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Baker, J. Stannard

Major J. Stannard Baker, of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, belongs to a type of man now unfortunately disappearing from our American life; the type of the soldier, the pioneer, the unbending individualist. For thirty-five years he has been a resident of the St. Croix valley. His sturdy figure, carrying its years with the military erectness and vitality of youth, his snow-white hair, his alert step, not less than his unusual vigor of character and intellect, have long made him a notalle figure in the life of his community. Major Baker was born on a farm in Stafford, Genesee county, New York, March 20, 1838. He came from sturdy Puritan stock. His great-grandfather was Captain Remember Baker, one of the leaders with Ethan Allen and Seth Warner of the Green Mountain Boys, whose exploits in the early days of the Revolutionary war, in one of which Captain Baker lost his life, are among the notable episodes of that great struggle for freedom. Major Baker's grandfather was an officer in the United States Army, serving under General Wayne in his western expedition. His father, who also was a soldier, serving in the war of 1812, migrated from Vermont in the early days of the last century and settled in what was then the untracked wilderness of western New York. He was a man of extraordinary character and convictions, a leader of his community, playing a vigorous part in the great questions which then agitated the country. He was a staunch abolitionist, a member of the anti-Masonic party, at one time sheltering in his home the family of the Morgan who lost his life for revealing the secrets of Masonry, and a temperance reformer when it meant ostracism and persecution to take a position against the power of the liquor interests. Up to the age of sixteen Major Baker spent his summers at work on the farm, and in the winter he attended school, part of the time at Brockport institute, New York, where his older sisters were teaching. His ambition was to obtain a thorough education and at the age of seventeen he left home, and by teaching school and doing other sorts of work he was able to enter Oberlin college, in Ohio. Infected with the western fever, it being the time of the "Pike's Peak or Bust" excitement, Major Baker started west in 1859, with his older brother, H. C. Baker. They went to the end of the railroad and took passage in a steamboat up the Mississippi river to St. Paul, then a straggling frontier village. The country was still under the baleful influence of the panic of 1857. After a struggle of many weeks trying to get work when there was no work to be had, Major Baker went to Hudson, Wisconsin, where his brother had begun the practice of law. Here, luckily, he found work during harvest, running a threshing machine on what was then known as Hudson prairie. In the winter he taught school near River Falls, having among his pupils John E. Glover, now of New Richmond; Wellington Vanatta, a leading attorney of St. Paul, and George Burrows, since then an officer in the United States Navy. With the money saved from his work he was able in 1860 to enter Wisconsin University. Senator John C. Spooner, Senator Vilas and John Muir (the famous naturalist) were fellow-students. But he was not destined to complete his course. In 1861 came the news of the outbreak of the Civil war. The students went wild, recitations were abandoned, a military company, of which every member wanted to be an officer, was organized. But Major Baker finished the school year, after which he went to Iowa, where he had built up an extensive book and map business employing twenty men, during his vacations at the university. Eager now to enlist and go to the front, he rapidly closed up his work and was on the point of joining the Sixth Iowa cavalry when he received an appointment, along with his brother Byron, in the United States secret service, of which General L. C. Baker, a cousin, was then chief. After a brief visit at the old home in western New York he reported at Washington and began his new duties in 1862. His work in the secret service called for high qualities of courage, skill and judgment. He was often employed on delicate secret missions for Edwin M. Stanton, secretary of war, and his work brought him more than once into personal relationships with President Lincoln. He was sent repeatedly on dangerous missions inside of the Confederate lines in Virginia, in all of which he acquitted himself with notable success. In such high regard was he held that when the First District of Columbia cavalry was organized he was offered and accepted the appointment as ranking captain of the regiment. He soon rose to be major and for a greater part of the last two years of the war, owing to the absence of the colonel, L. C. Baker, who was chief of the secret service, and Lieutenant