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Reprinted (with permission) from the August 2011 Lutheran Witness (Vol. 130, No. 8)

Over the next four years, our nation will observe the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. While many Americans have ancestors who lived during that epic struggle, Frederick “Fritz” M. Upham is one of a dwindling few who can say, “My father fought in the Civil War.” At age 90, this witty former geological consultant uses a walker but still drives to worship at Saint John’s Lutheran Church, Fort Collins, Colorado. Rev. Ron Nickel, pastoral assistant, says he was “blown away” when he learned that his parishioner’s father, William Henry Upham (May 3, 1841–July 2, 1924) was wounded at the first Battle of Bull Run—his family believed he was killed and held a premature funeral—met both President Abraham Lincoln and former Confederacy President Jefferson Davis, served as Wisconsin governor, remarried at age 73 and became the biological father of Fritz Upham at 80.

Like his dad, Fritz Upham is a military veteran who served in World War II as a flight instructor with the US Army Air Corps and later as a second-class seaman with the US Navy. His family is one of eight profiled in Civil War Fathers, Sons of the Civil War in WWII (Vandamere Press, 2007) by Tim Pletkovich. “Fritz is a remarkable man, an important and vibrant member of our congregation,” says Nickel. “His story and link to American history is amazing.” The following is an edited Lutheran Witness (LW) interview with Upham (FMU).

LW: About 100 children of Union and Confederate veterans are still alive, according to USA Today. What memories do you have of your father?

FMU: My memories are not as clear as my brother’s, who was five years older. [Upham’s brother, William H. Upham Jr., died in 2009.] My brother told me stories that my dad related, including that he was severely shot through the neck and shoulder in the Battle of Bull Run [in 1861]. My brother said my dad told us he lay on the battlefield for three days with no medical attention. He was captured by the Confederates and held as a prisoner of war in Libby Prison in Richmond, Va.

LW: I understand that your father’s family was told their son died in battle and held his funeral in his hometown of Racine, Wis. But that’s not the end of your father’s unique story.

FMU: The real unusual part is that my father associated with both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. What are the chances of that? After he was released in a prisoner-of-war exchange [in 1862], my father was sent to Washington, D.C., where he met [President] Lincoln. Lincoln appointed him to West Point. After his graduation [in 1866], he served in the Army and was assigned to guard Jefferson Davis [when the former Confederacy president was imprisoned at Fort Monroe, Virginia]. The only thing separating them was a blanket [hanging from a grated door], and they would talk until way after midnight and play checkers.

LW: I understand your late wife, Jean, was the daughter of an LCMS pastor who influenced your faith life.

FMU: Jean [a former high-school classmate in Marshfield, Wisconsin] and I got married in 1945. Although I was brought up Presbyterian, because my father in law [the Rev. Gustav M. Krueger] was a Lutheran pastor, everyone thought it best that I become a Lutheran too. I had the world’s fastest training in Lutheran background! Rev. Krueger and his family were very strong Lutherans. He was a big influence on my life.

LW: Pastor Nickel tells me you regularly drive to church. Why is worship important to you?

FMU: I don’t want to be a member unless I can participate. I always believed very strongly in God, and it’s important to keep going [to church]. I’m real thankful I can get out of bed on Sunday and drive myself, although I don’t drive at night.

LW: Do you have a favorite Scripture or Bible story?

FMU: Just yesterday I was reading a chapter in John. I like Bible stories because they are very to the point. All the verses quoting Jesus are very objective, very straightforward. I like reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I don’t think I’m sophisticated enough to read Revelations and get it.

LW: Do you have any special plans to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War?

FMU: No special plans. Before my brother passed away, he said we have to get a good place on [the television show] “Good Morning America” [because of their father’s Civil War connection]. I said, “Are you crazy? We should be in a big bottle of formaldehyde, sitting on a medical school shelf!” I do hope the memorials and commemorations observing the Civil War fully express the tremendous sacrifices of both civilians and the military in both the northern and the Southern states. My dad gave his own personal sacrifice when he was severaly wounded. I am proud to be his son, as was my brother. And I am thankful that the Lord has given me 90 years of life.

The Book

Civil War Fathers: Sons of the Civil War in World War II, edited by Tim Pletkovich (Vandemere Press), is the amazing story of eight American families whose fathers fought in the Civil War and sons fought in World War II. It evolved from an interview project involving middle school children in Peoria, Illinois, into an amazing book encompassing almost 100 years of American history in two generations.

Based on interviews with the surviving WWII veterans, this absorbing book views the Civil War through the eyes of children listening to their father’s stories, and World War II through the eyes of the same children as grown-up participants. It encompasses the broad span of social, cultural, and economic change over nine decades, and presents a rich and vibrant tapestry of often over looked history.

Get to know your family at Saint John’s! Each month we interview another of our long-time members to find out about their life, their Christian journey and their history at Saint John’s Lutheran.