Sibling Saturday: 1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney of Hanson, Mass. to her brother Otis L. Bonney of Boston, Mass.

Below are scanned images, a transcription, and explanatory footnotes of a letter written on 18 March 1860 by fifteen-year old Ellen Josephine Bonney (b. 22 Feb. 1845) of Bonney Hill, South Hanson, Mass. to her older brother, twenty-one year old Otis Lafayette Bonney (b. 2 Dec. 1838) who at the time was working for Daniel Allen & Co. in Boston, Mass. They were both the children of Ezekiel Bonney and Angeline White of Hanson, Mass. Three years after writing this letter, Ellen J. Bonney married Noah A. Ford at East Bridgewater in 1863. In addition to reporting local news relating to their family and friends, she also relates details pertaining to a debate club that her brothers participated in. The club seems to have consisted of numerous young male friends of the Bonney brothers. Yet Ellen is well-informed of their discussions, and a particularly wonderful image of the Bonney women “accidentally” overhearing the debates is casually mentioned by Ellen at the end of the letter: “Oh I forgot we had the door open last night so we heard all they said at the debating meeting”.

Front of envelope addressed to Otis L. Bonney

Front of envelope addressed to Otis L. Bonney

Back of envelope

Back of envelope

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

1860 Letter from Ellen J. Bonney to her brother Otis L. Bonney

Transcription of the letter:

[Envelope (front) 3 cent stamp]

So. Hanson Mass.

Otis L. Bonney

Boston, Mass.

Care of Daniel Allen & Co.

[Envelope (back)]

[in different hand, pencil] South Hanson 1860


[Letter, page 1]

March 18th 1860

Dear Brother,

I will commence again to write as Theodore[[1]] received your letter last night and it was read with pleasure in the club room Theodore says the question was decided in the negative but then the most of them were in faver of the negative in the first place there was four on the affirmative they were Reuben S.[,] Alonzo B.[,]  Morton V.  and T.L. B. and on the negative they were Josiah B.[,]  Thompson P. and Joseph T. [,]  Lot. P. and George Stetson.[[2]] Theodore thought some of them that they didn’t decided according to the merits of the argument, the question for discussion next Saturday night reads thus, are early marriages condusive to the public good. Theodore says he should like to hear from you by Friday night if he could, if you can write then as it would give ample time for perusal he read your letter to the club with and it was received with great applause Theodore says they are going to they and fetch have that question brought up again after they have got through with the marriage ceremony next Saturday night.[[3]] The next is the condition that Bil Thomas is left in[.][[4]]


[Letter, page 2]

He had his court last Wednesday for getting his [corn?] hiding and they didn’t fetch in but five dollars for Ezra[[5]] to pay besides the cost of the court and then they took Bill as soon as the court was done with Ezra they took him for slander and he has so many enemies they say it will go hard with him he is bound over for one hundred dollars to appease to the court next Friday at Bourne’s hall here in Hanson they think they will have a greater time than at the court at Abington the court up there now was from nine o clock in the morning until in the evening and he would not have got home that night if it hadn’t been for Theodore and George Bonney[[6]] for he couldn’t get anyone to be bound for him as his father did not go up and so Theodore and George were bondsman until the next day and then Bill’s father l released them Bill seems to be up to his eyes in the law business at this time.

There was a gentleman spend the night here last night and he has

[Letter, page 3]

Just gone away his name is Elms he came here yesterday noon he wanted to be here to the debate he writes pieces for the Division he writes a good deal of poetry and reads it at the Div.

Mr. Levi Everson is dead he died last week and was buried last Thursday[[7]] and the doctor thinks that Marina will live until the fall if she gets any better they don’t let anyone see her only in the morning because she is not so well in the afternoon[[8]]. There was a lady drowned herself in Hanover yesterday but we haven’t heard what her name is yet[[9]] it is a pleasant day here today but not so pleasant as it would be in the city. Sarah and Melly are in here now and they send their respects to you and they are going down to the depot and I am going to and are going to carry this down[.]Sarah wants you to get your ambrotype taken and bring it home when you come home and give it to her she wanted me to write it in the other letter but I forgot it.

