The clop-clop-clop of horses’ hooves alerted Pvt. Jewett B. Williams of Hodgdon and Co. H, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment that his waiting was over on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016.
About 1½ centuries since leaving his hometown and 94 years since dying in Oregon, Jewett was ready to come home for good — and the folks who had organized his funeral in Hodgdon ensured that Jewett rode in style to his final resting place.
Drawn by two splendid brown-and-white horses, a gleaming black carriage manned by three black-clad attendants stopped opposite the Hodgdon United Methodist Church on the Hodgdon Mills Road. Jewett had waited outside the church for about five minutes with Morris Berry, a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, plus two Union soldiers from Co. B, 20th Maine Infantry.
Jewett was here because the urn containing his cremains had been discovered at the Oregon State Hospital in 2004 and transported from Oregon to Maine by the Patriot Guard Riders in August 2016. The discovery of two elderly fourth cousins living in Hodgdon led state officials to approve his burial there rather than at Togus National Cemetery near Augusta.
As a lot of people watched outside Hodgdon UMC, Roderic Williams and other distant relatives of Jewett Williams crossed Hodgdon Mills Road and, after an attendant placed a black metal step beside the carriage’s open door, climbed inside.
Once all were seated, Berry passed Jewett’s urn to Rod Williams.
The driver flicked the reins, and the horses stepped forward. As the carriage rolled toward Walker Road, re-enactors from Companies B and I of the 20th Maine formed an honor guard and followed. Behind them came six Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) and many Patriot Guard Riders and other motorcyclists who had accompanied Jewett on his final trip to Hodgdon.
American flags furled and unfurled in the steady northeast breeze as the carriage turned onto the Walker Road and moved uphill to the Hodgdon Cemetery. An officer quietly called cadence as the re-enactors’ honor guard marched up the road; looking south from the cemetery, people could see a sea of American flags rising above the furled colors of the 20th Maine and SUVCW members.
The carriage and Jewett’s escorts all turned into the cemetery, where a larger tent sheltered people wishing to sit and a smaller tent shaded a table, lectern, and microphone. The carriage stopped beside Jewett’s grave; he would be buried next to his parents and an unnamed infant sister.
Stepping to the microphone, Addie Carter sang Amazing Grace. The Williamses alighted from the carriage and joined Eugene Jackins (another fourth cousin of Jewett’s) in the front row. Then Pastor Robert Smith of the Hodgdon United Baptist Church delivered the invocation and a eulogy drawing upon biblical parables.
“The lost sheep and lost coin were found,” and “there was rejoicing,” said Smith. Describing Jewett as a “lost son” (a reference to Jesus’ parable about the prodigal son) he observed that “today there will be a celebration” as Jewett returned home.
Next came a Maine Patriot Guard Riders’ wreath-laying at Jewett’s headstone, and then PGR State Captain Mike Edgecomb talked about the volunteer effort to bring Jewett home. The American and 20th Maine Infantry flags carried across the United States by motorcycle were “slightly tattered,” and “some of the riders are kind of tattered as well” from the long ride, he said.
Gazing around the cemetery, what did Jewett think as the quartet “Just A Ride” sang Find the Cost of Freedom and six members of the SUVCW conducted an 1873 Grand Army of the Republic funeral service? Active in GAR affairs in the Pacific Northwest, Jewett was probably familiar with the verbal ebb and flow of the service.
Jewett watched as the 20th Maine Infantry re-enactors fired three volleys to initiate the full military honors due him. Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham, the Maine adjutant general, stepped to the microphone beside Jewett and described how Mainers “go to incredible lengths to honor the veterans.”
Thanking by name many people who played key roles in bringing Jewett home, Farnham noted that Jewett, who fought with the 20th Maine during the 1865 Appomattox Campaign, “was a witness to a pivotal time in our history.”
The honor guard from Chester L. Briggs Post No. 47, American Legion, fired three volleys; Post 47 adjutant Gerald Riley drew many tears from onlookers as he played “Taps” from a position slightly uphill from Jewett.
Then the travel-weary Hodgdon native watched as two immaculately uniformed Maine Army Guardsmen carefully conducted a flag-folding ceremony. Sensing his funeral was ending, Jewett listened as Post 47 chaplain Peter Roach prayed.
Picking up the flag folded by the Guardsmen, Farnham respectfully presented it to Eugene Jackins. Rod Williams stood as Farnham approached him with a second folded American flag; Jackins and Williams accepted both the tri-colored recognition of Jewett’s service and the salute that Farnham gave each man.
Pastor Smith delivered the benediction. Mary Fahl sang the moving Going Home, written from the viewpoint of someone going where “Mother’s there expecting me, Father’s waiting, too, Lots of folks gathered there, All the friends I knew.”
I wondered if the emotional refrains caused Jewett to tear up, because more than a few fingers or handkerchiefs went to moist eyes in the crowd.
Then a young man invited people to come by and meet Jewett. I can only imagine his thoughts as men, women, and youngsters filed quietly through the small tent. They photographed Jewett’s urn, and at least several people patted or rubbed its top.
Onlookers and funeral participants soon dispersed. Many people went to a reception at Mill Pond School in Hodgdon; a few people lingered to wrap up the post-funeral necessities.
I stepped into the smaller tent and photographed the urn a last time. Then it was time to say “good-bye” to Jewett Williams.
The catalyst for the funeral was Tanya Marshall Pasquarelli, a Hodgdon native who worked with many other people to organize all aspects of the funeral service. The volunteers who spruced up the cemetery, prepared and served refreshments at the post-funeral reception, participated in the service, or transported Jewett from Appomattox Court House to Hodgdon: to all them, we owe a special “thank you.”
And to Jewett Williams, I extend a hearty “thank you for helping save the country.”
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.