Israel S. Geer

Israel S. Geer, also known as “Greer” and “Gear,” was born in 1826, possibly in Sheldon, Genesee County, New York and possibly the son of Israel T.

Both of Israel’s parents were reportedly born in Vermont. Israel S. was probably living in Sheldon, New York in 1840. By 1849 he had settled in Hastings, Barry County, Michigan where by 1850 he was working as a clerk and either living with or employed by an innkeeper named Nathan Barlow. Israel was married to Michigan-born Margaret Young (d. 1859), and they possibly had one or perhaps two children: Nellie (b. 1855) and possibly also Willie (b. 1856). In any case, both children were living in Hastings in 1860 with their maternal grandmother, Nancy Young and her family

He was 35 years old and probably living in the Hastings area, Barry County, Michigan, when he was elected Third Sergeant of the Hastings Rifle Company in April of 1861. Although the company was disbanded shortly after it arrived in Grand Rapids to become part of the Third Michigan infantry then forming at Cantonment Anderson just south of the city, Israel eventually enlisted as a Sergeant in Company D on May 13, 1861. He was soon afterwards detached as Sergeant Major.

Israel was promoted to Second Lieutenant of Company C on August 1, 1861, replacing Lieutenant Felix Zoll who had been promoted, and on December 25, 1861, Geer was promoted to Captain from Second Lieutenant, replacing Lieutenant Max von Kraus. He was present for duty from January of 1862 until March 28, 1862 when he was admitted to the Chesapeake hospital at Fortress Monroe, suffering from febris remittens (fever), and he returned to duty on April 18. However, on April 27 he was admitted to the Third Corps hospital at Yorktown suffering from dysentery, but was returned to the Regiment three days later. He was present for duty through December of 1862, in January of 1863 was on a leave of absence and was subsequently under arrest for overstaying his leave.

On February 11, Lieutenant Colonel Byron Pierce, then commanding the Third Michigan, wrote to the acting assistant Adjutant General in Washington, requesting Geer “be ordered before the military board, he having been absent on leave for fifteen days and having overstayed his leave seven (7) days.”

On March 9, 1863, Assistant Adjutant General Thomas Vincent wrote to Pierce informing him “The proceedings of the Court of the case of Captain I. S. Geer, of your Regt are approved by the Secretary of War. The bar to his receiving pay is hereby removed.” It is unclear what the “proceedings” consisted of or what had transpired in the case, but it seems fairly certain that Geer received a Regimental court martial for overstaying his leave. He was present for duty from March through June, 1863, and was detached on July 27 for recruiting service in Grand Rapids where he arrived on or about the first of August, assigned to “commanding organizations of detachments for old Regiments.” He was still reported in September as being in command of Company C.

On February 6, 1864, Israel was relieved from “duty in charge of barracks” and “ordered to report to Detroit and await the arrival of a detachment en route to the Army of the Potomac, which he will join and proceed to join his Regiment on March 8, 1864.” The detachment “was ordered forward March 11, 1864,” but on March 1 Geer sought a medical leave of absence, and he asked Dr. B. Gilman, post surgeon at the draft depot in Grand Rapids, to provide him with a certificate. Gilman wrote that he found Geer to be suffering from ‘valvular heart disease” and not ready to resume his military duties for at least another ten days. By March 21 Geer was back with the Regiment when he wrote to one of the staff officers at Third Corps requesting permission to visit the Irish Brigade in the Second Corps “on important private business.”

On May 6, 1864, Israel was commanding Company C when he was severely wounded in the right leg and taken prisoner at the battle of the Wilderness, Virginia. In fact, several days after he had been captured his leg was amputated. George Lemon of Company H wrote home on July 6 saying that Geer had been taken prisoner at the Wilderness, and Dan Crotty of Company F wrote after the war that at the Wilderness Captain Geer “received a severe wound, and had to be left to the tender mercies of the enemy, driving us over the same ground they had to skeedaddle over only a short time before.”

According to one source, “His wound was received very peculiarly. He was standing in line of battle in the place assigned a company commander of infantry, directly in the rear of the first sergeant. A minnie ball struck the sergeant in the leg, causing him to fall and giving him a wound from which he lost a leg. The same ball passed through the sergeant’s leg and struck Capt. Geer in the leg, causing a wound that cost him also his leg, if we remember rightly. Both men recovered after much suffering.”

Geer was subsequently confined at Lynchburg, Virginia, Macon, Georgia, and at Libby prison in Richmond. He was taken from Staunton, Virginia, to Richmond on September 8. It is assumed Israel was transferred as a prisoner-of-war to the Fifth Michigan infantry on June 10, 1864, when the Third and Fifth were consolidated into one regiment.

