Civil War veteran from Hodgdon heads home for burial in Maine

Jewett Williams of Hodgdon was 21 when he enlisted in the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment in October 1864. Williams later moved to Minnesota, Washington, and finally Oregon, where he died in the Oregon State Hospital in July 1922. He was cremated when no survivors claimed his body. His cremains are being escorted to Maine this month by the Patriot Guard Riders; due to arrive at the Togus VA hospital on Aug. 22, Williams will be officially buried there on Sept. 17. (Courtesy of Oregon State Hospital)

Jewett Williams of Hodgdon was 21 when he was drafted into the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment in October 1864. Williams later moved to Minnesota, Washington, and finally Oregon, where he died in the Oregon State Hospital in July 1922. He was cremated when no survivors claimed his body. His cremains are being escorted to Maine this month by the Patriot Guard Riders; due to arrive at the Togus VA hospital on Aug. 22, Williams will be officially buried there on Sept. 17. (Courtesy of Oregon State Hospital)

Cue When Johnny Comes Marching Home as Jewett Williams, a combat veteran from the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, winds his way across country to a final resting place in the Pine Tree State.

Born in Hodgdon in 1843, Williams was 21 when he was drafted into the 20th Maine on Monday, Oct. 12, 1864. According to the federal census “enumerated” in Hodgdon on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1850, the 7-year-old Jewett was the oldest child and son of Jared (36) and Rosaline (26) Williams, both born in New Brunswick. Jared was a yeoman farmer with real estate worth $400.

Behind Jewett in order of birth were Malvena, her age marked as “ditto” (implying she was 7, too); Melvin, 3, and Susan, apparently 7 months old. The census taker, an assistant marshal by the name of “Humphrey Chadbourne” (my best guess), needed a lesson in penmanship.

The next decade brought substantial changes to the household. Assistant Marshal Hugh Alexander enumerated the Williams clan for the next federal census on Sunday, June 10, 1860. Jared Williams, now 46, still farmed; his net worth was $1,000 for his real estate and $320 for his “personal estate.”

Rosaline, now 36, had produced more children and apparently lost at least one. The children in the household were Jewett, 17; Melvena (“Malvena” in 1850), 16; Roger N., 12; Eurana, 10; Eastman, 7; Mary, 5; William, 2; and Frank, 3 months.

Melvin vanished between 1850 and 1860, and 12-year-old Roger should have appeared on the 1850 census, but did not. The Susan of 1850 corresponded in age and gender with the Eurana of 1860; the “E” of Eurana is as clear as the “E” of Eastman, so Eurana the 1850 Susan must be.

The 1860 census described Jewett as a “Farmer,” and he probably preferred keeping that job even when notified that he would be drafted. Unlike many other Maine men preferring not to serve in the Army — and for whatever reasons they did so — Jewett did not “skedaddle” across the border into New Brunswick, safe from Uncle Sam’s lengthy reach.

Once sworn into active duty, Jewett was assigned to Co. H of the 20th Maine. No boot camp existed then; Williams shipped directly from Maine (probably Camp Berry in Cape Elizabeth) to the 20th Maine’s semi-permanent camp outside Petersburg.

There he met the scarred, flint-eyed veterans who wondered if the new guy had sufficient moxie to become one of them.

He did.

Jewett fought with the 20th Maine Infantry during the Appomattox Campaign and helped stop John B. Gordon’s hard-bitten veterans trying to shove west from Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Jewett likely witnessed the surrender of Confederate infantry a few days after Robert E. Lee surrendered his army.

Mustered out with the 20th Maine at Portland on July 16, 1865, Jewett went home and later married his first wife, Emma. After that marriage ended in divorce in 1871, Jewett moved to Minnesota.

There he married his second wife, Nora Casey; she bore him six children, and the family lived in Brainerd, Minn. Jewett may have suffered from PTSD, not accurately diagnosed in that era; he could not maintain a long-lasting relationship with women, not even with Nora, described as a “widow” in the 1892 St. Paul city directory.

Strangely she reconnected with the apparently “dead” Jewett and moved with him to Washington State in the early 1890s.

The 1900 census found Jewett self-employed as a carpenter; he also earned money by renting the available rooms in his house to boarders. Nora apparently lived 9 miles distant.

An Oregon resident by 1919, Jewett was admitted to the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore. on Sunday, April 14, 1922. He died there of “cerebral arteriosclerosis” on Monday, July 17, 1922, with the time of death listed as “12309.”

During an Aug. 1, 2016 ceremony held in Salem, Ore., a  member of the Patriot Guard Riders carries the box containing the ceramic urn and ashes of Jewett Williams to a waiting motorcycle. A native of Hodgdon, Williams fought with the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment during the last seven months of the Civil War. His cremains are being transported to Maine for burial in Togus on Sept. 17. (Danielle Peterson of the Statesman-Journal)

During an Aug. 1, 2016 ceremony held in Salem, Ore., a member of the Patriot Guard Riders carries the box containing the ceramic urn and ashes of Jewett Williams to a waiting motorcycle. A native of Hodgdon, Williams fought with the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment during the last seven months of the Civil War. His cremains are being transported to Maine for burial in Togus on Sept. 17. (Danielle Peterson of the Statesman-Journal)

His official death certificate described Jewett as a laborer, a widower, and a resident of Portland, Ore. He was cremated in the “Hoop Crematorium” on July 21. The death certificate was officially filed on July 22, 1922, as indicated by the date stamped on the certificate’s lower left corner.

Swept into a copper urn, his ashes wound up in a hospital shed, along with urns for almost another 3,500 people who died at the Oregon hospital. Hospital staffers discovered the approximately 3,500 urns after checking the locked shed in 2004. Many urns were decaying.

The cremains had gone unclaimed for decades. State officials have worked since then to find any survivors who might claim the cremains.

In 2015, Maine Civil War historian Tom Desjardins found the online records about Jewett’s 1922 death at the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane. The discovery led to the efforts to bring Jewett home.

His ashes now in a ceramic urn, Jewett received a royal send-off at Salem on Monday morning, Aug. 1, 2016. He is bring transported across the country by volunteers from the Patriot Guard Riders; representatives from that organization are meeting Jewett at designated locations in each state and then transporting him to the appropriate location in the next state,

Jewett arrived in Pennsylvania earlier this week. From there the Patriot Guard Riders will take him to Appomattox Court House, from where Jewett will start the final leg of his journey to Maine.

He is scheduled to arrive at the Togus VA Hospital in Chelsea around 1 p.m., Monday, Aug. 22.

Jewett Williams will be buried in the National Cemetery at Togus on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.