Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pleased to meet you, Jacob

One of the oddities of telecommuting is that, even going into six years of living here, my local roots are still pretty shallow and, for instance, I don't run into a lot of people I know at the grocery store or post office.

I know a few of the neighbors along the walk that Vaska and I take when it's time to stretch his legs and shake the computer cobwebs from my eyes, but, mostly, I just know their houses and have a sense of who fusses over the garden, who likes to work on the car, who has a dog that yaps through a window as we go by.

And the same applies to my neighbors here, whose homes we walk past on a cinder track that's wide enough for cars but limited to pedestrian traffic. (It's also wider than the leash is long, so we both pass by with reverence.)

The cemetery goes back to the town's founding in 1761, and so some of the people there hearken back to colonial days. And, just as I can only speculate on my above-ground neighbors' predilections by looking at their houses and cars, so, too, I can only, for the most part, guess at who these neighbors were in their hour upon the stage.

Sometimes, their stories come from comparing the dates within a family group, seeing the children who predeceased their parents and, while saddened at an infant's death, I'm usually more curious at the death of a 15-year-old: Was she sickly her whole life, or was this one of those tragic pre-antibiotic deaths in which a healthy person is taken sick and then dead within a day or two?

And, while all of it is all vain speculation, I can't, for instance, help but think that, while the life of Submit Porter, wife of Arnold, who died in 1849 at the age of 65, may have been happy enough, it was almost certainly not a barrel of laughs.

On the other hand, there are a large number of women, mostly later in the 19th century, buried under their maiden names, as "wife of" though certainly they took his name in marriage. A curious custom I hadn't heard of and certainly a boon to genealogists.

But the center of intrigue on this walk has always been the lonely grave at the right angle under the trees in the map above.

On the outside of the path, by the fence, an area so narrow that there is but one other grave, a child's tiny headstone, I would pause at the GAR medallion that was its only marker.

He wasn't forgotten, clearly, for they came by each year and marked his lonely veteran's grave.

But was he just a name on the cemetery records? If he had family, wouldn't he be in a family plot, and wouldn't someone, sometime have put a headstone over his grave?

There are, after all, besides the many intact markers, shattered stones throughout the old cemetery, stumps, if nothing more, to show where once the mourners had gathered, and where, on Decoration Day, flowers might have been laid.

Some stones tell the soldier's story, if he were from a family that could afford such things.  Captain James B. Perry fell at Fredericksburg, his headstone says, and a little bit of work on Google fills in more, so that now I even have a picture of him and I know something about the highly decorated, deeply devastated unit in which he served.

And then there is the obilesk that marks the graves of the Lathrop family. On one side, Sluman Lathrop, the paterfamilias and a founder of the town, is remembered not with a GAR medallion but one with the image of a Minuteman, marking his service in the Revolution.

(This is a factor not to be underplayed, given that it was at a reunion of New Hampshire's rebels that the cranky but inspiring old Yankee Cincinnatus, General John Stark, said, "Live free or die, boys. Death is not the worst of evils.")

On the other side, marked with a medallion of the Grand Army of the Republic, lies his son, Major Solon Lathrop, who served in the war, only, the carving tells us, to die of yellow fever in 1867 while stationed in Texas.

But without a marker, that lonely veteran down in the far corner didn't even have a name by which to be remembered, and, though I walked past his GAR Medallion nearly every day, I never passed by without wondering about him, and thinking that, of all sad tales in that neighborhood of the dead, his was perhaps the saddest.

And then a few weeks ago, I saw a stake with a bit of plastic ribbon in the ground at his grave, and, looking around, I saw a few others.

As I got up to his grave, I saw, on the stake in Magic Marker, the name "Jackson." And then, when we came by the next day, I saw that his brothers-in-arms in the American Legion had, indeed, not forgotten him.

At last, not only a name, but more: The 16th Massachusetts, which a little searching places at Gettysburg, and which a little more research places, well, damn near everywhere.

No details, however, and now I'm left to wonder, why did Jacob Jackson die, seven years after the war ended, at only 29?

Maybe there was no connection between his service and his death: You could die of nearly anything back then.

But he died young, even by the standards of those days, and he was buried alone, moreso than we all, of course, must be.

Still, he didn't die forgotten after all, and that makes me smile.

Now when we walk past his place, I can finally greet him by name.

I have spoken of some of the men who were near to me among others very near and dear, not because their lives have become historic, but because their lives are the type of what every soldier has known and seen in his own company. In the great democracy of self-devotion private and general stand side by side. Unmarshalled save by their own deeds, the army of the dead sweep before us, "wearing their wounds like stars." It is not because the men I have mentioned were my friends that I have spoken of them, but, I repeat, because they are types. I speak of those whom I have seen. But you all have known such; you, too, remember! -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Memorial Day 1884


Mike Pride said...

Hi Mike --
Nice post, and thanks for linking to There is a lot more material on my blog about boys from Lebanon and vicinity.

Submit is about the saddest name I have heard of for a woman, although I'm guessing that in the 19th century context it reflected a dominant interpretation of biblical teaching.

Mike said...

Glad you spotted the link. Nice site and I hope people dig deeper there. A lot of stuff to see!

As for Submit, I kind of assume it was "... to the will of God" and not "... to your husband," but, then, that may not have been a particularly clear distinction in a family inclined to hand out names like that.