HENDERSON Gary L. Rhodes has been doing research on his great-great-grandfather for years, but these days, that research carries special significance for him.
Sgt. John Stretton was just one of the nearly 8,000 Union and Confederate soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg that took place July 1 to 3, 1863.
On Tuesday, a Dedication Day ceremony observing the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincolns Gettysburg Address will be held at Gettysburg National Cemetery in Pennsylvania. The event will be sponsored by Gettysburg National Military Park, the Gettysburg Foundation, the Lincoln Fellowship of Pennsylvania and Gettysburg College.
Mr. Rhodes, owner of Rhodes Greenhouses, has gained greater appreciation for Sgt. Stretton and the Gettysburg Address with every piece of information hes uncovered on his ancestor over the years.
One tidbit he learned was that Sgt. Stretton, called Sgt. Stratton in some records, was originally buried in the Presbyterian church cemetery in Gettysburg but was moved later in 1863 to Gettysburg National Cemetery.
He had a front-row seat for Mr. Lincolns address, Mr. Rhodes said.
He hopes the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on Tuesday will make people more aware of the iconic speech, especially its last lines: ... that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Theres been a lot of effort on behalf of those words before they were spoken and after they were spoken, Mr. Rhodes said. The effort continues at great cost. A lot of people can say it better than I can ever say it. But that one sentence sums up what its all about.
More than 20 years ago, A relative in Iowa sent Mr. Rhodess family a photo taken in 1862 of Sgt. Stretton and his wife, Mary Ann Nelson.
Mr. Rhodes never tired of his research.
A few years ago, a ranger/historian at Gettysburg National Military Park informed Mr. Rhodes exactly where Sgt. Stretton was laid to rest. Sgt. Stratton is interred in row B, grave 106 in the New York section.
Mr. Rhodes was told by the park official that his great-great-grandfathers regiment is erroneously identified as the 76th rather than the 94th, a mistake made during the transfer of buried remains.
Last summer, Mr. Rhodes discovered that his relatives in Iowa possess a canteen owned by his great-great-grandfather that he was carrying at the time we was wounded. There was a note found with the canteen explaining its history.
The note also recorded that John Stretton was born near London and married Mary Nelson, a niece of Lord Nelson. They moved to Quebec and then to Sackets Harbor in approximately 1850, but later settled in Smithville. They had five boys and five girls.
Sgt. Stretton, Mr. Rhodes said, was treated for his wounds at the Presbyterian church in Gettysburg, where he died. He added that Sgt. Stretton is listed in the book, These Honored Dead by John W. Busey.
Mr. Rhodes also discovered that the first-born son of Sgt. Stretton, Thomas, enlisted in the Army about a year after Sgt. Stretton died. Thomas died in Baltimore at age 16.
I think it was from disease, Mr. Rhodes said. He was a musician.
The Smithville home where John Stretton and his family lived is still standing, Mr. Rhodes said, on County Route 75.
Mr. Rhodes said naturalization records at the Jefferson County Clerks office show that John Stretton was 28 years old on Aug. 20, 1852, and that he settled in the town of Hounsfield on Jan. 2, 1850, after coming to this country from England, where he also was a soldier. Mr. Rhodes said records show he was a resident of the town of Henderson on Jan. 3, 1855, when he became a naturalized citizen of the United States. His wife was born in Ireland.