Approximately 1,400 Civil War veterans — I call them “heroes,” if only because they fought to preserve our country — lie buried at Evergreen Cemetery on Stevens Avenue in Portland. On a recent sunny, warm summer’s day, Friends of Evergreen docent Lin Brown introduced me to about 50 of them.
We toured the 239-acre cemetery for 4¼ hours; by the time we were done, I was amazed at how many of these heroes I had previously “met” in their letters and in the history books.
Located almost dead center in the cemetery, a mustached Union color bearer stands atop a granite shaft. In remarkably good condition despite his age, the flint-eyed soldier tops a monument given to Bosworth Post No. 2, Grand Army of the Republic, by brothers Henry and Nathan Cleaves (they lie elsewhere in Evergreen) and dedicated on May 30, 1895.
The inscription reads: “To Our Comrades. In Honor Of The Living: In Grateful Memory Of The Dead.” Guarding the monument are two Dahlgren howitzers used by the Navy.
Radiating outward from the Civil War monument, but not focused around it, the heroes’ graves are scattered across the landscaped cemetery. The heroes represent many Maine units — and more than one Navy ship, too.
Charles McDuffie joined the 1st D.C. Cavalry regiment, tasked with guarding the nation’s capital. Enlistees were assured that they would not go on campaign; before they could count their horses’ teeth, the DC Cav boys (drawn primarily from Maine) found themselves blended with the under-strength 1st Maine Cavalry and sent off to fight.
Although buried in Portland, Luther Bradford hailed from Turner when he joined the 16th Maine Infantry. Captured at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, he lost his left arm during the war.
An elaborate monument identifies the grave of “Henry Goddard Thomas U.S. Army.” Born in Portland in April 1837, Thomas fought in his first battle at Bull Run and stayed the course for four years, participating in the April 1865 capture of Richmond. He rose to the rank of brevet brigadier general.
Resembling the martial imagery appearing on specific Union monuments at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and elsewhere, the bas-relief of Thomas is unusual among Evergreen’s Civil War graves. He came from solid Portland stock; “the Thomas family were ardent abolitionists,” Brown said. “He started as a private in the 5th Maine [Infantry] and commanded a black regiment at the Crater” in Petersburg in July 1864.
Among other generals buried at Evergreen Cemetery are Neal Dow, George Shepley, and George Warren West.
Evergreen Cemetery has four “weeping women,” specific monuments topped by a woman weeping over her loss. Carved from granite, the Gerrish family monument features a sad, long-tressed lass sitting on a low stone wall while holding a floral bouquet in her left hand. She rests her chin against her right hand and gazes at the ground.
Set at ground level near this weeping woman is the flat gravestone for Theodore Gerrish, a private in Co. H, 20th Maine Infantry. In 1882 he wrote the regiment’s informal history, “Army life; a private’s reminiscences of the Civil War.”
Sharing a casket-styled monument with his wife is “Major Holman S. Melcher 1841-1905.” He was another 20th Maine member whose most famous action occurred during the Battle of the Wilderness. After the regiment broke through the Confederate lines at Saunders Field, Melcher and his company went about a half mile farther west, found themselves cut off, and charged east, again, slicing through enemy lines before returning to the Union lines.
And another Evergreen grave contains Joseph Tyler of Co. K, 20th Maine.
Other men fought in the same regiment, too. Born in 1842, as his raised stone indicates, Thomas H. Merrill served in Co. F, 17th Maine Infantry Regiment and lived until 1914.
Not so Octavius C. Ingraham, born in March 1843. He joined the 17th Maine and rose to corporal in Co. J. His stone indicates that Ingraham was “Killed in Battle of Wilderness May 12, 1864.”
That particular battle had ended days earlier; Ingraham actually died as the 17th Maine fought inside the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania Courthouse that long ago Thursday. He lies somewhere in Virginia; inscribed “Memory,” his Evergreen Cemetery stone was set up by his survivors as a reminder of his sacrifice.
Austin D. Sullivan, who lived from 1844 to 1904, served in the 2nd Maine Battery.
So did Samuel Fessenden, “Lieut. Of Artillery.” The youngest son of Senator William Pitt Fessenden of Portland, Samuel was born in January 1842. He wanted to fight after the war started; seeking a position as far from danger as possible, his parents approved his enlisting in the 2nd Maine Battery.
According to Brown, when that unit fought at Second Bull Run on Aug. 30, 1862, his horse was shot beneath Samuel. He was soon “mortally wounded,” as his stone indicates. Among his last words, he said, “It’s all right.” His family later recovered his body from its Virginia grave — and discovered that he had been buried with dead Confederates.
Brothers Charles Oliver Hunt and Henry Hastings Hunt served in the 5th Maine Battery. Charles later became superintendent of Maine General Hospital in Portland.
Another 5th Maine Battery veteran buried at Evergreen is Charles O. Kennard, an artificer.
A mystery surrounds the inscription identifying the monument of Nehemiah Furbish. Captain of Co. I, 10th Maine Infantry Regiment, he died in combat at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862. His wife, Dorothy outlived him by 39½ years until her death in January 1902.
The original inscription indicated “10th REGT. ME. VOLS.” Sometime after the monument was set in place, someone altered “10th” to read “29th,” the infantry regiment that many surviving members of the 10th Maine joined after their regiment was disbanded in late spring 1863. The 29th Maine did not muster into federal service until Dec. 17, 1863, a full 15 months after Furbish’s death.
As for Mainers who served in the Navy, Alexander Furlong was a Marine on the USS Wyoming. After a Japanese warlord closed the Shimonoseki Straits to foreign vessels, the Wyoming steamed through the straits while exchanging fire with Japanese shore batteries. Furlong was killed in action on July 16, 1863 and was buried at sea.
John Martin, who lived from 1838 to 1934, served as a sailor on the USS Sabine, a warship during the Civil War. He and several other veterans are buried near the Civil War monument. The Daughters of Union Veterans owns the land occupied by the monument and graves; Brown indicated that “40 veterans are supposedly buried” at this site, but most graves are unmarked.
There are Civil War surgeons at Evergreen. including Dr. Seth Chase Gordon of the 12th Maine Infantry and Dr. Nahum Alvah Hersom of the 17th Maine.
Buried among other relatives in the Shaw tomb is Dr. Abner Orimel Shaw, born in February 1837. His name is unfamiliar to most Civil War buffs, but not so the name of his most famous wartime patient: Joshua L. Chamberlain. Summoned by Tom Chamberlain after his brother was shot in the hips on June 18, 1864, Shaw conducted meticulous surgery that ultimately saved Joshua’s life.
Emily W. Dana, a nurse at Camp Parole in Annapolis, Md., is buried not that far from Shaw.
Many gravestones do not reveal a veteran’s status; Brown has diligently researched at least 800 of the approximately 1,400 Civil War veterans buried here and has accumulated their information in a notebook. When she conducts her “Local and Legendary: Maine in the Civil War” tours, Brown brings the notebook with her.
She schedules several Civil War tours each summer and, through the Friends of Evergreen, offers private tours; the price is $7 per person or $5 for a Friends member. To arrange a tour, log onto www.friendsofevergreen.org; a downloadable map of the cemetery is available at this website, too.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He would love to hear from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.