[Letter, page 4]

We are looking for you home fast time and bring your accordion to and Mother wants you to send her a box of soap home[[10]] and when you send it you let us know you can write when you write home again our spelling schools are going yet and we have good times. Oh I forgot we had the door open last night so we heard all they said at the debating meeting there were quite a number here it is a general time of health I came from Julia’s yesterday and they were all well.[[11]] We had an earthquake here last Wednesday night there was two of them[.] St. Patrick had a real pleasant day yesterday[.][[12]] I cannot think of any more to write this time but I will write again next Sunday[.] Good-bye.




Ellen’s children are later mentioned in a letter written to Otis Lafayette Bonney by their cousin Ida which was previously transcribed here. If anyone has additional knowledge about the people or events mentioned in this letter, please let me know!


[1] Theodore refers to their twenty-three year old brother, Theodore Lyman Bonney (b. 27 Oct. 1836). T. L. Bonney died three years later during the Civil War of typhoid fever on 11 May 1863 at Aquia Creek, Virginia. Post 127 of Hanson’s G.A.R. was named in his honor.

[2] Otis and Theodore belonged to a debate club which met in Hanson weekly on Saturday evenings and whose membership largely consisted of male 20-somethings from Hanson, although this letter does not provide the club’s name. Apparently Otis was still able to participate in the club’s debates from afar by writing his answer to the weekly question in a letter. The fellow club members mentioned were probably 26 year old Reuben Smith Jr. (b. 29 March 1833, Otisfield, Me., son of Reuben Smith and Mary C. Whitney), 20 year old Alonzo Beal (b. 1840, son of Edwin and Sarah D. Beal), their 19 year old brother Morton Van Buren Bonney (b. 8 March 1841, Hanson, son of Ezekiel Bonney and Angeline White), 20 year old Thompson Pratt, 19 year old Lot Phillips (b. 13 Feb. 1841, Hanson, son of Ezra and Lucy Phillips), and their neighbor 27 year old George Forbes Stetson (b. 11 April 1833). No teenaged or twenty-something Hanson residents could be identified for “Josiah B.” – this was possibly their 32 year old second cousin Josiah Bonney. No teenaged or twenty-something Hanson residents could be identified for “Joseph T.” unless it was “Joseph F.” in which case it may have been 23 year old Joseph Fish.

[3] A marriage which took place in Hanson on Saturday, 24 March 1860 could not be identified in Hanson Vital Records.

[4] Possibly either William Thomas (b. 28 Jan. 1828, Hanson, son of John and Mary R. Thomas) or William Otis Thomas (b. 31 Oct. 1830, Hanson, son of Nelson and Anna Thomas).

[5] Possibly either Ezra White and Ezra Magoun.

[6] George Bonney was a second cousin of Otis and Theodore. George was born at Hanson, 2 December 1826, son of Nathaniel Bonney and Polly Robinson. He was married to Julia A. Smith, daughter of Reuben and Mary Smith.

[7] On 13 March 1860, 53 year old Levi Everson, a farmer, died of consumption in Hanson. He was the son of Levi Everson and Bathsheba Holmes and the husband of Mary T. Dunham.

[8] This may have been 23 year old Marina Winslow Turner Bearce (b. Hanson, 24 Nov. 1836, daughter of Isaiah and Marina A. Bearce). If so, not only did she “live until the fall”, she married 30 June 1860, Cyrus A. Bates and died in 1915.

[9] Angelina (Bates) Church, wife of Lewis C. Church and daughter of Calvin Bates and Elizabeth Stetson, a 41 year old married woman of Hanover. According to her death record, she died in Hanover on 17 March 1860 of “insanity, death by drowning”. She was born at Hanover, 11 March 1819.

[10] Their 52 year old mother, Angeline Dean (White) Bonney was born at Easton, 11 May 1807, the daughter of Howe White and Temperance Dean. She married Ezekiel Bonney 10 June 1827. She died of Bright’s disease at Hanover, 20 Feb. 1880, and was buried at Fern Hill Cemetery, Hanson.

