Holland City News, November 15, 1928

Taps for Peter Gunst, Veteran of the G. A. R.

Passes Saturday Evening at the Age of 89 Years

Saw Lincoln Shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford Theater

Peter Gunst, aged veteran of the Civil War, died at the age of 89 years, on Saturday evening, at the home of B. Riksen on East Thirteenth Street.

Mr. Gunst had been patiently waiting for death, after having been bedridden for more that four years because of an auto accident. He peacefully slept away on Saturday, and one of Hollandís most beloved Christian men answered the final taps and has joined the great army beyond.

Mr. Gunst for many years was a wagon maker, located in a building on the site of the present fire engine house No. 1. He later occupied a small shop on West Ninth Street where the Kraker Hotel now stands.

Mr. Gunst enlisted with Company I, 2nd Michigan Infantry, at the age of twenty-two.

The 21 battles in which he took part included Bull Run, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, Harrisburg Landing, Second Bull Run, Knoxville and East Tennessee, in which 95 out of 150 men in his regiment were killed.

Mr. Gunst was one of the few men that annually celebrated two birthday anniversaries, but he prized his spiritual birthday more highly than the one that marked his advance in years. Mr. Gunst was converted during the revival of 1876. He recalled the occasion and the seat he occupied in Third Reformed Church. He also remembered when he arose and asked for prayers. He liked to talk about that revival. He has since lived the life of a Christian, and if there ever was a saint in Holland, he was that person. This was confirmed by a host of his friends.

Mr. Gunst was the only soldier in Holland who witnessed the assassination of President Lincoln, who was shot by John Wilkes Booth, while Mr. And Mrs. Lincoln sat in a box witnessing the presentation of "Our American Cousin," in which the great actor, Booth, starred. Mr. Gunst saw Booth jump from the box after the shot and saw him fall when the spurs of his riding boots tangled into an American flag used as a patriotic draping, in honor of the Presidentís homecoming.

He saw the turmoil that followed and was delegated as one of the men to guard the street in the vicinity after the assassination.

Mr. Gunst was a member of Hollandís first band. He served as an officer in the Third Reformed Church for many years.

Mrs. Gunst died about 35 years ago. His only daughter, Mrs. Henry Kleyn, died last year after she came to Holland from Washington State to care for him.


Funeral services were held Tuesday afternoon in Third Reformed Church, Rev. Martin and Dr. Blekkink officiating. Interment was in Pilgrim Home Cemetery.

Transcribed by Joan Van Spronsen

(Booth did not star in the play "American Cousin," but as an actor, Booth knew Fordís Theatre well.)


Holland City News, Friday, February 11, 1898

A Reminiscence of 1865

Peter Gunst Was Eye-Witness of the Assassination of President Lincoln

Monday eveningís gathering of the Century Club, at the home of Professor and Mrs. J. T. Bergen, was devoted to the memory of Lincoln. An address was delivered by G. J. Diekema on the character of Abraham Lincoln, and this was followed by a paper on his assassination.

The club had extended an invitation to Peter Gunst of this city to be its guest for that evening. What led to this is easily explained by the fact the Mr. Gunst, a veteran of the late war, was an eye witness of the assassination of President Lincoln. Circumstances however, prevented him from complying with the invitation, but in an interview later, Mr. Gunst cheerfully gave the particulars of that memorable tragedy, as he recollects them.

Peter Gunst enlisted in Kalamazoo in Co. I, 2nd Michigan Infantry, on the 25th of April, 1861, only eleven days after Fort Sumter had been fired upon. After nearly three years of active service, mostly in the Army of the Potomac, he re-enlisted in February 1864, for three years more. He participated in scores of engagements and in many of the leading battles in which his corps, the Ninth, Burnsidesí old corps, took a prominent part, such as the First and Second Bull Run, the Siege of Yorktown, Fair Oaks, Culpepper, Malvern Hill and the Seven Daysí Fight around Richmond, Gaineís Mill, Chantilly, Fredericksburg, the Siege of Vicksburg, the Siege of Knoxville, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, etc.

He was wounded three times, the last time in front of Petersburg, June 17, 1864, where his division made three repeated charges upon the rebel breastworks. In the last charge he was struck by a piece of shell, which took off one finger and wounded him in the face, destroying his left eye. He was removed to the field hospital and afterwards to one of the general hospitals around Washington. After the wound was healed, he was anxious to again join his command at the front, but was refused, having only one eye, and was detailed as ward master in the hospital.

It was under these circumstances that comrade Gunst happened to be in Washington upon that fatal day, April 14, 1865. The day was an important one in the history of the country. It was the day set for the restoration of the flag on Fort Sumter, which had been recaptured by the Union forces a few weeks ago. President Lincoln had sent Major Anderson and a large delegation of leading men from the North, including Henry Ward Beecher, to raise upon the walls of the old fort, the same flag that had been lowered by him four years ago, and this was to be done with imposing ceremonies.

The same event was also celebrated in Washington that day and Mr. Gunst with some of his chums had come to the city to see the procession, and they concluded to remain during the evening and witness the illuminations. While in the city, they learned that

President Lincoln and General Grant were to attend the theatre in the evening, and they

resolved to take that in also.

The theatre was crowded, but they obtained a good seat in the parquet. The president came in rather late, but upon entering his box, which was handsomely decorated, he was received with tumultuous applause. The play, which was that of "Our American Cousin," had been going on for about an hour when suddenly, says Mr. Gunst, "I heard a pistol shot. It did not startle me, thinking that it might be part of the play, until I saw a man jump out of President Lincolnís box onto the stage, flourishing his knife and shouting something that I didnít understand. I soon realized that something was wrong and the first

I heard, as it passed through the audience, was Ďthe President is shot!í

"The whole thing lasted but a moment or two, but we knew the dickens would be to pay and started out as soon as our legs could carry us, to get to the street. Orders were at once issued and passed along to the guards who patrolled the streets, for every soldier to go to his quarters, as the city was going to be surrounded so as to prevent any one from escaping, and we might find it difficult to get outside the lines. So we started out for the hospital, about 1 Ĺ miles out. All was excitement, and the next day it was worse still, when everybody who could not give an account of himself was arrested. The excitement and feeling was awful. I never saw anything like it in the army. I cannot describe it."

Transcriber: Joan Van Spronsen
Created: 17 December 2007
URL: http://ottawa.migenweb.net/obits/a-j/gunstP.html