Colonel Conger, who was on detached service, Major Baker was in active command of the regiment. The First District of Columbia cavalry was composed largely of regular army men, and was armed with the then new and famous Henry repeating rifles-the only entire regiment so armed. While originally intended to serve only as an auxiliary to the United States secret service bureau, the First District of Columbia cavalry was soon ordered to the front, and, being composed of trained soldiers, mounted and armed in a superior way, much more was expected and demanded of it than of the ordinary cavalry regiment. Previously to July, 1863, it was engaged in scouting, raiding and fighting the guerrilla bands then infesting northern Virginia, and just before the battle of Gettysburg it was ordered to upper Maryland to hang upon the enemy's rear and cut their lines of communication. The regiment took part in the battle of Boonesborough July 8, 1863, and from that time until it was ordered to the front, the following fall, it was on duty in and about Washington, lower Maryland and northern Virginia. During the winter of 1863-64 the regiment was on duty in southern Virginia, near Norfolk and Suffolk, and along the great Dismal Swamp canal. In the spring of 1864 it became a part of General Kautz's cavalry division and took part in all the raids, battles and affairs in southern Virginia and about Petersburg and Richmond during the strenuous campaign of that summer. In June and July it took a prominent part in the Wilson raid, one of the most notable and daring of the war. Roanoke Station. Reams Station, Stony Creek, Nottaway River, were only a few of the hard-fought battles of this raid in which Major Baker commanded his regiment and lost many of his best officers and men. On August 24 and 25, when General Hancock's corps was driven back so disastrously from Reams Station, it was this regiment, commanded by Major Baker, which held the enemy in check during the afternoon and night of the 25th, thus saving Hancock's corps from complete annihilation and giving it time to reorganize. In September, Major Baker was placed in command of a picket line many miles in length, extending along the rear of Grant's army, then investing Petersburg, with a reserve of about 200 men at Sycamore Church, Virginia. At this point, on the night of the 16th, he was attacked by a force of the enemy, consisting of Lee's, Rosser's and Butler's divisions, commanded by General Wade Hampton, with six pieces of artillery, consisting in the aggregate of over 20,000 men. It was here, in a fiercely fought night battle of two hours' duration and against these overwhelming numbers, that Major Baker, while making a last determined stand with his few remaining men about him, received a saber wound on the head, and was left for dead. Early in the morning he was aroused by the sensation of someone trying to pull off his boots. When he stirred, he heard a voice say: "He is alive; bring him along." He was thus taken prisoner. Sorely wounded and covered with blood, he could not walk, but was placed on a wounded horse and when he could no longer ride, he was carried by some of his own faithful men who also had been captured. During the first day of his captivity a Confederate soldier, seeing the fine pair of cavalry boots he wore, forcibly took them. Major Baker demanded to see the Confederate officer who was in command, and upon being carried to General Wade Hampton's tent, demanded the return of his boots-and got them. Years afterward, when General Hampton became United States land commissioner, Major Baker wrote to him asking him if he remembered the federal officer who was brought to him on a stretcher after the battle of Sycamore Church, and who demanded the return of his boots. To this General Hampton replied that he remembered perfectly, and complimented him on the vigorous defense he made against such overwhelming odds. Major Baker, after suffering greatly on this march, was taken to Libby prison, at Richmond, where for five months he lay a prisoner. Reaching the prison desperately wounded, given no care, he was compelled to sleep on the floor in a wholly unwarmed building during nearly all of the terrible winter of 1864-65. If he had not been possessed of an iron constitution, undaunted courage and a profound religious faith, he never would have survived. But his motto all through life has been: "Admit nothing to be a hardship." And though he was finally exchanged, coming out broken in health, he was still undaunted. After a few weeks' rest at his old home in New York he again went to the front, took command of his regiment and served in all the battles of that campaign, fired the last shots on the field of Appomattox and saw the surrender. His older brother, Luther Byron Baker, who had served as a lieutenant and quartermaster of the First District of Columbia cavalry, was the officer