[11] Refers to the family of their 28 year old sister Julia Ann (Bonney) Howland (b. 28 Sept. 1831). Julia married Martin Howland 6 November 1851. In 1860 they were living in Halifax, Mass. and had one child: John Francis Howland (b. 21 Aug. 1852, Hanson).

[12] St. Patrick’s day had been celebrated in Boston, Mass. since the 18th century.


Below are images of two of the Bonney brothers mentioned in this letter:

Theodore Lyman Bonney during the Civil War, circa 1863

Theodore Lyman Bonney during the Civil War, circa 1863

Morton Van Buren Bonney during the Civil War

Morton Van Buren Bonney during the Civil War

Welcome, readers of "Touch the Elbow"!

I was contacted the other day by Donald Thompson, one of three Civil War researchers who run a wonderful website and related blog about the Civil War, and specifically the 18th Regiment of Massachusetts. Donald Thompson, Tom Churchill, and Stephen McManus research and collect records, memorabilia, letters, etc. about the men who served in the regiment, and have compiled great biographies of the men.

One of those men from the 18th, my great-great-great uncle Erastus Everson, was recently featured on this blog as the subject of one of my genealogical biographies. He served in three regiments, and sustained head, chest, groin, and leg wounds during his service. But he was dedicated to the cause of the Union, and continued to work for the Freedman’s Bureau and as an army assessor. He later became a newsaper man, as passionate a writer as he was a soldier. The story of Erastus’s colorful life, and his run-in with the Ku Klux Klan after the war, are currently being featured on the blog “Touch the Elbow“.

The phrase “touch the elbow” comes from a popular Union song, “Comrades, Touch the Elbow”, to gather strength and unity before a battle.

When battle’s music greets our ear,
Our guns are sighted at the foe,
Then nerve the hand, and banish fear
And comrades, touch the elbow

Touch the elbow, comrades elbow
Elbow comrades, touch the elbow
Nerve the hand, banish fear
Comrades, touch the elbow

The blog features a wide variety of information and stories about the Civil War, and provides wonderful advice for those interested in researching the Civil War. “Touch the Elbow” is attached to their website on The Eighteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. For researchers, this website is a treasure trove of information. Nowhere is there such centralized information offered on the 18th Massachusetts regiment. Donald, Tom, and Stephen are working to publish a book about the 18th, and they have already published The Civil War Research Guide, on how to research ancestors of the Civil War.

Additionally, they have ventured far and wide to many cemeteries, gathering genealogical information and photographs, a past-time Donald refers to as “chasing the dead” – which is at the heart of this blog! If you are new to this site, please take a read-through, and share your thoughts!

Erastus Everson and the Laurens County, SC Riot

In 1871, Massachusetts-born Erastus Watson Everson was summoned by a government committee which was investigating the “Ku-Klux Klan conspiracy”. Erastus had worked for the Freedman’s Bureau after the Civil War throughout South Carolina. In particular, he was summoned for an experience he had after his duty in the Freedman’s Bureau, when he was working again for the army as an assessor. Erastus was an inadvertent witness to the Laurens County, SC riot in October 1870. He testified his belief that the riot was planned in advance in part by the Ku Klux Klan.

He testified that he had traveled to Laurens county to purchase a horse for his boss. On the way over, he encountered numerous armed men. In the town, he inquired of a colonel who was stationed there with his troops, and was told that an election was occurring the following day. The colonel advised Everson to stay in town until the election was over. While staying at a hotel that night, Everson overheard a plot to throw the election that was to occur the following day by capturing the ballot boxes and starting fights with the state constables and any colored voters. Everson sent word to both the army colonel and his troops stationed in the town, as well as a note of warning to Mr. Crews, a politician who led the local armed colored militia. Erastus’ actions briefly helped saved the election day, or so he thought. Crews lined up his militia by the election station, and although white agitators verbally abused the troops, no physical fighting occurred. Although tensions flared, the election went seemingly went smoothly. But it was not enough.

