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Verdugo Views: Sometimes a man’s past can have unexpected turns

Verdugo Views: Sometimes a man’s past can have unexpected turns
Capt. Henry Mingay, one of the last of the local Civil War veterans, died in 1947, shortly after his 100th birthday. He is buried at Grand View Memorial Park. (Courtesy of Katherine Yamada)

I didn’t really expect to write about Civil War veteran Capt. Henry Mingay again.

After all, his story has been told in several Verdugo Views columns, detailing how he joined the Union forces soon after Ft. Sumter was fired on, served with the famed “Fighting Sixty-ninth,” which saw a lot of action early in the war, came to Glendale, joined the Grand Army of the Republic, known as GAR, and called himself a captain.

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One column focused on his annual trips to local schools and about a new school in Burbank that was named for him.

One of the last remaining Civil War veterans, Mingay died in 1947, shortly after his 100th birthday and was buried at Grand View Memorial Park.

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But there’s been an interesting development. A few months ago, I received an email from a history buff, Denis Wynn, who lives in England.

Wynn had read some of my Mingay articles online and wanted to know if the three oak trees planted at the Burbank school on dedication day still existed.

I contacted the Burbank Unified School District and learned that, yes, there are some very old oak trees on the grounds of the former Mingay Elementary (now the Burbank Adult School).

But, no one knew exactly when they were planted.

I also called research analyst Susan Hodgson at the Burbank Historical Society. She told me they had a Mingay display for many years and gave me other information.

She also sent a link to an article by Tom Gilfoy, titled “Captain Henry Mingay: A search for the truth,” which originally appeared in the “Voice of the Village” in April 2013.

In the article, Gilfoy, who was raised in Sunland, recalled the excitement when Mingay made annual visits to his school, Sunland Grammar School.

On those days, students lined up by class and, to the strains of a John Philip Sousa march, paraded double file over to the Mingay assembly.

“Every year, close to Memorial Day, he made the rounds of local schools,’’ Gilfoy wrote.

His short, patriotic speech extolled veterans of wars past and paid “particular homage to those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.”

Gilfoy also wrote, “This long after, I can’t honestly say I remember a single word the good Captain said.”

He did recall shaking his hand, though. “And what a frail, bony old hand it was, too — I mean, how could it have been otherwise with the old guy closing in fast on a hundred years of age,’’ Gilfoy wrote.

“It’s hard to pinpoint the exact year I shook his hand,” Gilfoy emailed in response to a recent query. “My best guess is it was 1942.”

Fast forward to 2011. Gilfoy wrote in his article that he was invited to participate in a Memorial Day event, jointly sponsored by Sunland-Tujunga’s Little Landers Society and the Crescenta Valley Historical Society, honoring 10 Civil War veterans.

“In a real coincidence, I was asked to read the biography of none other than Captain Henry M. Mingay,” he wrote. “I hadn’t thought much about him since school days, but this experience rekindled an interest in his life.”

Gilfoy began researching Mingay’s service record. “Although I had not set out to prove anything, I’m sorry to say I found out that much of what had previously been reported about him was untrue,” he wrote.

Military records established that Mingay joined the Union Army eight months before the war ended. Not at the beginning of the conflict as reported.

He was mustered out as a private two months after the war ended. There was no record that he ever served as a captain.

“So,” Gilfoy wondered, “why did Mingay call himself Captain Mingay, and where did all the reports of his heroism during his brief 10-month military career come from?”

Gilfoy speculated that the information came from Mingay himself. “Or, possibly he never corrected others who started praising him for things that he had not done,” he wrote.

Another possibility was that Mingay earned the rank of captain in the GAR, a fraternal organization of Civil War veterans who wore uniforms and bore rank as in the real Army.

But, pictures of Mingay in full GAR uniform show no bars on his shoulders.

“Just seeing Mingay in his medal-bedecked GAR uniform may, however, be the source of people thinking he was a hero, even though close examination of each medal reveals that none were awarded for heroism,” Gilfoy wrote.

All were for post-war service to GAR.

“From the foregoing, it’s pretty hard not to conclude that good ol’ Cap’t Mingay pulled the wool over a lot of people’s eyes,” Gilfoy wrote.

Recently, however, it occurred to Gilfoy that Mingay might have joined a National Guard unit after the war and become a captain.

And sure enough, an 1886 annual report of the New York Adjutant General’s Office indicated that a Capt. Henry M. Mingay retired from a local guard unit.

“I consider this discovery to be a lesson learned: Just because you can’t find evidence substantiating something doesn’t mean it isn’t true,” Gilfoy wrote.

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