When he died at the age of 104, Hiram R. Gale was the last Civil War veteran in the Pacific Northwest. Born in Vermont, he joined the Union Army in 1864 and served until after the war ended the next year. In 1887 Gale moved to Washington to establish himself in newspaper publishing, searching the Puget Sound region for a population center needing a newspaper. He worked as an editor and in real estate until he found the right opportunity in Bremerton. In 1901, with his two sons, he established a company that published the Bremerton News and other papers in the area. The Gales also had real-estate interests, and in 1920 sold the publishing company to focus on real estate. Hiram Gale was very active in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) organization of Union veterans that encouraged Memorial Day activities and worked for veterans' benefits. He moved to Seattle in 1927 and worked in his son's real-estate firm until past his 100th birthday. From the mid-1930s he took the lead in organizing Seattle Memorial Day parades, serving as parade marshal several times. Gale walked the parade routes even at the age of 99.
Serving in the Union Army
Hiram R. Gale was born in Waterbury, Vermont, on November 8, 1846. In September 1857 his father, Hiram Gale Sr. (1808-1857), died. His mother, Sally Gale (1809-1886), moved the family moved to Galesville, Wisconsin, in 1861, knowing her children could get a good education there. Her late husband's brother, George Gale (1816-1868), a circuit court judge, had founded the town and established Gale College there.
Hiram Gale attended Gale College until January 1864, when he volunteered for service in the Civil War, joining Company K of the 46th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry. Private Gale's first duty was to guard Union Army railroad facilities at Athens, Alabama. The 46th next moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where Gale served as a courts-martial court clerk. It was here in November 1864 that he cast his first vote in a presidential election, voting to re-elect Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865). He would be especially proud of that vote in his later years.
On September 27, 1865, following the war's end with the Confederate surrender the previous spring, Gale was discharged as a corporal without having seen combat. He returned to Galesville and became a grocer. In 1871 he married Laura Ann Perkins (1850-1879) of Galesville. They had three sons and a daughter who died the same day as her birth. In the mid-1870s Gale moved to Willmar, Minnesota, and served as editor for the Willmar Republican and Gazette.
Move to Puget Sound
In 1887, eight years after his first wife died, Gale moved west to Mason County, Washington, along the southwestern shoreline of Puget Sound. He lived in Allyn and found employment as an editor for the Mason County Journal, along with other economic pursuits. He continued seeking newspaper business and in 1892 was living in Tacoma. After Gale married Ida Rose (1855-1923) they lived in Allyn. Gale's business ventures prospered and in 1897 he was able to spend the winter in Los Angeles and the summer in Allyn. Two years later the Gales moved to Olympia.
By then Hiram had accumulated enough wealth to enter the newspaper business, and he searched the Puget Sound region for a place to establish a newspaper. He also convinced his sons Charles R. Gale (1872-1959) and Edgar L. Gale (1876-1962) to come to Washington to join with him in establishing both a newspaper company and a real-estate business. In 1901 they founded the Bremerton News as a weekly newspaper. In 1914 it went to twice-weekly publication. Their company, Gale Publishing, expanded to include the Port Orchard Independent and other newspapers.
In 1904 Hiram Gale became the commander of the Grand Army of the Republic Navy Yard Post (Number 110), located at Charleston, near Bremerton. He was a tireless member of the GAR and advanced through its ranks. By 1914, while still in Bremerton, he was elected Commander of the Washington and Alaska Department. Gale visited all the Grand Army of the Republic posts around the state.
In 1920 the Gales sold their publishing company to focus on the real-estate business. Hiram and his son Edgar operated the real-estate company, moving to Seattle. Charles Gale stayed in Bremerton working as a printer at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for 25 years. In 1923 Hiram's second wife Ida Rose Gale died. Several years later he married Katherine McCorkle (1861-1932), who was active in various patriotic organizations. Katherine Gale died in February 1932, and Hiram did not remarry, having outlived three wives.
Honoring the Nation's War Dead
From 1934 until his death, Gale devoted great energy to honoring this nation's war dead, regularly taking part in Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades and events in Seattle. For the 1934 Memorial Day parade through downtown Seattle, at age 87, Gale led the marchers as marshal. The parade was more than a mile long, with a large crowd in attendance. For the next several years, Gale served as general chairman of the local Memorial Day committee, developing plans for parades and memorials. Among the other tributes to fallen soldiers was Seattle's annual Fourth of July parade and activities.
On July 4, 1939, the parade was led by the famed 15th Infantry Regiment from Fort Lewis. Hiram Gale, then 93 years old, walked the entire distance despite the rainy weather. Following the parade he gave a speech. For Memorial Day in 1940 he was the parade's grand marshal. Once the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Gale was often in viewing stands and giving speeches encouraging people to honor the fallen. Taking advantage of the patriotic limelight, Gale encouraged memorializing U.S. war heroes. His appearances at Seattle Victory Square War Bond drives helped sell the bonds.
Memorial Day events in 1942 were typical. They included a Victory Square gathering with Governor Arthur B. Langlie (1900-1966) addressing the crowd, speaking of recent battles in the war. Gale and a few other Grand Army of the Republic members were in the stands. Wreaths were laid at military graves in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery (part of Evergreen Washelli Cemetery in North Seattle).
In October 1945, Gale traveled to Columbus, Ohio, for the Grand Army of the Republic convention. There were only 13 members in attendance. They elected Gale as the GAR's national Commander-in-Chief. He served from 1945 through 1946. By 1948 he was the last Grand Army of the Republic member in the state of Washington. He was a one-man encampment at Everett that year, a three-day event at the American Legion Hall.
Last Civil War Veteran in Washington
When he turned 100 Gale was still working fulltime in son Edgar's Seattle real-estate office. He was described as firm of step, bright of eye, and with good hearing. He spoke of a desire to be the last Civil War veteran, which would make him famous. He rode in a car during the 1947 Memorial Day parade. An operation had led to complications. He fell ill with inflammation of the gall duct, sending him to Seattle's Marine Hospital on Beacon Hill in January 1948 for lengthy treatment. Gale was well enough to take part in the 1948 Memorial Day parade, riding in an open car.
His final hospital stay started in October 1950 when he entered the American Lake Veterans Hospital. He died there in March 1951. He was cremated and his remains interred at Evergreen Washelli on Memorial Day 1951. A large marker over his grave site notes his status as the last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic in the state and relates his leadership in the local and national organization. The memorial, which includes a plaque depicting Hiram Gale by distinguished Seattle sculptor James A. Wehn (1882-1973), was purchased with public contributions and dedicated on November 11, 1953.
On October 21, 2016, this marker was rededicated by the Puget Sound War Roundtable. Speakers at the rededication noted that 2016 marked the 150th anniversary of the Grand Army of the Republic and was the year of Hiram Gale's 170th birthday. Speakers related the success of the GAR in promoting Memorial Day and establishing veterans' benefits. Hiram R. Gale was one of many Civil War veterans who came to west to Washington with a vision and made substantial contributions to the state.