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Paul Trapp has done extensive archival work on the history of Grace Church. In this blog post, he shares his research on Henry Clay Matrau, who was a prominent member of Grace Church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

When word reached Holland of Henry Clay Matrau’s death, local scribe and historian, Gerrit Van Schelven described Matrau as one of the “Pillars” of Grace Episcopal Church. [1] And he was correct for Matrau provided support and continuity during a tumultuous decade when rector and vestry struggled to shape the course of the young congregation.

When his son was born in Berrien County on 24 April 1845, Joseph Matrau named him after the “Great Compromiser,” the Kentucky, Whig politician, Henry Clay, who had struggled to keep the country together. The Matraus were a frontier farm family struggling to clear land and establish a homestead near Watervliet, Michigan. [2]

Following President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers after the attack on Fort Sumter on 12 April 1861, sixteen year old Henry responded to the call to arms. Whether he was responding to patriotism, seeking adventure or just trying to escape from the drudgery of farm life Henry was determined to join the army. He was young and stood only five foot, four and one half inches tall. Having a round happy face he seemed younger. Michigan officials, perhaps local men who knew him and his age refused to enroll him. He was not to be deterred. Learning there were places open in a company that was being formed in Beloit, Wisconsin, he traveled to that town and signed in as a resident of Milwaukee. Arriving at Beloit and lying about his age (the minimum age was eighteen) he still feared he might not pass muster so he acquired a large pair of shoes added higher soles and heels then stuffed more insoles into the shoes to raise his height about an inch. After topping himself off with a high crowned hat he marched past the recruiting officer with an air of confidence and he was enrolled into the “Beloit Star Rifles,” Company G of the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on 11 September 1861. [3] His enthusiasm and willingness to follow every assignment without hesitation led to his being named a corporal in November 1852. [4]

The Second, Sixth and Seventh Wisconsin along with the Nineteenth Indiana and later the Twenty-fourth Michigan made up the all-western brigade that became identifiable by their tall black felt hats. After their tenacious stands at Second Bull Run and South Mountain, the “Black Hats” became known as the Iron Brigade. In addition to Second Bull Run, they fought in many bloody battles including; Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Richmond–Petersburg. The Iron Brigade suffered the most casualties of any brigade in the Civil War. At Gettysburg 61% of those engaged were killed or wounded and at Antietam of the three hundred men of the Sixth Wisconsin who entered the battle, 40 were killed and 112 were wounded. [5] Matrau survived the war without a serious wound; perhaps being short made him a smaller target. The unit’s many casualties included a number of officers. This opened opportunities for advancement. Matrau was promoted to sergeant in September 1863. During the siege at Petersburg Company G’s field officers were killed and in August the governor of Wisconsin commissioned him as a first lieutenant. [6] As General Grant kept sending troops to batter the Confederate lines, the company’s captain was killed and Matrau, now just nineteen years old, was named captain on 7 March 1865, probably the youngest captain in the Army of the Potomac. [7] When Robert E. Lee abandoned his defenses at Petersburg, Matrau led his company as part of the pursuing force that brought Lee to surrender at Appomattox. [8] He wrote to his mother that the hard fighting was over and “the boys are beginning [to] plan what they will do for a living when the war is over.” While there wasn’t much more fighting, there was still a lot of marching. After a sixty-five mile march to Burkeville Junction, he wrote his last letter home and described himself as “a sorry looking object. I have waded creeks, plunged into swamps & morasses, laid in the dirt until I look more like a gopher than a human being.” [9}

Despite the dangers, fatigue and hardships he had experienced; Captain Matrau hoped for a military career, but so did a lot of other officers. That hope died when his unit was mustered out on July 14, 1865. [10] He returned to Berrien County and became engaged in the “mercantile business.” On 8 October 1867, he married a cousin, Jerusha Owen Woodruff. Henry and “Rusha” had five children. [11] In 1872, he took a position with the Chicago & Michigan Lake Shore Railroad and moved to Holland. [12]

As the station agent in a small community Matrau was the public face of the railroad company and he had contact with as much of the community as anyone in the area. Like Matrau, most station agents came from a commercial background and their activities were governed by the rule book, the “Company Bible.” Those rules outlined his responsibilities and stipulated in detail how to meet them. He had to sell tickets, make out waybills, make up switch lists for local crews, and maintain a myriad of records and ledgers. A required skill was mastery of the language of dots and dashes so he could pass on train orders as well as serve as the fastest form of communication for business and personal emergencies. He served many trades while maintaining the depot, updating bulletin boards, filling lamps and signal lanterns, throwing switches and servicing the water tower. He met every train to assist passengers and handle baggage and package freight. He met with business leaders to solicit business and coordinate shipments. He dealt with public officials and paid local taxes. He met with community residents to give travel advice, sell tickets, deal with losses and damages and handle complaints. Depots were public gathering places over which he had to maintain order among the hangers on and tramps, some of whom he occasionally hired on as day laborers. He also knew more about what was happening in the community and the outside world than anyone else in town. He knew the message of every telegraph, met passengers from far-away places and learned about business from both locals and “drummers” or salesmen waiting for their trains. [13]