who, in command of a detachment of cavalry and secret service men. pursued and captured John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Lincoln. After the war Major Baker was offered a commission in the regular army, but owing to the state of his health, he decided to resign. After the war General L. C. Baker had gone to the new capital of Michigan, the town of Lansing. Here Major Baker and his brother, Lieutenant Baker, followed him, each taking with him his cavalry horse. Many of the old residents of Lansing still remember seeing the gallant figures of the two young officers riding their horses. Like many another soldier, Major Baker found that he had left the army with a good knowledge of military art, but with no preparation for civil life. At first he returned to Wisconsin University, thinking he would complete his course there and graduate, which he could have done in a few months' time. But he found himself a man grown, experienced beyond most in the sternest realities of life, and he turned away from the swarming younger students with discouragement. Having saved considerable money from his service pay, he went into the iron manufacturing business at Lansing with his cousin, M. S. Baker. But this enterprise, and a number of others which he attempted, owing to lack of training and continued ill health, the result of his war services, were not very successful. In 1874 he suffered a violent attack of pneumonia, from which he recovered with difficulty. This, combined with the fact that he now had a wife and three small children to support, and that he was conscious of a growing deafness, the result of the wound on his head, left him in deep discouragement. At this juncture, his brother, H. C. Baker, appeared. H. C. Baker was then prosperously engaged with Senator John C. Spooner, the firm name being Baker & Spooner, in the practice of law at Hudson, Wisconsin. He took Major Baker with him to Hudson, where, after a few weeks of complete rest, he recovered enough to go to St. Croix Falls, which was to be his future home. He arrived on August 31, 1874, and at once took up his work as resident agent for the large land holdings in northern Wisconsin of Caleb Cushing and General Benjamin F. Butler and of the corporation controlling the great water power and town plat of St. Croix at St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. He brought his family from Michigan in the spring of 1875. Since then he has been steadily and prosperously engaged in the land business, operating in four counties in northern Wisconsin. A few years ago the business was incorporated under the name, Cushing Land Agency, with Major Baker's son. H. D. Baker, as active manager. Major Baker was married in 1868 to Alice Potter, whose family were of New England descent, a great-grandfather being the famous Ezra Stiles, president of Yale College. They had six sons: Ray Stannard Baker, now author and editor, of New York City; Professor Charles Fuller Baker, of Claremont College, California. whose scientific studies in the botany and entomology of Central and South America and of the Rocky Mountains, have been noteworthy; Henry Denio Baker, who is manager of the business at St. Croix Falls; Clarence Dwight Baker, who died in 1906, at the beginning of a useful career; Professor Hugh Potter Baker, of State college, Pennsylvania, and Professor James Fred Baker, of the Agricultural college, Michigan. Major Baker's first wife died in 1883, and he was married a second time in 1886, to Mary L. Brown, of New Richmond, Wisconsin. They have four children: Winifred Lovila Baker, a student in Carleton college; Florence Baker, Joseph Stannard Baker, Jr., and Oscar Roland Baker, who are still at home. Owing to his deafness, which in later years has become extreme, Major Baker has never taken any part in public affairs, though he has been deeply interested in church work, being one of the founders and supporters of the Presbyterian church at St. Croix Falls. A thorough student, he has kept abreast through his library with the best thought of the world, his interest in new things being as vivid as that of a young man. He has interested himself in forestry, and is conducting an extensive experimental planting near his home. Surrounded by his young family, with the older sons often coming home with their wives and children, spending his winters at his home in St. Croix Falls, and his summers at his place on Deer Lake, Major Baker's old age is one of unusual brightness and contentment. Having passed through years of storm and stress, the adventures and sufferings of the soldier at the front, the months of painful captivity, the years of struggle for a chance in the greater activities of the world, Major Baker now enjoys the health, the happiness and the prosperity which come of a well spent and arduous life.

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