George Washington Ling
One of County's Two Civil War Veterans - Reaches 95 on Lincoln's Birthday
By Lois J. Stimeling

Named for the national hero who founded this country and born on the birthday anniversary of another national idol whom historians credit with saving it, George Washington Ling — one of Lee county's two living Civil War veterans — today celebrated his ninety-fifth birthday anniversary at his home in Franklin Grove.
"Abraham Lincoln didn't amount to much when I was born, so my folks, who wanted an important name for their first son, called me George Washington"—that's the answer the Franklin Grove man makes to a query concerning the unusual relation of his name and birth date. True, the martyred Emancipator (born in Kentucky 132 years ago today) had not yet risen from the ranks of the plain people when Mrs. Henry Ling, a farmer's wife residing in the Allegheny foothills of Somerset County, Pennsylvania, gave birth to the son, whose anniversary today leaves him but five years short of the century mark. Nevertheless, the Lee County veteran learned to love the Civil War President, and regards the tragedy of Lincoln's assassination as one of his saddest memories.


Reminiscences both sad and gay came tumbling out of the past during a recent interview with a Telegraph reporter. Mention of Lincoln, for instance, reminded Mr. Ling that he was "standing guard" at the telegraph office in Fairfax Court House, Virginia, the night President Lincoln was killed. “That was awful excitement!” the veteran recalled. "They took a detail from our regiment to help look for the assassin. I'll never forget that night!" And there he paused as if loath to bring his mind from wandering over those distant years. Mr. Ling enlisted in the Union army at the age of 18, and was assigned to Company K, 5th Pennsylvania Infantry. Recruiting officers, he says, traveled far afield from Pittsburgh into the foothills, In an effort to enlist mountain boys, rather than take workmen away from factories in the city. "I was given a local bounty of $405 by the city of Pittsburgh as soon as I got my uniform," Mr. Ling says. "I sent $385 of it back to dad, and spent the rest." Part of "the rest" went for pie to supplement the ration of distasteful I hard-tack, he explains.

Three Engagements

He saw ten months of service with Generals Sheridan and Piedmont, and participated in three major engagements in Virginia, the battles of White Plains, Rectortown, and Salem. He still is uncertain whether or not he was wounded. "While we were on the march through a piece of timber one day," he says, "my right side kept itching." A companion noticed his difficulty, they investigated, and discovered a hole in his coat and shirt and a slight wound in his side. "You're shot and didn't know it, Ling!" his companion exclaimed. "But I never was sure whether I scratched myself going through the timber, or whether a bullet grazed me," he adds with a laugh. Once he became ill, and was unable to eat any hard-tack for two weeks. Remembering the spruce tea he had brewed at home in Pennsylvania to relieve suffering caused by overindulgence in maple sugar, he gather some spruce twigs, started a smudge fire, and sat up all night, brewing and sipping the tea. "It cured me, too," he declares, and adds: "Then I got so hungry I swiped five days' ration from one of the boys and ate it too, besides my own."

Water Shortage

There was always a shortage of drinking water while on the march. On one occasion, during a heavy rain, Mr. Ling says he removed the top of his canteen and dragged it in the wheel tracks of the wagon train, quenching his thirst with the muddy water that trickled inside. His regiment "went in" with 1,800 men, and came back with 1,000. "My, it was a joyful time when peace was declared," he says. "Our men shot 200 rounds to celebrate. Some of the boys cried with joy, and others just whooped it up." The company was "paid off" at Pittsburgh, and was honored with an elaborate supper. "We had been riding in grain cars, and hadn't had a chance to wash for several days. And if I ever felt ashamed, it was then," the veteran remarks. His youngest brother, William, who now resides at Rochelle, was born while the Lee County veteran, was away at war. "I didn't know I had an extra brother until I came back," he says. There were 12 children in the Ling family, seven boys and five girls, and only one died in infancy.