That night Erastus heard conversations and drunken boasts that the ballot boxes had been stuffed anyways. But that was soon to be the least of Erastus’ worries. The following day, the infamous “Laurens County riot” occurred, in which thousands of armed riders came into the area, where brawling soon became deadly as the riot turned “into a negro chase”. Erastus ran outside to determine what was happened, and avoid the brawling and gunshots now spreading all over the area. Erastus fell in the street, and rolled out of the way of the chaos. Mr. Copeland, the general store owner, and Mason, took in Erastus during the midst of the riot, and promised him a safe place to stay for the evening, shortly after which Copeland soon left. Men came in and out of the house all evening, and some of them were bragging about the death of Wade Perrin, the most powerful black politician who had been elected the previous day. Erastus thus found himself in a difficult position – he discovered too late that he had been saved by Klan sympathizers. Everson determined he could not escape into the night with the horse that he had purchased, because the roads were filled with armed men looking for a fight. After Erastus went to bed, a man called for him – it turned out to be Hugh Farley, a former Confederate officer who Erastus had dealt with a few years previously. Although a former enemy, Erastus considered him a gentleman, and when Hugh Farley promised to help Erastus get out of the area, Erastus took him up on the offer. They rode off into the night from Laurens County to Newberry County, almost 40 miles. Farley rode with Erastus and would often go ahead to picket groups of men along the way, then let Erastus pass. The rioting had spread throughout the entire county, with thousands of men causing violence. Along the way, Erastus was threatened and almost shot several times. Through discussion with Farley on their journey, however, Erastus was soon horrified to discover that Farley was a probable Ku Klux leader. Once in Newberry, Erastus encountered a large group of men, several of whom he had formerly arrested as “bushwhackers” – who were not pleased to see “that God-damned Everson!” Farley had promised Everson safe passage, and then made Erastus Everson agree that he would make a statement supporting them later. He was to tell the government that the riot was necessary, and that no one was to blame in the matter. “I had promised Farley that if he would see me safe through, I would come down here and go before the executive committee of the reform party to make a statement, but I had to do things that a man would not ordinarily do. I went back on my word, because I could not do such a thing. I think, however, that I had no other way of saving my life. I know it, and so I have never been before that committee, and I never will go, because I cannot tell them what he wanted me to tell.” Once in Newberry, he was handed off to another man, but Erastus soon escaped and ran to the train tracks, where he caught a train. Aboard, he found three state constables who were escaping as well, along with Senator Owens. Erastus and the Senator hid in the mail-car privy, and made their way to safety.

Everson, who had been injured several times during the Civil War while serving on behalf of the Union, and then dedicated years of service to the Freedman’s Bureau where he helped protect the rights of newly freed slaves in the South, had inadvertently found that his life had been saved by Ku Klux Klan members. He broke his promise to them, however, and reported all that he heard during his stay and remarkable escape from the Laurens County.

Learn more about the Laurens County, SC riot here.

Mini-Genealogical Biography of Erastus W. Everson

Erastus W. Everson (1837-1897)

Erastus W. Everson was the eldest child of William F. Everson and his wife, Salome B. Crocker. He was born about 1837 probably in Hanson, MA. Three years later, his brother Frederic O. Everson was born, followed by his sister Sylvania Everson. They grew up on Pleasant Street in Hanson.

In 1850, at the age of 13, Erastus was living in Hanson with his family, and a 17 year old servant (or boarder) named Fidelia Hunt. He and his siblings were attending one of the small schoolhouses in South Hanson. Next door to them, extended Everson and Crocker relatives had a small shoemaking shop, and Erastus’s father most likely worked here during the day. To the north of them them was the Baptist parsonage, where Asa Bunson, the Baptist clergyman lived. Across from the Everson family was Levi Thomas’s family (Levi Thomas’ son, Levi Zelida Thomas, was a 23 year old school teacher at the time, and would eventually have a Hanson school named in his honor).

In 1860, Erastus, now in his early twenties, had moved up to Dedham, where he was staying at a hotel in Dedham village while he worked as a copyist. The hotel hosted a wide variety of individuals and families. There Erastus probably interacted with the hotel keeper and his family, W.H. Crossman, along with his wife and three young children. Perhaps he briefly befriended Frederic Eley, a 21 year old law student, as well as a 35 year old wood carver and his family, a 30 year old physician and his family, and many more who moved in and out of the small hotel.

