State official’s comment stirs commenter firestorm in Jewett Williams’ burial controversy

The first Civil War veterans to die at Togus were buried in Sections A/B in West Cemetery. In the late 1860s, Section A was the closest part of the cemetery to the Togus buildings. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

The first Civil War veterans to die at Togus were buried in Sections A/B in West Cemetery. In the late 1860s, Section A was the closest part of the cemetery to the Togus buildings. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Quotes attributed to the director of Maine’s Bureau of Veterans Services in a Bangor Daily News article posted online at 6:16 a.m., Wednesday, September 14 have generated a commenter-fuelled firestorm.

Written by Abigail Curtis and headlined “Dispute arises over Maine Civil War veteran’s final resting place” (http://bangordailynews.com/2016/09/14/news/state/dispute-arises-over-maine-civil-war-veterans-final-resting-place/) the article discussed the reasons why the cremains of Pvt. Jewett Williams of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment are being buried in Hodgdon rather than in the West Cemetery at the Togus VA Hospital as state officials had led the media and public to believe until Williams’ cremains were delivered to Togus on Aug. 22.

The article also cited the reasons why some people are displeased with Williams going to Hodgdon instead of Togus.

Since Monday, Aug. 22, the cremains of Pvt. Jewett Williams of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment have been located at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. The state's decision to shift his burial from Togus to Hodgdon continues to generate controversy. (Courtesy of Oregon State Hospital)

Since Monday, Aug. 22, the cremains of Pvt. Jewett Williams of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment have been located at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. The state’s decision to shift his burial from Togus to Hodgdon continues to generate controversy. Troubled in life, the poor man can get little rest in death. (Courtesy of Oregon State Hospital)

Among the people interviewed by Curtis was Adria Horn, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services. Horn was the state official who, during the Aug. 22 ceremony at Togus, revealed that Williams would go to Hodgdon.

“It’s unfortunate there’s this concept that a burial in Hodgdon is less honorable than a burial at Togus,” Horn was quoted in the Sept. 14 article.

So far, so good.

Then she said, “There are more Civil War brothers in arms in the Hodgdon Cemetery than there actually are in the Togus cemetery.”

That statement got readers riled up on the article‘s “Comments“ section. Commenter TMatthew wondered how “one cemetery in tiny Hodgdon” could have “more [Civil War] veterans in it than Togus National Cemetery?”

To which “fasthorse” responded, “Hodgdon cemetery has more Civil War veterans buried in it then (sic) Togus does.”

TMatthew quickly responded that according to an online Hodgdon Cemetery map, “there are 712 plots total” in the cemetery. Of that number, “33 people buried are Civil War veterans. I don’t even have to look to know that of the 5,000+ veterans buried at Togus, hundreds if not thousands are Civil War vets since that is what the cemetery was made for 150 years ago.”

fasthorse replied, “It is Civil War veterans they are talking about.”

“Then it is Togus 1000+ vs. Hodgdon 33,” TMatthew noted. “Don’t have to be a math teacher to figure out far more of his brothers in arms are at Togus.”

“Radiohead” concurred with Tmatthew that “there is (sic) definitely more Civil War soldiers buried in Togus,” but he believes “there are more members of the 20th Maine buried in Hodgdon, however. I’m assuming that is what Ms. Horn meant by her statement,” as quoted in the September 14 article.

Among the 20th Maine Infantry veterans buried in West Cemetery at Togus is C.W. Barron of Co. I. Jewett Williams may have known him. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

Among the 20th Maine Infantry veterans buried in West Cemetery at Togus is C.W. Barron of Co. I. Jewett Williams may have known him. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

And then “moxie4me” possibly placed this issue in its proper perspective, at least for many people. “Thank goodness we’re finally getting down to the important issues of the day. Never mind the election, global warming, poverty, hunger, hate, religious intolerance or any other foolish issue that we might waste our time with.

“Where should we bury the remains of Private Williams???” moxie4me asked. “I, for one, am on the edge of my seat about this high tension adventure tale.”

When I last checked, there were 93 postings from commenters about Curtis’s article, not including several deleted comments.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook at “Bringing Jewett Williams Home to Hodgdon,” Jason Howe posted a Hodgdon Cemetery map on September 13. He has marked on it the identified graves of Civil War veterans, as well as the site where Jewett Williams will be buried.

“I’ve found 40 stones belonging to Civil War veterans, though 8 of them are believed to be cenotaphs,” Howe wrote. Cenotaphs are “place markers” for soldiers buried elsewhere (often in a national cemetery), but honored with a grave site in a local cemetery.

As for her comparison between the number of “Civil War brothers in arms” buried at Hodgdon versus Togus, perhaps Adria Horn meant the number of 20th Maine veterans, as Radiohead kindly commented. However, if Ms. Horn really meant the total number of Civil War veterans buried in both cemeteries, I do hope she visits West Cemetery at Togus soon and meets the boys buried in Sections A/B.

And they are just for starters in terms of the “Civil War brothers in arms” who lived and died at Togus.

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.