Civil War hero buried in Vancouver witness to history

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter



As the state was celebrating its most recent Medal of Honor recipients, historian Jeff Davis found an intriguing update for a Medal of Honor winner buried in Vancouver.

And it echoes a historic anniversary observed a few days ago: Maj. William McCammon was at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865, when President Abraham Lincoln was shot.

McCammon, recognized for heroism in the Civil War, died in Vancouver in 1903; he’s one of four soldiers in the historic Post Cemetery who won the Medal of Honor.

The others are Sgt. James Hill, who served during the Indian Wars; Moses Williams, a Buffalo Soldier who also fought in the Indian Wars; and Herman Pfisterer, who served in the Spanish-American War. The cemetery is on the north side of East Fourth Plain Boulevard — across the street from the Veterans Affairs campus — and east of Interstate 5.

The state’s most recent recipients were honored at an April 2 ceremony in Olympia. Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry, Staff Sgt. Ty Michael Carter, and Capt. William Swenson were honored for heroism under fire in Afghanistan.

Their names were added to the state Medal of Honor memorial in Olympia, joining a roster of heroes that dates back to the Civil War — including McCammon.

The 25-year-old lieutenant took command of his company on Oct. 3, 1862, at the Battle of Corinth, in Mississippi. He continued to lead his unit as it held its ground under heavy fire until the enemy retreated the next day.

He didn’t rest on his laurels, by the way; at 61, McCammon was commended for distinguished gallantry in the Philippines in 1899 during the Spanish-American War.

Davis, a local historian, author and retired Army officer, added to McCammon’s biography a few days ago after coming across some archived material. McCammon was in the audience when Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln attended a performance of “Our American Cousin” on April 14, 1865.

After shooting the president, John Wilkes Booth jumped from Lincoln’s box to the stage. McCammon and others in the crowd briefly pursued the assassin backstage, Davis said.

Another soldier with Vancouver ties had a more intimate role in the tragedy. When the war started, Joseph Barnes was an army surgeon at Fort Vancouver. By the end of the war, he was surgeon general. Barnes was at Lincoln’s deathbed on April 15.

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.

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