California was a long way from the Battle of Gettysburg. And Sonoma County was busy fighting its own "battles," mostly wars of words, between the Petaluma Yankee traders and the Johnny Rebs who had settled the Russian River Valley.
So it is understandable that the Gettysburg 150th anniversary last week got a lot more attention in the eastern part of the country.
That's not to say there are not connections to be made.
Among the several hundred Civil War veterans buried in Sonoma County cemeteries, there are 166 in Santa Rosa's Rural Cemetery — 146 Union, 20 Confederate, including several whose tombstone inscriptions indicate that they were members of regiments that fought at Gettysburg.
We know that Nathaniel Stevens' regiment, the 8th Illinois Infantry, was there. And Amasa Arnold's 14th New York Infantry came from Brooklyn, and Joseph Wilcoxen served in the 147th New York Infantry. Both these New York units fought at Gettysburg. All three of these "old soldiers" rest on the hill above Franklin Avenue.
The Friends of the Rural Cemetery keep track of such things. Five years ago, in their publication called "Tombstones and Tales," researchers Charles Christian and Ray Owen wrote about another Gettysburg survivor who made his mark — quite literally — in the history of Santa Rosa.
By 1870, Gus Fisher, a young stonemason from Vermont, had arrived in Santa Rosa and opened Fisher Marble and Granite, the first "tombstone" business in Santa Rosa. As 22-year-old Cpl. Augustus Leander Fisher, he had been mustered into the 13th Vermont Infantry in 1862.
He is described by a comrade in the regimental history:
"A man of happy make up, he had a way of saying and doing funny things which made him a favorite with all. If the rain poured in torrents, you would hear Gus Fisher yell, 'Ain't you glad you enlisted?' A little commissary whiskey would set him to preaching and singing gospel hymns and under all conditions he was happy and tried to make others happy."
His regiment, we are told, "served only nine months and saw little action."
I don't know that I would have put it that way.
On the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg, the Vermont brigade was at the stone wall behind the cannons and the infantry on the Union line on Cemetery Hill. They had a clear look as Pickett's Charge breached the stone wall in a move that is known to military historians as "The high water mark of the Confederacy."
It was Cpl. Fisher's brigade that sent two regiments on the south side to attack the flank of the charging rebels. They were credited with "playing a key role in the failure of the charge," according to the Fisher profile.
It is noted that the brigade fired "approximately 6,000 mini balls."
Rather than "saw little action," I would suggest that this is the stuff that movies are made of.
Fisher apparently brought his "happy make up" when he came west. He was active in the local Grand Army of the Republic organization and attended the state encampment when it was held here. The Sonoma Democrat took note.
"The eighth commander of the post was A.L. Fisher. The big-headed, generous, fun-loving citizen whose very presence is a sunbeam of joy and whose daily influence is a perpetual incentive to the attainment of those virtues that fit us for companionship of intelligent, moral and social beings ... "