But war was coming. Erastus enlisted for the Civil War as a Sergeant on 16 April 1861 at the age of 24 from Dedham, MA. He enlisted in Company A, 3rd Infantry Regiment Massachusetts (The Halifax Light Infantry) on 23 April 1861, and was mustered out on 22 July 1861. His brother, Frederick O. Everson, had also enlisted as a Corporal on 16 April 1861 at the age of 21, and several days later, on 23 April 1861, Fred enlisted in the same company as his brother Erastus. Fred was mustered out on 22 July 1861. Frederick did not enlist again, but Erastus was attracted to the army, and decided to provide more service.

Erastus soon enlisted in Company H, 18th Infantry Regiment Massachusetts on 24 August 1861 and was then promoted to Full Sergeant 1st Class on the same day. A year later, he was promoted to Full Lieutenant 2nd Class on 01 August 1862. At the end of the month, he was wounded on 30 August 1862 at the second Bull Run, VA. He was then again wounded on 13 December 1862 at Fredericksburg, VA. Several months later, he was promoted to Full Lieutenant 1st Class on 25 February 1863. He was honorably discharged from Company H, 18th Infantry Regiment Massachusetts on 10 December 1863, and the following day joined Company D, 20 Veteran Res. Corps, as a 1st Lieutenant.

In 1866, Erastus was assigned as the inspector general of the South Carolina troops for a period of eighteen months, and was stationed in Charleston, SC. He then served as an aid for the Freedman’s Bureau for three years, during which time he traveled all over South Carolina and made many acquaintances. One of his main tasks was to find and arrest “bushwhackers”, who were men that engaged in guerilla warfare attacks during the Civil War and Reconstruction. From 1869-1870, Erastus was stationed in Anderson, SC as an assistant assessor, and then he moved to Columbia, SC in 1870. In October of 1870, Erastus was present for the Laurens County, SC riot, in which he overheard and tried to prevent presumed Ku Klux Klan activity. He narrowly escaped with the assistance of several men in the area, who he soon was horrified to discover were probably Ku Klux members, and therefore responsible for the riot. My next posting will deal more with this fascinating event in Erastus’s life.

Erastus was a skilled verbal negotiator and eloquent writer (and from his writings and interviews, he had a sense of humor!). After serving as a soldier during the Civil War and sustaining a total of 7 bullets, he served as an aid that was not involved in direct battles. He was commissioned by General Howard to the Freedman’s Bureau, and spent the early part of the Reconstruction negotiating and inspecting issues regarding things such as black labor and dealing with abandoned plantation property. The Freedman’s Bureau became very political towards the end of its time, encouraging blacks to vote for the Republican party, and was disbanded in 1869, although Erastus preferred not to be “mixed up” with politics. He was a self-proclaimed conservative Republican and greatly admired Abraham Lincoln and the reconstruction efforts. After his time with the Freedman’s Bureau, Erastus became an editor for the Union, SC newspaper, which was a Republican newspaper. “It is considered a conservative newspaper up North. They are sending me letters all the time, thinking that I am going astray!.. I am not a radical at all. I am not a radical republican, and never have been; but I believe in fair play”. Erastus spent the rest of his life as a newspaper man, both in the role of editor and writer. The 1880 Massachusetts census lists him as the “editor of a newspaper”, and in 1894 he is listed as a “journalist” from Marshfield, MA.

While a wealth of fascinating documents exist regarding Erastus’s time with the army, it is more difficult to ascertain the state of Erastus’s marriage from the documentary evidence. On October 28, 1869, Erastus married Harriet Rebecca Fales in Dedham, MA. Harriet’s father had died when she was two, and she had lived with her widowed mother in Dedham. It is unknown how long their courtship had been, due to the fact that for the majority of the 1860s, Erastus was not in Massachusetts. They married in the midst of his commission as an assistant assessor for the army in Anderson, South Carolina. They are listed as living together in Anderson, SC in the 1870 census, so Harriet moved down to South Carolina to be with him.

