County historical museum exhibit sheds light on Civil War

It highlights 3 soldiers with Clark County ties

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter



Lewis Sutton was in quite a fix.

The Confederates surrounded his regiment during the Battle of Shiloh and captured Sutton and 235 other Union soldiers.

After being marched 5 miles to a cornfield in enemy territory, "the prisoners were guarded by two lines of rebel soldiers with loaded guns, standing facing inward and elbows touching," Sutton wrote.

If you go

• What: “Shadows of Conflict: Clarke County and the Civil War,” an exhibit that highlights three Union soldiers who came to Clark County after the Civil War.

• Where: Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St., Vancouver.

• When: Free opening reception, 5-7 p.m. Friday; exhibit runs through Feb. 28.

• Cost: $4; $3 for seniors and students; $2 for children; $10 for families; free for museum members and active-duty military and their families.

• Information: or 360-993-5679.

"The soldiers (without orders) cocked their guns and leveled them upon the prisoners, ready to make their camping ground a slaughter ground."

The diary entry in April 1862 represented a low point in Sutton's Civil War service. But he rejoined the fight after a prisoner exchange, and as the tide of war turned the Union's way, Sutton wrote about it.

Sutton's diary is part of a new museum exhibit, "Shadows of Conflict: Clarke County and the Civil War." The exhibit opened recently at the Clark County Historical Museum, 1511 Main St.

While the war wasn't fought here, many of the issues of that era cast a shadow over the Northwest.

And many of the men who wore blue or gray made homes here after the war. The exhibit highlights three former Union soldiers:

• Lewis Wells Sutton, a company clerk with the 14th Iowa Infantry Regiment; he became a Vancouver businessman.

• John D. Geoghegan, who joined the 18th New York Infantry Regiment; he was a member of Washington's first state Legislature in 1889.

• Albert Marion Edmonds, who enlisted in the 6th Kansas Cavalry Regiment on Oct. 4, 1861; in the late 19th century, he settled near what's now Ridgefield.

Through some of their possessions and archive images, the exhibit puts a human face on three of the 3 million soldiers who fought from 1861 to 1865.

Sutton has provided the exhibit's most extensive look at the life of a Civil War soldier, through a satchelful of papers — including a diary — that was donated to the museum in 1965.

Howard Gingold, who edits the annual Clark County History publication, wrote a piece about the war as Sutton saw it.

The longtime journalist used transcriptions of the diary. They were done as a museum volunteer project by the late Richard Reay with the help of Charlotte Lewis.

"He was an ordinary guy, who, just by recording his thoughts, capsulized three years of war," Gingold said of Sutton. "He provided some amazing insights."

All their maggots

Like his description of prison-camp bacon, in which Sutton wrote: "We never failed to get all the maggots we were entitled to both in quantity and size."

Sutton wrote about the battles, Gingold said, "and the tedious quality of life in between the battles."

In his later years, Sutton moved to Vancouver; he died on July 23, 1914, at the age of 75. His Columbian obituary described him as a painting contractor. Sutton is buried at Park Hill Cemetery in McLoughlin Heights.

John D. Geoghegan, the 17th of 21 children, came to the U.S. from Ireland with his family in 1851. After enlisting in the Union army, Geoghegan was captured by the Confederates and was held in the infamous Andersonville prison in Georgia.

Geoghegan headed West in 1872. After rejoining the U.S. Army, he took part in the campaign against the Nez Perce Indians. In 1879, Geoghegan became part of the quartermaster department at Vancouver Barracks.

He went into business in 1885, and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1889, when Washington became a state. Geoghegan was a prominent civic leader, including a city councilman, before his death in 1896. He is buried in Vancouver's historic St. James Acres cemetery.

Albert Marion Edmonds is represented in the exhibit by a piece of his Union uniform. His family donated a wool cavalry coat with an attached cape.

According to Civil War references, the 6th Kansas Cavalry saw action in what was described as Indian Territory and the frontier district.

Eventually, he headed West and settled in Clarke County, as it was known then. In 1877, Edmonds was one of the Civil War veterans who gave Union Ridge its name. The community changed its name to Ridgefield in 1890. Edmonds died in 1920 and is buried in the Ridgefield cemetery.