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THE SEARCH FOR GRAVES OF VETERANS OF THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR (1861-1865) BURIED IN THE UK

By CMS in CMS news

Michael Hammerson has sent us this outline of his research into the UK graves of combatants in the American Civil War, with a request for help to further the project:

 

The scale and significance of this first modern war is little appreciated by people here. The greatest battle, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was on a similar scale with Waterloo, the contending armies numbering some 150,000, a third of whom were casualties. Some 800,000 men died in the war, more than in all other American wars combined, out of a population of 30 million, including 4 million slaves. The defeated South was shattered for decades, losing 25% of all men of military age.  You cannot understand modern America without understanding the Civil War, its origins, causes and legacy.

The London Times for August 12, 1864 noted: “The country between the Rappahannock and the Potomac has become as familiar to the English public as the space between Paul’s and South Kensington.” The Civil War generated huge interest and partisanship on this side of the Atlantic, and many young Englishmen felt impelled to go and fight, for a cause or for adventure.

They returned home, some immediately after and others decades later. We know of 350 veterans or widows living in Great Britain who received Federal Pensions for Civil War service, but I have found at least 1,139 Union veterans, or their widows if they did not return, and 130 Confederates, likely to be buried here, but there must be many more; tracing them is immensely difficult. We currently know about 25% of their graves, buried everywhere from the Channel Islands and Cornwall to the Isle of Skye, but in the big cities finding their graves can be daunting, many dying in poverty and buried in public graves.

We have 7 Congressional Medal of Honor winners, 6 Black soldiers who served in designated U.S. Colored Troops units, 3 Union Generals, and 4 women who served as nurses, plus another who, it seems, masqueraded as a man and worked on a coaling ship serving the Union blockading fleet!

A few graves and memorials even mention their Civil War service; one is Ferdinand Barzetti of the 13th New York Light Artillery, alias Thomas Shepherd, buried in Highgate cemetery. The best known is the Monument to Scotsmen who served in the Union army at Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh, with its statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Many have fascinating stories. George Nickels, one of four sons of inventor Christopher Nickels, manufacturer of the first transatlantic cable, left his home in Camberwell to go and fight with the 7th Illinois Cavalry, returning home to learn that his brother Henry had gone to fight for the Confederacy. When George applied for a Federal Pension in 1904, Henry thought it would be a good idea to apply too; he received a polite but firm reply from Uncle Sam explaining that he had, unfortunately, fought for the wrong side! Their graves, in east London, are as yet unlocated.

Explorer and M.P. Sir Henry Morton Stanley was living in the South at the start of the war. Pressured into joining the Southern army, he deserted after the Battle of Shiloh and joined the Union Army. He is buried in the family grave at Pirbright, Surrey.

A notable burial in Highgate Cemetery is German-born Adam Worth of the 34th New York Light Artillery. Reading in the newspaper, while in hospital wounded, that he had been killed, he deserted and re-enlisted under a false name, claiming the bounty offered to recruits. This convinced him that crime paid; he led a gang in New York, where he was caught by the Pinkerton Agency, and then went to England, where he became known as the “Napoleon of Crime”. It’s believed that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle modelled the character of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, on Worth.

Medal of Honor winner Maurice Wagg married in England in the 1880s and lived with his wife until his death forty years later. She made what she thought would be an uncontentious claim for a widow’s pension, but the Pensions Bureau were assiduous in rooting out false claims, and ascertained that, after his discharge, Wagg went to Maine with a shipmate, where he met and married a woman whom he abandoned a few weeks later without getting a divorce. Since she didn’t die until 1910, Uncle Sam was adamant; his English wife of 40 years was not his legal widow and her pension was terminated.

Even famous people remain elusive. Medal of Honor winner Col. George Gouraud of the 3rd New York Cavalry was a pioneer of the early sound recording industry with Edison. His wife is buried in Brighton; he died on a trip to Switzerland, but neither the Swiss nor British authorities have any record of where he is buried. Another Medal winner, Surgeon James Harry Thompson of the 43rd and 139th New York, became an internationally renowned doctor, with practices in London, Paris and Rome. He died in Great Yarmouth in 1896, but his grave is untraceable.

I also include Englishmen who were actively involved. Two stand out, one on either side.

As extraordinary as any was the Rev. Francis Tremlett, Vicar of Belsize Park 1859-1913, buried in West Hampstead Cemetery. Britain’s most passionate supporter of the Confederacy, he would undoubtedly have been in the South’s pantheon of heroes had they won. A Confederate agent wrote to President Jefferson Davis: “The Rev. Tremlett is indefatigable on our behalf and deserves the thanks of every true lover of our country. He has done more for our cause than all other Englishmen combined.” The great oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, who resigned from the US Navy to become an agent for the South in London, called him “The best Confederate in England”, while Jefferson Davis, who visited him after the war, wrote: “To you our people are deeply indebted”. Raphael Semmes, Captain of the notorious Confederate privateer Alabama, wrote in his memoirs that “The name of the Rev. Francis Tremlett, of the Parsonage, Belsize Park, London, dwells in my memory, and that of every Confederate who ever came in contact with him – and they are not few – like a household word.” Even more extraordinary was to discover, while researching him, that he had a first cousin in Boston, Massachusetts, who became Brevet Colonel of the Union Army’s 39th Massachusetts and was mortally wounded nine days before the end of the war. The Brothers’ War reached across the Atlantic.

