War re-en­act­ors, and Fishtown neigh­bors gathered to hear the story of the Will­ingmyres.

As guests at Palmer Cemetery learned, two of the Will­ingmyre broth­ers died in the Civil War – Daniel at the Battle of Gettys­burg, and Samuel, who was killed out­side Dal­las, Texas dur­ing Sher­man’s March. 

Charles Will­ingmyre was taken pris­on­er in West Vir­gin­ia, but sur­vived the war and lived on the 1100 block of Palmer Street.

George Will­ingmyre was wounded at Gettys­burg and again in Cold Har­bor, Va., but sur­vived the war to live un­til 1913. 

The young­est broth­er, Theodore Will­ingmyre, was shot dur­ing the Battle of Anti­etam and hon­or­ably dis­charged from the army – but re-en­lis­ted after his broth­er Daniel died in Gettys­burg, and fought un­til the end of the war. He later died in a rail­road ac­ci­dent in 1869.

“This is a unique op­por­tun­ity,” said Richard Will­ingmyre, who lives in Read­ing, Pa., of the ce­re­mony on Sunday. “These pieces of the puzzle start com­ing to­geth­er – not just what they did, but what their lives were like.”

It’s not the first time the Will­ingmyres have been brought to­geth­er to hon­or their past. Two Will­ingmyres were bur­ied un­der un­marked graves at Longview Cemetery in Rockledge, Pa. The des­cend­ants came to­geth­er in 1990 to lay mark­ers on their graves. 

But for some of the Will­ingmyres, their Civil War her­it­age was news to them.

“I’ve only really found this out this week,” said Daniel Will­ingmyre, 17, Richard’s son. “It’s amaz­ing.”

But when asked what he would do if he were in his an­cest­ors’ place – one of whom en­lis­ted in the Army at the age of 19 — Daniel Will­ingmyre knew the an­swer. 

“Yeah, I’d serve my coun­try,” he said. **

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