In addition to his responsibilities as station agent, Matrau served on the Holland City Council as an alderman representing the First Ward. [14] He was also an officer in the Free and Accepted Masons Unity Lodge 191. [15]

Matrau, a former Methodist, joined Grace on 7 October 1876 and his wife, Jerusha, joined him in March 1877. [16] As a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Matrau provided leadership and support during its financial and leadership crisis of the mid–1870’s. Following the 1871 fire that destroyed Grace Church and much of the city of Holland, the parish’s first rector, J. Rice Taylor traveled east appealing to congregations in the larger cities for help to rebuild his burned church. He raised enough money to construct a building sufficient for the needs of his parishioners. However his vision outstripped available resources and the church was left with a debt it struggled to pay. A bitter dispute developed between the rector, the vestry and the bishop. Taylor had served a church in New York for a year then demanded that Grace take him back as their rector. When Bishop George D. Gillespie insisted that Taylor be reinstated, the vestry led by the founders of the church including Heber Walsh resigned on 31 March 1877. Matrau was one of three members who stepped forward to reorganize the church. He was elected to the vestry and named both as warden and treasurer. [17] Taylor offered to again serve on alternate Sundays and Matrau was licensed by the bishop as a lay reader for the weeks when Taylor was not available. Serving as a lay reader, he could lead a service using the form for morning prayers found in the Book of Common Prayer and read a sermon from a collection a messages approved by the bishop. [18] Matrau was faithful in upholding the duties of lay reader as long as he remained in Holland. There were years in which he read the service more than thirty times. [19] As Grace suffered financially, J.R. Taylor resigned and left the Diocese of Western Michigan. After a one year gap, E.W. Flower took leadership of both Saugatuck and Holland. In his first report he expressed his gratitude to Matrau stating; “During the whole year there has been lay reading, one service every Sunday by Mr. H. C. Matrau, to whose fidelity and zeal the Parish is greatly indebted for the continuance of services, and Parish work during the vacancy of Rectorship.” [20]

Henry Matrau also took Walsh’s position as Superintendent of the Sunday School. Sunday school still served as more than a children’s Bible school. Some children in Holland still did not attend regular schools and many that did only attended four months of the year. So Sunday school was an important source of instruction particularly in reading. During Matrau’s six years as superintendent the average enrollment was about fifty children. At the same time there were only about twenty-five communicants at Grace and during that time were never there more than five male communicants.[21]

Matrau accepted a position with the Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad and left Grace moving to Grand Rapids in October 1882. In 1884 he accepted a position as Northwestern passenger agent on the Michigan & Ohio Railroad. It seemed like a promotion and friends in Holland hoped this position would allow him to return to Holland. But that was not to be. For he was hardly settled in with the M&O when the line went into receivership. [22] He then accepted a position with the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad arriving in Norfolk, Nebraska on the Fourth of July 1885. The F,E&MV also known as “The Cowboy Line” covered an area from Omaha to the Black Hills. It was operating under the control of the Chicago & North Western by the time Matrau arrived in Norfolk and in 1903, it was purchased outright by the C&NW. 23] He served twenty-two years as station agent with the F,E&MV and the C&NW

He lived an active life in Norfolk. Within a year of his arrival he was elected to the school board, a position he held for twelve years and he served on the city council. He was mayor of Norfolk for two terms, 1893-1894 and in 1911 he served as a member of the state legislature. After a combined thirty-six years in railroading he resigned in 1907 entering a partnership with Theodore Wille operating Matrau and Wille, a lumber and coal company.

      In 1913, Matrau made one last move, this time to Windsor, Colorado where he opened another lumber and coal business. He died on 5 January 1917, suffering a heart attack while undergoing dental surgery. He was buried with military honors by the Grand Army of the Republic at Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska near the home of his children. After Henry’s death, Jersusha disposed of the family business and lived with a daughter in Lincoln, NE where she died 20 March 1928. [24]

