Jewett B. Williams, late of Co. H of the 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, received a hearty welcome as he came marching home to his native Hodgdon on Saturday, Sept. 24.
Approximately 200 people greeted Jewett — he’s on a first-name basis in this southern Aroostook County town — as he rolled into Hodgdon Mills thunderously escorted by Patriot Guard Riders and other motorcyclists, including members of the United Vets Motorcycle Club of Houlton.
Jewett had ridden up I-95 from Augusta that morning in a white, colorfully detailed Wreaths Across America Suburban, the same vehicle that had transported him from Kittery to Togus and hence to his temporary Augusta digs on Aug. 22.
Led by State Captain Mike Edgecomb of Spruce Head, Maine Patriot Guard Riders had escorted Jewett some 1,300 miles from the heat and humidity of southern Virginia to today’s mid-50s’ temps and northwesterly breeze stirring the leaves beneath the partly cloudy sky.
Jewett exited the Suburban via its hatchback. I imagine that he blinked in the brilliant early autumn sunshine before stepping into the shadow cast by the Hodgdon United Methodist Church, which was possibly standing before Jewett left Maine around 1870.
A 21-year-old farmer when drafted into the Army mid-October 1864, Jewett helped the 20th Maine block the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House and witnessed the April 12, 1865 surrender of Confederate infantrymen.
Mustering out in Portland on July 16, 1865, Jewett returned home to Maine. Plagued the rest of his life by sickness and an inability to adjust successfully to society’s expectations of him (marriage and fatherhood), he was admitted to the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane in April 1922 and died there on July 17.
His unclaimed body went into an OSH crematorium on July 21 and his cooled ashes into a labeled copper urn sealed and set aside, unforgotten until discovered along with some 3,600 other cremated OSH patients in 2004.
Maine author and Civil War historian Tom Desjardin found Jewett’s name in 2015 on an Oregon researcher’s online database; this discovery sparked the volunteer effort that brought Jewett home to Hodgdon.
The Maine Patriot Guard Riders offered to fetch him home via the national PGR organization, so on Monday, Aug. 1, dozens of PGRs and other motorcyclists brought Jewett east from Salem, Ore. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people turned out to deliver him safely to the Pine Tree State.
Meanwhile, Maine state officials had contracted with Oregon officials to bury Jewett at the Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta. Plans changed to bury him in Togus National Cemetery in Chelsea. Then the discovery of distant relatives — two elderly fourth cousins — in Hodgdon led to the announcement that Jewett would be buried alongside his parents and infant sister in the Hodgdon Cemetery.
To honor their returning veteran, townsfolk spent days sprucing up the cemetery, from cleaning the headstones and raking the grass to installing a new sign. The cemetery spreads alongside the Walker Road as it flows uphill and northward from its intersection with the Hodgdon Mills Road near the Methodist church.
Bordering trees block the views to the north and west, but open views extend toward the east and south. Jewett would have immediately recognized Westford Hill rising dramatically to the southeast; the highest point in Hodgdon, the hill is a topographical landmark in this section of The County.
I wonder what Jewett thought as the Wreaths Across America Suburban exited I-95 around 12:40 p.m. Their lights flashing, local, county, and state police vehicles joined the motorcyclists escorting Jewett south on Route 1 through Houlton and Hodgdon.
Swinging about 45 degrees to the right on Hodgdon Mills Road, the Suburban passed the Hodgdon veterans’ monument, where, if he had the time, Jewett would have found his name engraved amidst those of Civil War veterans. Then he passed the adjacent Hodgdon fire station where, having turned out every truck kept there, firefighters stood at attention as the Suburban went by.
Farther down Jewett saw the Mill Pond School on the right and, a bit farther, Hodgdon Middle-Senior High School on the left. More people — civilians, from their attire — stood here and there along the road to watch Jewett come home.
At the Methodist church, several Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) and about a dozen uniformed members of Companies B and I, 20th Maine Infantry, watched as Mike Edgecomb met Jewett at the Suburban and walked him a few dozen feet to meet Morris Berry of Spruce Head. Berry is a member of the Sons of Union Veterans.
Wearing a Union kepi and a blue suit, Berry took charge of Jewett at this point and escorted him into the church shortly after 1 p.m.
Outside, more people gathered along the Hodgdon Mills Road and respectfully and quietly awaited Jewett’s appearance. Leather-clad motorcyclists held pole-mounted American flags that constantly billowed in the steady breeze.
The air chilled whenever the white, puffy clouds scudded across the late September sun. The air warmed when the sun emerged from behind the clouds. Up at the Hodgdon Cemetery, where other people waited, volunteers had erected two tents, the larger shading rows of chairs and the smaller shading a table and a microphone.
At approximately 1:40 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, Morris Berry of Spruce Head and Pvt. Jewett B. Williams of Hodgdon and Co. H, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, emerged from the Hodgdon United Methodist Church and moved down its front steps. A Union soldier fell into line on Berry’s right and left, and the three men stepped onto the Hodgdon Mills Road in front of the church.
Several minutes passed. Many people photographed Berry and the urn he held. Jewett’s name and affiliation with the 20th Maine were engraved on the wooden urn that now contained his cremains.
Then, from the east, two magnificent brown-and-white horses appeared; drawing a gleaming black carriage attended by three black-clad attendants, the horses stopped opposite Berry and his escorts.
Next: Civil War veteran Jewett Williams receives full military honors in his hometown — Part II
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble.
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He loves hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.