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“Big Dave” Van Buskirk

A family graveyard in the northwest corner of Monroe County, Indiana serves as the final resting place for two veterans of the American Revolution. While their legacy endures, their physical presence would almost certainly have been overshadowed by that of a Civil War soldier also buried in the Buskirk/Abel/Wampler cemetery. David Van Buskirk, better known as “Big Dave” or the “Big Lieutenant,” was reportedly the tallest man in the Union Army. When he enlisted in 1861 in Company F, Twenty-seventh Indiana Infantry , the

Monroe County native measured six feet ten or eleven, and weighed three hundred eighty or ninety pounds. The average soldier at the time stood five feet eight and a quarter inches tall. The “extraordinarily large and corpulent man,” as he was described in his obituary, was the grandson of a Revolutionary War soldier and the nephew of a veteran wounded in the Battle of Tippecanoe. His brother and three cousins also served in Company F. The “Monroe Grenadiers” were an unusually tall company for their day, with 67 men out of 101 exceeding six feet in stature.

“Big Dave” Van Buskirk was born in 1826 to parents of German and Scotch-Irish descent, in the vicinity of Gosport. He spent most of his life there as a farmer, marrying three times, and producing eight children. As a serviceman, he participated in the battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Antietam, and rose through the ranks from Second Lieutenant to Captain. Taken prisoner on multiple occasions, “Big Dave” would allegedly bargain for additional rations by agreeing to be put on display. By 1864, plagued with chronic sciatic rheumatism in his right hip and knee, Van Buskirk resigned from duty.

After his death in 1886, an obituary published in Bloomington’s Republican Progress allowed that “few men have been more respected and honored than ‘big Dave Buskirk.’” The Captain’s sword and scabbard belong to the permanent collection of the Monroe County History Center.

Sources for this program include: Fred D. Cavinder, The Indiana Book of Records, Firsts and Fascinating Facts. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 310.

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