Childhood Memories

His part in helping till the hilly, stone-filled fields of his father's farm; the huge buckwheat cakes j which his mother baked for her family at the huge fireplace; "sugaring off" in the maple bush; early school days, when he scarcely learned the three R's, before his father found a place for him in the Ling "coal bank"; warm homespun clothing that warmed and irritated the skin at the same time; homemade tallow candles; the spring house, where his mother kept crocks of milk and butter cold and sweet in the icy water of a rushing mountain stream; and infrequent parties and dances— these are the principal memories he retains of his childhood home in the east.

Came to Lee County

After the war, he worked in a cooper shop for a while, until the family came west to settle on a farm about five miles north of Franklin Grove. He attended the Carthage school in Ogle County for a year, after their arrival. His father first purchased 160 acres, and owned 280 acres at the time of his death. Mr. and Mrs. Perry Myers (Sadie Ling) reside on the original Ling farm. Mrs. Myers is a granddaughter of the veteran.

On June 28, 1867, Mr. Ling claimed Miss Harriet Rebecca Wingert as his bride in a wedding ceremony performed at Oregon, and for about two years afterward, the couple resided with the bride's parents, the Jacob Wingerts, on whose farm Mr. Ling was employed. He earned $1 and later, $1.25 a day. By saving his earnings, together with a monthly pension of $4, he managed to purchase 120 acres of his own, where the couple made their home for nine years. Mrs. Ling's death occurred in 1917. The couple had three children, only one of whom, Guy W. Ling of Holcomb is living. Two daughters are deceased. Joseph Ling of Franklin Grove and William Ling of Rochelle are brothers of the veteran, and two grand-sons, Herbert and George Ling, reside here. There are also four great-grandchildren, Eloise, Ethel, Eva and Georgia Kruse, children of the Tjark Kruses of near Chana.

Operated Feed Shed

The large red brick house where Mr. Ling and a granddaughter, Miss Esther Ling, reside, was built in 1861 by a Franklin Grove pioneer, J. C. Matern. For some time after he purchased his present home, he operated a feed shed downtown. His "regular" customers were country children who drove to Franklin Grove to attend school, and other rural folk who came to town to attend camp meetings and chautauqua. He charged ten cents to tie horses in his barn by day, and those remaining after 11p.m., netted him 25 cents. A cousin, the late James Manges, formerly operated a feed. shed in Dixon.
Politically, Mr. Ling says he is "a Republican now. I voted for Roosevelt the first time—always was a Republican 'till then. I voted for Willkie last November though." He was formerly affiliated with the Evangelical Church, but has been a member of the Methodist Church "for many years.

Attended Encampment

Accompanied by his granddaughter, he went to Gettysburg in 1938 for the reunion of the Blue and the Gray. Infirmities of old age have impaired both eyesight and hearing for Mr. Ling, who nevertheless says he feels "good" most of the time. "I wouldn't mind living to be 100, if my health keeps good," he comments. He has no particular formula for long life, but admits he has tried to take good care of himself always. His appetite is still hearty (sauerkraut is his favorite dish, he'll tell you), he enjoys riding in an automobile, and although he has never taken an airplane ride, he says he would like to get into a plane and go to California for the winter. "I don't like the snow and cold," he confides. On the afternoon that the reporter visited him, he was sitting in an easy chair by a front living room window, from where he watches his many acquaintances pass by. He likes children. "And kids like me, too," he says. And so like the sun going down at the end of a day, the shades of the survivors of the Civil War grow longer and longer, and Bull Run and Gettysburg memories grow dimmer and dimmer in the minds of a "handful" of gallant veterans of the Union army who remain alive in this vicinity. Lee County boasts but two veterans of this conflict, which tore at the very roots of the government. The other, besides Mr. Ling, is John Baymount (Dad) Ford of this city, who will be 96 years old, come April 14.

Source: Dixon Telegraph, 12 Feb. 1941

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