By 1880, the Eversons had returned to Massachusetts. The 1880 Massachusetts census presents a bit of a mystery, that either indicates a mistake made on behalf of the census takers, or that the Eversons were separated. Erastus is listed as living in Hanson, MA with his 65 year old parents and his 14 year old niece, Ella Gurney, the daughter of his sister Sylvania (who died in 1866). He is marked under the column for single, not widowed or divorced. Harriet is listed as Harriet Everson, living with her mother Rebecca Fales in Dedham, MA. She is noted as “married”. The Dedham census was taken on June 14 1880, and the Hanson census was taken on June 16, 1880. Perhaps Erastus was simply visiting his parents during this time, and the census takers in each town recorded incorrect information – the census taker is supposed to record who is living in the household, even if they are away on business, at school, etc. Certainly the census contains mistakes.

Harriet died September 28, 1887 in Dedham, MA at the age of 45, and is listed as the wife of Erastus Everson. They had no children together. Perhaps this was in part due to Erastus’ war wounds, or estrangement. In his pension application, Erastus is listed as an invalid, but certainly he could walk, ride, and travel long distances, which he did for the Freedman’s Bureau, and when he was charged with arresting bushwhackers, although he claimed to be easily tired due to his wounds.

Erastus next appears in the 1894 Marshfield, MA Directory, seven years after his wife’s death. His residence is listed as “North, on Green’s Harbor” and his occupation as a journalist. Family legend says that Erastus was granted the land north of Green Harbor, and the small island on the river as a reward for his Civil War service. I would like to research more about this. When was he granted the land? Did he have a permanent residence here? Certainly by the 1890s he did. Here is a photograph of Erastus in front of his hunting shack with two hunting dogs, supposedly on the Marshfield island which our family now owns:

Erastus died in 1897 in Marshfield, MA at the age of 60, having lived a very colorful life. Family legend says the Marshfield island was passed to Sherman McClellan, but at the time of Erastus’ death, Sherman was only 11. Sherman, Roddy, and Lillian’s mother was Imogene Everson. Both Imogene Everson and Erastus Everson were great-grandchildren of Levi Everson and Eunice Briggs. Erastus, having no children, passed the land via his cousin Imogene, and the land was eventually handed to Sherman McClellan. Further deed research is needed to verify the succession of ownership. That is a project for another time!

Creative legacy of the Civil War

Having just finished watching the entirety of Ken Burns’ The Civil War, I was struck by the vast amount of creativity it inspired. Indeed, the war itself still resonates today with meaning. Burns himself refers to it as “America’s Iliad“, the epic narrative of American history.

With the new art-form of photography developing through the Civil War, war reporters had a new means of bringing the war home to those living far from the battlefields. No longer were articles accompanied by sketchings, drawings or daguerrotypes, instead, real photographs could be included. But in addition to the shots of soldiers, ranks, and regiments came the terrible horrors of the war itself: images of corpses spread across the fields in a thousand different locations, in a thousand different ways, some known, others identities never to be discovered. Quick shallow graves were made by surviving soldiers or the townspeople nearby, the soldiers buried in land far from their homes. Lincoln dedicated Gettysburg Cemetery, Arlington was formed in Lee’s backyard, and national cemeteries were set up across many states to account for the hundreds of thousands of the dead.

Although initially morbidly captivated by these images, as the war dragged on, it seemed that people were no longer interested in seeing yet another image of a poor dying soldier, or a survivor on crutches with a newly amputated limb. The documentary contains a fascinating photograph of a greenhouse who glass wall is made from the original wet-plates of Civil War photography. Wetplates were used to develop photographs on, it served as the negative. Battles and soldiers peer out from tiny glass plates across the greenhouse.

Walt Whitman was a great recorder for the time. He worked in some of the hospitals during the Civil War, exposed to much of the suffering of the soldiers. His prose and poetry were filled with direct and subtle references to the war, and his writings are a wonderful source for seeking insight to the war beyond the military strategies and battles, and instead into the social and cultural changes that resulted during and after the war.

