March 17, 1844 – June 24, 1946
From Sunset and Dusk of the Blue and the Gray
It is shortly after D-Day 1944. Berlin, Maryland’s most revered citizen is out in his victory garden as usual, hoeing up his vegetables. “Uncle Zear” Fassett is doing his part for the was effort just as he had in 1942 and 1943, just as he would do again in 1945. Already past his century mark, he stands erect, his shoulders and back incredibly straight. He stands 5’4″ of his youthful 5’5 5/8″. Yes, he stands sturdily on this most familiar plot of earth – his garden now green with pregnant promise, again victorious and symbolic of a successful life.
Born in slavery on the Fassett estate down on Sinepuxent Neck, near Berlin, Isaiah grew up working at farm chores for white folks, cutting fuel logs for their manorial fireplaces, and picking up the skills of carpentry. On Nov. 11, 1863, Isaiah’s owner, Sarah A. Bruff, under provision of General Order No. 329 of that year, drew up and agreed to sign his “Deed of Manumission and Release of Service,” to becom effective that day. On Feb. 16, 1864, Sarah A. Bruff submitted her application (Claimant’s Certificate No. 307) for compensation upon her loss of “Isaiah Bruff alias Isaiah Fassett.”.
That very day of freedom, Nov. 11, 1863, Isaiah enlisted in the Ninth Infantry Regt., U.S.C.T., and soon became a private in Company D for three years. Known battles that Pvt. Fassett fought in with the Ninth Regt. U.S.C.T. were the Wilderness, Johns Island, S.C. (July 5-7, 1864), Deep Bottom, Va. (Aug. 14-18, 1864), Fussel’s Mills ( ), the storming of Petersburg, and early entry into Richmond. The death toll for Isaiah’s regiment during its thirty months at the front was 315 men. After Richmond fell Isaiah was promoted to corporal. Eventually he was sent to Texas with the Ninth and from there they crossed the Gulf to Cuba and after some weeks they were shipped back to New Orleans. Isaiah was mustered out at Green Village, La., and received his discharge Nov. 26, 1866.
The following September he married Sallie Purnell in Berlin, and they would have eight children and fifty-nine years together. One of their children lives today [at the unknown date of this article] in Philadelphia – Robert, 92, who relates in his Nov. 20, 1975 letter –
Father’s parents were sold to slave owners in Georgia when he was very small. He had three brothers and three sisters who grew up in Berlin. He was a kind and loving father who spanked me when I misbehaved. He taught me his trade, carpentry. His favorite hymns were “The Gospel Train Is Coming” and “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing My Great Redeemer’s Praise.” He went by the golden rule. Father was concerned for the needy, the sick, and for community progress. My sister, Estella Harris, and my cousin, Sara Purnell, came to live with and take care of him in his late years. He always had cider to give folks. He walked a lot of exercise until 100. He showed courage in enlisting in the Ninth Regiment. We loved him for his devotion to family, concern for Berlin, and his loyalty to his country.
The same week William D. Pitts, an 86-year-old surveyor of Berlin, Md., wrote :
“I knew “Uncle Zear” Fassett best from 1899 until 1907 when I moved to New York. In a small town a boy knows everyone. I used to see him in the Memorial Day parade. This part of Maryland’s Eastern Shore was so predominantly pro-Southern, that all the towns in Worcester County were garrisoned by federal troops during the war. But the Purnell Legion was formed from men of Worcester and Somerset Counties and fought with some distinction for the Union. I had five relatives on the Southern side and one on the Northern. We had a colored man (term of respect when I was a boy) named Ned Purnell, who belonged to my grandfather, who gave him his freedom. Ned and Isaiah were in the same outfit. When “Uncle Zear” came to work our garden, I’d follow him up and down the rows while he told of the war. He talked of the Crater fight, the tunneling under the Rebel earthworks, and the explosion. Well, Ned said that just before they exploded the mine, they lined up Co. D and told each to note who was on each side of him. Uncle Ned heard Uncle Isaiah cry out in pain. When they lined up after the fight, they called off Isaiah’s name. Isaiah answered, “DEAD!” He wasn’t dead at all. He was only creased by a bullet – a flesh burn!”
Miss L. Katie Henry, a retired teacher in Berlin, wrote on Dec. 1, 1975 :
“My Uncle Zear was a lifelong resident of Berlin. I was at his bedside when he died peacefully at his Branch St. home he built with the help of his son. He repaired and built many houses here. I have a house that he built for our “milk house” before refridgerators came along. He liked to till the soil and had a favorite horse that lived nearly thirty years. He raised watermelons, corn, vegetables. As a member of St. Paul’s Methodist he served as class leader, Steward and janitor. The young people loved him. He told them stories of army life. He’d run and jump to amuse them. I can hear him now, relating an incident.
