BEAVER COUNTY FAMILY LINKED TO ABRAHAM LINCOLN
BRIGHTON TWP. — Union Army veteran Jacob Soles thought the world of President Abraham Lincoln, so it was only fitting that the Allegheny County coal miner should help carry the dying president from Ford’s Theater in 1865.
“He had been involved one time with bringing a message to the White House from the battlefield, and he met Lincoln,” Soles’ grandson, Elmer Soles, recalled Wednesday. “He always said Lincoln was just like an ordinary individual, not stuck up or anything. He might have been president, but there was nothing stuck up about him.”
Elmer Soles, 87, of Brighton Township has vivid memories of his grandfather, who became a local celebrity after the events at Ford’s Theater. Soles spent hours as a teenager sitting on a front porch swing and talking with his grandfather before the elder man’s death in 1936.The family lived in North Versailles Township near Turtle Creek, and newspaper reporters from across the country regularly showed up at the door for interviews around the anniversary of Lincoln’s birth.
Today is the 200th anniversary.On national holidays, veterans groups would march past the Soles home in honor of Jacob. Braddock schoolchildren still place flowers on his grave in the town’s Monongahela Cemetery.In addition to the press, Soles entertained the likes of American writer Carl Sandburg, who won one of two Pulitzer Prizes for a biography of Lincoln published in six volumes from 1926 to 1939.
Elmer Soles, who moved from Allegheny County after World War II to work at the former Westinghouse plant in Vanport Township, said his grandfather joined the Union Army in 1864 at age 18. He served as a private with Thompson’s Independent Battery C of the Pennsylvania Light Artillery.
On April 14, 1865, he was stationed at Camp Berry in Washington, D.C., with Jabez Griffiths, John Corey and William Sample, all of whom were natives of the Pittsburgh area. Griffiths’ widow, Minerva, lived in Beaver County after her husband’s death in 1898.The four soldiers went to Ford’s Theater that night for a showing of the play “Our American Cousin.” Their seats were on a balcony about 15 feet from the president’s box.
Elmer Soles said his grandfather heard a pistol shot and then screams from the box. The four soldiers rushed in and found the wounded president.“They just got Lincoln and carried him out,” Elmer Soles said.Two other soldiers joined them on the way out so they could comfortably carry him with two at his head, two in the middle and two at his feet.“They didn’t want Lincoln to be sagging,” Soles said. “They took him down to the street, and they were told to take him across the street to a house.”Jacob Soles said in a New York Times interview that they milled about in the crammed street with the president for about five minutes before taking him to the landmark Peterson House where he died.
Once they deposited the president on a bed, the soldiers were ordered out.“They just went outside and stayed outside moseying around on the street there until the word came out that Lincoln had passed away. Then they went back to camp,” Elmer Soles said.Corey drowned in the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh in April 1884. Sample died in McKeesport on Feb. 25, 1898, after being burned in a steel mill. Griffiths died in McKeesport on April 18, 1898.Jacob Soles lived in North Versailles until his death on Jan. 9, 1936, at age 90. He continued mining coal after the war and lost an eye in a mining accident.
The New York Times in a 1931 interview described him as “a little old man, with iron gray hair and furrowed brow.”Elmer Soles, who has a framed sketch of his grandfather that he made just before his grandfather died, said he spent many enjoyable hours talking about the Civil War.“He’d get on his uniform hat, those caps they wore back then, and he had his jacket, and a lot of times on Sunday, we’d just sit there by the hour and we’d talk about the things that went on in the war then,” he said. “I was just a youngster at the time. I wish I could still talk to him now.”