Theodore Castor of Company C had also been wounded and taken prisoner at the Wilderness, and many years after the war Castor described how he found Captain Geer in the prison at Lynchburg. As several of his comrades helped him out of the wagon when the got to the prison (he too had suffered an amputated leg) “the first thing I noticed was that somebody was calling my name. I looked around and up and I saw Captain I. S. Greer [Geer] who had lost his right leg the same time I did and whom I had not seen or heard of since the day we were wounded at the Wilderness, and it sounded like a voice from home.”

During his stay at Lynchburg, Castor had struck up a relationship with one of the local women in Lynchburg, Lydia Hicks, and she visited him regularly at the prison.

I and my companions had a good time from that time on. The girls [Lydia and her sister] and Nero [their servant] kept us supplied with reading matter and a daily paper printed on brown tea paper -- the size of a sheet of legal cap, and a full meal for the three of us every night. And in a few days I found out where the extra dish that Nero fetched in every night went to. Nero made a mistake and handed me the wrong letter and when I read it early in the morning I found out that it was directed to Captain I. S. Greer [Geer] who was in another room on the same floor and Captain of my company, and found out that he was corresponding with Lydia's sister. After I had been there about a month Lydia's mother came one day to the office and pleaded with Doctor Drummers for permission to come and visit us and as it was against the rules for anybody to visit us, she failed but got a promise and Doctor told her what day to come back when he would be at liberty and he would take her around. So when the appointed day came she was on hand and her and the Doctor came up. The Doctor took out his watch and give her ten minutes time to talk to us and pleaded with him and got his consent that if she got two pair of crutches and give them to Nero that he would see that I and Captain Greer [Geer] got them, when he called up Nero and told him when he got the crutches to bring them to his office and he would see that we got them all right as the guards wasn't allowed to let anything pass through the line what was intended for the prisoners.”

Castor was subsequently transported from Lynchburg to a variety of other prisons throughout the south before ending up in Richmond awaiting parole.

And one morning we were turned out and told that those that were able to walk to work their way to the steamboat which lay below the Navy Yard and about one mile from Libby Prison. And those that wasn't able they hauled there. When I got to the boat I heard somebody call my name and looking up saw Captain I. S. Greer [Geer] waving his hand to me. He had stayed in Lynchburg all this time and had come from there that morning, and when I got to him he told me all about the good times he had with the Hicks family. And all I could tell him was that I seen more of the C.S. and more hardships and spent more money than any body on the boat.

Israel was paroled at Varina, Virginia on September 12, 1864, and admitted to Division no. 1 general hospital at Annapolis, Maryland on September 14 with a gunshot wound to the right thigh lower third. He was transferred as a paroled prisoner-of-war on September 20 to the general hospital at Camp Parole, Maryland, and given a leave of absence for 48 hours to visit Washington on September 20. He reported back to Camp Parole on September 21, and was mustered out of service the same day.

After he was mustered out Geer returned to western Michigan, and by October was in Grand Rapids. Captain Geer “is again with us,” wrote the Grand Rapids Eagle on October 27, “and though minus a leg lost in the service of his country, under the old flag, he had not lost any of his patriotism nor love of country, and will, we understand, return to duty in some department of the service as soon as he gets a cork walker to take the place of the lost portion of his leg.” According to the Evening Leader, “it was the custom of Capt. Geer and Sergeant Castor to take turns carrying that wicked minnie ball, a year at a time. It is considerably flattened and deformed from striking the bones of its brave victim[s].”

He was back in Hastings by March 25, 1865, and he married his second wife, Mary L. Young (1843-1926), on May 28, 1865; he was 39 years old she 22. (She was most likely the sister of his first wife Margaret Young; both are buried in the same lot as Israel.)

By 1870 Israel was working as a farmer (he owned $12,000 worth of real estate and another $1,000 in personal property) and living with his wife Mary and his two children in Hastings. (His daughter Nellie was working as a domestic.) Israel was living in Hastings in 1874, and on Broadway in the Fourth Ward in 1880 working as the Justice of the Peace and living with his wife and his daughter Nellie. Indeed, he probably lived in Hastings the rest of his life. By 1881 Israel was a police justice in Hastings.

In 1865 Israel applied for and received a pension (no. 43971). He was a member of the Old Third Michigan Infantry Association. Politically, he was a member of the Greenback Party.
Israel died of Asiatic cholera on August 7, 1881 in Hastings, and was buried on August 8 in Riverside cemetery, Hastings: block A-south, lot no. 4, grave NW 1/4-1; see photo G-296.

His widow was residing in Michigan in 1885 (?) when she applied for and received a pension (no. 255939). By 1889 she had moved to Grand Rapids and was living at 50 state Street; the following year she was residing at 82 Charles Street. However, by 1926 she was living at 119 N. Broadway in Hastings where she died.