“Kate,” he’d say, “I had marched and marched until I really thought I couldn’t go a step father. I got to a place where the grass was nice and green under a large tree. I says to myself, ‘This is a good place to give up.’ Just then I looked up higher in the tree where a buddie had been hanged and was dangling. Well, I braced myself up and began marching again. (He would imitate how he braced up) I realized there was no need to stop after all and I found energy I didn’t know I had.” He could tell it so’s to make his listener’s laugh and laugh. He was witty and good-hearted. Never missed a Memorial Day parade. When younger he marched every step. For years he rode a horse in the lead until he was elderly. Then he rode in an auto, enjoying it much. All those years he wore his Grand Army fedora and dressed in the old uniform he brought home and kept for each year’s parade.
In her Dec. 7, 1975 letter from Wilmington, Delaware, Gwendolyn Brown offers :
“When I went to Berlin to visit Grandmother, I remember my great Uncle Zear best on his last Memorial Days when he was too old to be in the procession. He would stand at attention on his porch dressed in uniform, and salute as they marched past his home. Mrs. Ada Anderson was instrumental in asking my Aunt Catherine Smith to see if Cousin Kate Henry (Zear’s niece) would arrange to loan his musket to our Wilmington Historical Society Museum in Old Town Hall at Sixth and Market Sts. The persons who prepared the musket for display said that at that time it was still loaded.”
Finally, Mrs. Ada J. Anderson’s Dec. 10, 1975 report from Wilmington provides further revealing answers – “I am a member of the Ladies of the G.A.R. Though I was not privileged to know Mr. Fassett personally, I have admired him for things I’ve heard about him. Since he was our last Department Commander of the G.A.R. in Delaware, when we organized our second junior group, this circle was named in his honor. His little grand niece was a member of this circle and continued and was made president of the National Junior Organization. She is now Sandra Brown Thomas, a member of Charles Sumner Circle No. 1, L.G.A.R.”
For many years Corporal Fassett had been an enthusiastic comrade and Commander of G.A.R. Post 51 of Berlin until its disbandment. When his fellow Civil War survivors passed on, he joined Charles Sumner Post 1 in Wilmington in 1940. Two years later he was elected Jr. Vice Commander, was advanced to Dept. Sr. Vice Commander and the next year named Delaware Dept. Commander, serving from Aug. 14, 1943 until his death. He was the last G.A.R. comrade between the area of Cape Charles and Philadelphia. When the customary three volleys were fired at his funeral June 28, 1946, representatives from three states paid their final tribute. Full G.A.R. honors were accorded amid the roll of muffled drums.
Comrade Fassett’s holding of Delaware’s highest G.A.R. office does not appear unique in G.A.R. history, but it surely was a rare distinction. While he never lived in Delaware, he did survive all of Delaware’s Civil War soldiers. The table below is reconstructed to disclose the strength and composition of the Grand Army during its final years in Delaware. Apparently it was customary in the Delaware G.A.R. to fill out its ranks with old soldiers from neighboring states, that the brotherhood might last a bit longer. Comrade Fassett’s last local comrade in Berlin, James B. Lytle, had already transferred to the Delaware G.A.R. in 1938 as had Dallas M. See of Queen Anne, Md.
- Hometown & Military Unit
- Last Sunset
- *George W. Baker**, Sr.
- First Dela. Batt Lt. Art.
- Oct. 19, 1940
- *Henry Banzett
- 57th New York
- May 3, 1941
- *Joseph T. Berry
- Co. A, 39th U.S.C.T.
- Dec. 12, 1941
- *Joseph W. Showalter
- Oxford, Pa.
- Co. C, 124th Pa. Inf.
- Co. B, 58th Pa.
- Feb. 27, 1942
- *Joseph Hynson
- Rock Hall, Md.
- Co. D, First Md. Inf
- Feb. 11, 1943
- *Benjamin F. Scott
- Co. A, First Va. Loyal Vols
- Jan. 17, 1944
- *Isaiah Fassett
- Berlin, Md.
- Co. D, Ninth U.S.C.T.
- June 24, 1946
“Uncle Zear” Fassett was one of Maryland’s twenty-two Boys of ’61 to attend the 75th Battle Reunion at Gettysburg in July 1938. From that occasion forward he proudly wore his VETERAN badge presented each of the 1845 Civil War soldiers who were there.
Corporal Fassett was the next-to last Civil War soldier in Maryland, for he lived to within four months of the death of James M. Reed of Cumberland, who was 100-6-16 when he died Oct. 20, 1946.
Like so many among his late comrades featured here (Eli Dance of Md., Reuben Hurd or Elias Fenstermacher of Minn., Moses Ratledge, Adam Riley, Zachariah Smith of Okla., Solomon Strickland of Texas, Uriah Alley of W. Va., or Josiah Cass of Wis. – “merely to scratch the surface”), there was a decided biblical dimension in Isaiah which far transcended his name. Individuals like him were what helped make America so beautiful for younger folks growing up in the early years of this century.
*Delaware’s last G.A.R. Department Commanders
**Erroneously listed as Delaware’s last Civil War veteran in C.S. Peterson’s Last Civil War Veteran in Each State, Baltimore, 1951.
#Journal of the Seventy-Fifth National Encampment, 77th CONG., 2nd SESS., House Doc. No. 535, p. 17.