Once the war was over, commemoration began in America as it never had before. The end of the 19th century marked the highest rate of public monument production. Practically every town square that was involved in the war constructed a monument for the men and boys they lost, and those that fought. Gravestone, monument, and stone companies in general made a good deal of business – so much so that some companies offered deals in which the face of a soldier statue could be modeled after individual men, if a photograph was provided! And as time passed and the direct memory of the varied causes of the war became murkier (slavery, states rights, the protection of the union, and countless personal reasons) one of the places in which nostalgia and memory held the most power was in cemeteries, whether large or small.

The Civil War had the most casualties of any American war (and still does). With so many dead, and often the cruel realities of retreat, rank seperation, or lack of manpower to sort through the dead, the “Unknown Soldier” became a familiar sight across many graves. Walt Whitman was haunted by such a sight, and the thousands who flock to places like Gettysburg and Arlington still are to this very day.

AS toilsome I wander’d Virginia’s woods,
To the music of rustling leaves, kick’d by my feet, (for ’twas autumn,)
I mark’d at the foot of a tree the grave of a soldier,
Mortally wounded he, and buried on the retreat, (easily all could I understand;)
The halt of a mid-day hour, when up! no time to lose—yet this sign left,
On a tablet scrawl’d and nail’d on the tree by the grave,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

Long, long I muse, then on my way go wandering;
Many a changeful season to follow, and many a scene of life;
Yet at times through changeful season and scene, abrupt, alone, or in the crowded street,
Comes before me the unknown soldier’s grave—comes the inscription rude in Virginia’s woods,
Bold, cautious, true, and my loving comrade.

Gettysburg National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

On the way home from DC, we stopped today at Gettysburg. Despite my love of American history and knowledge of the battles and details, I was not prepared for the sheer vastness of Gettysburg. Endless fields, and endless room for the imagination.

The National Cemetery at Gettysburg was created in efforts to bury the dead from the Battle of Gettysburg. A quick look at Wikipedia lists the casualties as such:
Union: 23,055 (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded, 5,369 captured/missing)
Confederate: 22,231 (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded, 5,830 captured/missing)
These numbers are unbelievable… the battle lasted 3 days from July 1-3, 1863, and was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. There was an immediate need to bury the dead, and the land for Gettysburg Cemetery was purchased. Several months later, Lincoln came to the cemetery’s dedication and delivered his famous Gettysburg address there.

The Soldiers National Monument stands in the center, with semi-circles of graves flush to the ground around it, divided by states. The number of burials (details here) per state were:
* Maine ~ 104
* New Hampshire ~ 49
* Vermont ~ 61
* Massachusetts ~ 159
* Rhode Island ~ 12
* Connecticut ~ 22
* New York ~ 866
* New Jersey ~ 78
* Pennsylvania ~ 526
* Delaware ~ 15
* Maryland ~ 22
* West Virginia ~ 11
* Ohio ~ 131
* Indiana ~ 80
* Illinois ~ 6
* Michigan ~ 171
* Wisconsin ~ 73
* Minnesota ~ 52
* US Regulars ~ 138
* Unknown, Lot North ~ 411
* Unknown, Lot South ~ 425
* Unknown, Lot Inner Circle ~ 143
As you can see, most of the burials presently in the cemetery are of Union soldiers. The majority of Confederate soldiers were removed to cemeteries closer to home. While the soldiers monument which dominates the scene was intended to reflect the Union, what is interesting about Gettysburg is that it does not, in text or visually, talk of victory. History has marked the battle as a human tragedy, and the losses from both sides of the battle are overwhelmingly evident throughout the national park.

Beautiful and haunting poetry on large signs surround the stones along the walkway. As we walked through the cemetery, it was very overcast and began to rain, a fitting tribute to the somber nature of the cemetery and the nearby preserved battlefields.

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Of all the things to do in Washington DC, one of the places I was excited to visit was Arlington National Cemetery. Although it was incredibly hot, the trip was extremely worthwhile.

There is a great deal of parking, and pedestrian traffic is led through the Visitor’s Center at the beginning of the cemetery, which has a little gift shop, an information center, and an exhibit that features large photographs of significant moments in the cemetery’s history, along with explanatory text. The photos themselves are very overwhelming, but they barely come close to capturing the actual experience of stepping outside the doors and walking through the cemetery itself.