The other, in Highgate Cemetery, has an eloquent epitaph. “Here lies Samuel Lucas, who died on the 16th of April, 1865, a few hours after hearing the news of the destruction of the slave power in America by the fall of its capital, Richmond, an object for which he had striven for four years as managing-editor of the Morning Star.” It is now a Listed monument, as is Barzetti’s gravestone.

Another grave in Highgate Cemetery merits mention: Richard Booth, who died in 1870. His father, noted actor Junius Brutus Booth, abandoned his family and ran off to America with another woman, with whom he had seven other children. Two followed in his profession – Edwin and John Wilkes – so Highgate Cemetery has a brother of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.

Most mysterious, however, is a man in a photograph of the London Veterans published in the Daily Sketch on August 17th, 1917. He is clearly a Sikh; but there is no record of a practicing Sikh in the war, and even Sikh historians have no idea who he was.

Finding the graves of known veterans, and locating new ones, is immensely difficult. If readers can help by searching the burial registers in the areas where they live, I’d be happy to give them a list of potential graves in their areas. Likewise, if you know of any graves, please tell me.

 

The London Branch of American Civil War Veterans

World War I was so terrible that the veterans rarely talked about it. While World War II veterans were proud to talk about what they did, veterans of the American Civil War outdid them all. Veteran activities flourished until the last one died in 1956, and The Union Veterans’ organisation, the Grand Army of the Republic, founded in 1866, grew to be a powerful political force with a million members.

When 29-year-old John Davis, who had left his home in Hampshire aged 14 to go to America, dragged himself from the waters of the Potomac on November 11, 1864, he was at a loss to know why God had allowed a dissolute debaucher such as he to be one of only eight survivors of USS Tulip when her boilers exploded, while 49 better men had died. The question gnawed at him for years until, drifting into a mission meeting in London in 1874, he decided that God had work for him, devoting the rest of his life to the London City Mission, founded in 1835 and flourishing today.

Visiting the slums of London’s Docklands, he came across other Civil War veterans who had fallen on hard times. He decided to bring them together, both for comradeship and to help them claim pensions and in 1910 inaugurated the London Branch of American Civil War Veterans, for Union veterans and based at the Mission’s HQ in Bermondsey. Famed actor-manager Sir Charles Wyndham, who had served under his real name, Charles Culverwell, as an Assistant Surgeon in a Black regiment, was asked to be President, but work prevented him. The role was taken by Maryland Major Seth Herrick, buried in 1917 in an unmarked grave in Hendon Cemetery, to whom a new stone was dedicated in 2019.

Their activities and deaths were reported in the U.S. and British press, their funerals attended by a representative from the American Embassy. In August, 1917, England welcomed the “Doughboys” en route to join the Allied armies in France. Among the crowds cheering them as they marched through London were the London Veterans, whose photographs featured in the national press.

After World War I, the Veterans participated in the American Legion’s annual ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey or St. Paul’s Cathedral. They laid a wreath when the statue of Abraham Lincoln was installed in 1920 in Parliament Square and annually on his birthday, and at the unveiling of the statue of George Washington in Trafalgar Square in 1921. In the 1922 Lincoln ceremony they were accompanied by Sir Harry Lauder, whose son was killed in the World War.

Membership dwindled during the 1920s, though new ones joined – for example, William Hines, of the 3rd Illinois Cavalry, who made his career in America, where he had emigrated in 1855, aged 12, returning to England in 1928, aged 85, to spend his last years in his birthplace of Bushey; his unmarked grave is in the churchyard. The group had some 150 members, the last dying in 1933. It seems that one veteran was still living in England in 1945, but we don’t know who he was.

Research on this long-forgotten group of veterans continues, though their records remain elusive. While we know the names of about half their members, I aspire one day to be able to write a full history; please keep your eyes open for any references to them.

 

Michael Hammerson has asked for our help:

‘What would be really helpful is if readers would be prepared to visit their local cemetery archives and see if they can find any of the graves; I can easily give them a list of burials in their areas – though in places like London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow they are quite long! Equally valuable would be for people to let me know of any graves of which they are aware; I will probably know of many of them, but there must be many more of which I don’t know.’

You can contact him at michael@hammerson.me.uk .

Barzetti grave

The Barzetti grave

The grave of Ferdinand Barzetti, alias Thomas Shepherd, 14th New York Light Artillery, in Highgate Cemetery

1917 Lon Vets photoclearer

The London Veterans

The 1917 photo of the London Veterans showing the unidentified Sikh, one of the great mysteries of the war

LBACWV Death Notice cardblank

London Veterans' Death Notice

The card issued by the London veterans notifying members of comrades' deaths. This shows that they had a wicked sense of humour; the grave at far right bears the inscription "Sacred to the Memory of my Substitute", a wonderfully ironic dig at the recruiting system.


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