  1. Holland City News, 25 January 1917.
  2. Background items found in, accessed on various dates. Marcia Reid–Green, Editor, Letters from Home: Henry Matrau of the Iron Brigade, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), pp. 1-3.
  3. Reid-Green, Letters from Home, pp. 3–5; Allen C. Guelzo, Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 236-237; Holland City News, 12 March 1896
  4. Reid-Green, Letters from Home,p. 42n; Holland City News,12 March 1896
  5. O. B. Curtis, History of the Twenty–Fourth Michigan of the Iron Brigade Known as the Detroit and Wayne County Regiment. (Detroit: Winn & Hammond, 1891; Reprint Edition, Gaithersburg, MD: Ron Sickle Military Books, 1987), Chapter 13, “The Iron Brigade,” pp. 452–473; David S. Heidler and Jeanette T. Heidler, Editors, Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History, 4 Volumes, (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC–Clio, 2000), sv. “Iron Brigade” pp. 2: 1040–1041. James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), pp. 528;-529, 540n, 654.
  6. Mataru to Parents, Yellow House, VA, 30 October 1864 in Reid-Green, Letters Home, pp. 98–100.
  7. Mataru to Parents, Near Petersburg, 13 February 1865, 22 February 1865 in in Reid-Green, Letters Home, pp. 107–112; Holland City News, 14 March 1896; Watervliet Record, 19 January 1917,, Accessed 18 November 2018.
  8. Elizabeth R. Varon, Appomattox: Victory, Defeat, and Freedom at the End of the Civil War, (New York: Oxford University Press 2014), p. 83;
  9. Matrau to Mother, Burkeville, VA, 18 April 1865, in Reid-Green, Letters Home, pp. 115–116.
  10. Curtis, History of the Twenty–fourth, p. 457; Reid-Green, Letters Home, p. 123n.
  11. Reid-Green, Letters Home, p. 127; Henry and Jerusha’s children were Ruth born ca. 1874, Grace born ca. 1875, Mamie Born ca. 1872, Harry born ca. 1885 and Agnes born ca. 1891. Census of 1900, Norfolk, Madison County, NE accessed through
  12. The Chicago & Michigan Lake Shore Railroad was formed by the consolidation of five shorter lines on 23 April 1869 and reorganized as the Chicago & West Michigan Railroad on 20 December 1878. The C&WM RR merged with the Grand Haven Railroad to form the Chicago & West Michigan Railway which was sold to the Pere Marquette Railroad on 20 September 1899. Nick Korstange, “Railroads of Ottawa County,” West Michigan Railroad Historical Society, Waybill, (March 1989), pp. 4-5; Graydon M. Meints, Railroads for Michigan,(East Lansing, MI, 2013), pp. 187, 243, 295.
  13. Walter Licht, Working on the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century,(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 34, 37–38, 42–44, 83–86, 91; H. Roger Grant, Railroads and the American People, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), pp. 110–131.
  14. Holland City News, 25 January 1917, City Council Minutes, Holland City News, 4 December 1875 and 5 December 1876.
  15. Holland City News, 27 December 1879 and 18 December 1800.
  16. Grace Episcopal Church, Register 1,Grace Church historical records. Held at the Joint Archives of Holland.
  17. Holland City News, 7 April 1877; Heber Walsh. “History of Grace Episcopal Church, Holland.” 1878. Both a draft and a final edition are preserved among Grace Church historical records held at the Joint Archives of Holland. A typescript transcription of the final edition by Paul Trap in 2015 is available.
  18. Episcopal Church. Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan [DoWM]. Journals of the annual conventions of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Michigan. Published annually from Primary Convention, 1874 to the present. A set of these journals are archived at the Bentley Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI and available Canon XIV, DoWM, Journal, 1st, 1875, p. 120; Rev. George D. Gillespie, Compiler, A Manual for the Use of Rectors, Wardens and Vestrymen, in the Diocese of Michigan with Annals of the Diocese, (Ann Arbor: Dr. Chase’s Steam Printing House, 1868) pp. 90-91.
  19. DoWM, Journal3rd, 1877, pp. 75, 106–107; 4th, 1878, pp. 63–64, 79, 136–137; 5th, 1879, pp. 85, 120–121; 6th, 1880, pp. 93, 161; 7th, 1881, pp. 81, 120–121; 9th, 1882, p. 106; Church Helper of Western Michigan, February 1881,September 1881, July 1882.
  20. Parochial Report, DoWM, Journal, 5th, 1879, pp. 120-121.
  21. DoWM, Journals, 3rd, 1877, p. 106; 4th, 1878, pp. 136-137; 5th, 1879, pp. 120–121; 6th, 1880, p. 129; 7th, 181, pp. 121–122; 8th, 1882, p. 106; Church Helper of Western Michigan, July 1882.
  22. Holland City News, 1 November 1884; Graydon M. Meints, Michigan Railroad Companies, (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1992) S.V. Michigan and Ohio Railroad; Norfolk Weekly News Journal, 13 December 1907, Accessioned through Chronicling America, Library of Congress.
  23. Norfolk Weekly News Journal, 13 December 1907, Accessioned through “Chronicling America”, Library of Congress; Robert J. Casey and W.A.S. Douglas, Pioneer Railroad: The Story of the Chicago and North Western System,(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948), pp. 126, 145, 169, 217–219, 232–238.
  24. Norfolk Weekly News Journal, 13 December 1907; Reid–Green, Letters Home, pp. 127–128