Arlington is the second largest national cemetery (the largest is on Long Island). Looking over a map of the cemetery, and considering the heat and the length of the kids’ patience, we decided to go to the more famed spots: the Kennedy gravestones, and both sites of the Unknown Soldiers tombs.

JFK’s site is moving, with an eternal flame that overlooks the Washington Monument across the Potomac River. The Civil War Unknown Soldiers vault contains 2,111 soldiers found across battlefields. During the Civil War, Arlington was the home to Robert Lee, and the mansion remains there to this day. He had vacated the property during the war, however, and it was used as a military base. Montgomery Meigs ordered that the unknown bodies be buried in Lee’s yard, essentially preventing the Lee family returning to their home again.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers was interesting to see, because we arrived right as they had a changing of the guards. One soldier from WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam are buried within.

The cemetery has a combination of regular gravestones as well as the uniform white military gravestones. Seeing the precise rows of white stones in such large numbers is very moving to behold. Photographs do not do them justice. A sense of quiet patriotism permeates the cemetery.

Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, RI

Providence’s beautiful garden cemetery, Swan Point still inspires and is accessible to “leisure uses” that it was designed for – although not so many as there once were! Security guards constantly buzz about to make certain you don’t get TOO leisurely! No blading, biking, animals, no faster pace than a “brisk walk”, beverages and food items are frowned upon. It’s no longer the place to bring the family and dog to have a picnic or a jog through – but still magnificent nevertheless.

Swan Point was founded by Thomas Hartshorn in 1846, arising from the “vivid intellectual community composed predominately of Providence’s emerging middle class in the mid-nineteenth century”, according to Swan Point’s “A Historical Walking Tour”.

On my visit today the clouds dimmed the beautiful foliage that exists throughout the entire cemetery, but luckily the rain held off for the journey. To get to Swan Point, you venture down Blackstone Boulevard, it’s trolley tracks still running down the center, though no longer in use.

Once within the cemetery, it’s best to grab a map from the office, because it’s easy to get lost down the long winding paths. Of of Providence’s best and brightest lie buried here, and a look in every direction grants view of huge monuments with elegant and finely crafted sculptures. Since most American museums were not invented until the late 1800s, places like Swan Point are an excellent means by which you can view American art and sculpture.

There’s the original receiving tomb for the cemetery which was designed by Brown University grad Thomas Tefft.

There’s the John Rogers Vinton sarcophagus which was designed as a publicity push for the cemetery. Swan Point was looking for a way to bring in potential customers, so they offered a free burial to a war victim – and John Vinton fit the bill, having just recently passed away in the Mexican American War at the Battle of Vera Cruz. Note the cannonball which killed him sitting atop the monument.

There’s the Colonel John Stanton Slocum Stone, a soldier who died in the Civil War at Bull Run. His granite monument is carved with his uniform and military accoutrements draped in mourning over the stone.

Victorian art at its finest when it comes to the representations of the innocence of youth:

As Swan Point was expanding, they literally bought the road which used to pass through Providence to Pawtucket and up to Boston, and had it moved to where Blackstone Boulevard currently is today. “Old Road” now runs through the middle of the cemetery, one of the very few straight paths.

“Its secret lies in understanding and continually reinventing the delicate relationship between the natural and the created. Perhaps more than any other garden cemetery, Swan Point presents a comfortable amplitude for any visitor’s experience. The land undulates easily, seemingly spontaneously, and delightfully. The variety of specimen trees and shrubbery, both planted and native to the landscape makes this a tree lover’s dream.”

The Seekonk River was once a magnificent view from the cemetery, but now modern environmental regulations issue that any vegetation growth along watersides must remain there, in order to help prevent erosion, so the river is no longer as viewable. Still a pretty sight, however.

Overall, a pretty place to wander. The cemetery is still in use, a funeral procession was coming in as I was leaving the gates. “From its inception, Swan Point Cemetery has been a place for both the living and the dead. It is one of those rare places where both have always comfortably inhabited the same space.”