August Speer was born in Germany on September 21, 1836. He came to America and on June 21, 1861 and almost immediately enlisted in the 70th New York Infantry, Company D. The 70th New York Infantry was organized at Camp Scott, Staten Island, New York under the designation of the First Regiment Excelsior Brigade.
The regiment served under the designation of the First Regiment Excelsior Brigade until the War Department gave it the numerical Designation of the 70th New York Infantry on December 5, 1861.
The regiment was ordered to Washington, D.C. on July 23, 1861. There it joined the Division of the Potomac. This command became the nucleus of the Army of the Potomac in March 1862. The regiment served in that Army for the remainder of its career.
The 70th took part in 45 engagements or battles during those three years. Manassas, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg were just a few of the battles. August Speer was wounded on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863, but he recovered and stayed with the regiment until July 1864 when the regiment was mustered out of federal service in New York City.
During its career the 70th sustained the loss of 9 officers and 181 enlisted men killed or seriously wounded. An additional 2 officers and 62 enlisted men died from disease or other non-battlefield causes. Nine died as POW’s.
After the war, August Speer resumed his occupation as blacksmith and wheelwright. His wife, Anna Mary Speer, became ill and was under a doctor’s care for ten months. She died two years after the war at the young age of 30.
A few months later August married Anna Dorothea in Holy Trinity Church on Montross Avenue. They had 8 children. His oldest daughter, Catherine Speer, married Peter Becker. He owned the Columbia Park Hotel located on the corner of the Williamsburg & Jamaica Turnpike & Weisse Avenue. (Now Metropolitan Avenue and 80th Street.)
Many of the old folks from Middle Village remember the Picnic Park. Most of the people of Middle Village were hard working farm families with crops and animals to take care of. But Sunday, weather permitting, the families headed or the picnic area in back of the hotel. It was called Columbia Park but the nickname for the park was “chippy-shit park.”
Men, women and children all enjoyed the time spent there. It was a chance to see neighbors and friends. Mr. Henry Meyerricks recalled that his father would take the whole family to Columbia Picnic Park on a Sunday and spend the whole day there for $1.00. You could enjoy a meal or stay overnight at the Columbia Park Hotel.
Later generations had an August Speer in Middle Village. He was a florist all of his life. An August Speer of Glendale worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard for over 50 years. His son, also August Speer, is a retired member of the NYPD. August Speer’s daughter, Carolann, married a fireman named Scott Larsen. They had three children: Marisa, Brenda and Scott. He lost his life on 9/11/01 in the World Trade Center. His wife gave birth to their fourth child on 9/3. It was a boy. They named him August.
Editor’s note: The writer, Dorothy Speer, is the wife of Henry Speer, grandson of August. Both Henry and Dorothy wrote extensively on the history of the area. Dorothy is the historian for the Juniper Berry.