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  • My Great Grandfather, Martin H. Hager, was a 13 year old immigrant from Alsace Lorraine, having settled in Pittsburgh, PA, at the age of 7 in 1854 with his widowed mother and two brothers, Louis and Gust. Christine Hager met and married Joseph Gerard soon after coming to Pittsburgh. Early in 1861, war fever gripped the nation following the shots fired on Fort Sumter, in Charleston Bay, SC.

    In Pittsburgh, Pa, Joseph Gerard formed and outfitted a Zouave Company, and Martin’s 2 older brothers joined and became Captain Gerard’s First and Second Lieutenants, respectively. Young Martin begged and pleaded with his mother and Step Father to allow him to join the company with his brothers, but they said he was much too young to fight. But, Martin was a determined young man!

    After months of drilling and forming up the company, they joined the Union Army as Company K of the 61st Pennsylvania Volunteers. As they boarded a train to transport the company across the state of Pennsylvania to join up with their regiment in Philadelphia, Martin made his move! He secretly stowed away on the train, not to be discovered until they reached Philadelphia. Unable to send him back, Gerard had his young step-son lie about his age and join the company and Union Army as a “16 year old” Drummer.

    Martin would spend the better part of the next 3 ½ years camping, marching, and fighting within a short distance of where I now live, in Vienna, VA. The 61st lost more officers during the war than any other Union Regiment, including Martin’s step-father, at the Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines on May 31st, 1862. That evening, Martin heard the version of Taps that we now know, the very first time that it was ever played! A Union officer who had been a musician prior to the war, had rewritten the song that evening,and had his bugler play it, while the countless dead and wounded still lay strewn about the fields of that day's horrible fighting. As other buglers heard the song, they picked it up and echoed the new tune throughout the encampments around the battle field.

    The 61st were front and center in several of the lesser known battles, but were also involved in many of the more well-known Battles at Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and the Wilderness. They led the charge up Marye's Heights in the second Battle of Fredericksburg. Martin’s brother Gust took a shot in the side during the Battle of the Wilderness, and Martin stayed at his side, staunching the wound until the medics could tend to his wounded brother. When they finally got to Gust, the surgeon told Martin that he surely had saved his brother’s life.

    Martin kept a diary during his enlistment. It was handed down through the family, and my father, his grandson, transcribed it and shared copies with the entire family. It is one of my most cherished possessions.

    Late in his life, Martin was invited to the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, in 1938, along with many of the survivors of that great battle, from both North and South. He was 91 years old. My father’s cousin, Austin McGrath, accompanied him to this event.

    I spoke with Austin about this once at a family funeral some years ago. “He just kept climbing up those towers, so he could look out over the battle fields. My father kept telling me, ‘Don’t let him do that – he’s too old’, but hell, I couldn’t stop him. He was determined to go, and he went!”

    Kind of like he had done 77 years earlier on that train to Philadelphia.
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