“Civil War Sailor’s Gravestone – Corrective Action”: Request for Help

Last week I received the following email from long-time visitor Charlene Henderson:

“For the past few months, I’ve been working with Bob Rosati in updating the (Find-A-Grave) memorials (webmaster note: this is the source of the 17th CVI Burial Sites section). While Bob created many memorials, or now maintains them, not all of the 947 memorials fall into these two categories.

As you know, one of the last three members of the 17th Association was Charles A. Jennings. Who died January 15, 1933, nearly at the age of 91, and is buried in Branchville Cemetery, Ridgefield.

Years ago, I found a gravesite with a private gravestone and a Civil War military stone for Charles E. Jennings with the military record for Charles A. Jennings. Charles E. died March 27, 1865 at the age of 17 years. He’s buried a few miles north of Charles A. in New Florida Cemetery.   

The quest: To place a military footstone with the corrected record at the base of the incorrect large upright Civil War stone. However, the Department of Veteran Affairs will not issue a military stone because the gravesite has a privately purchased headstone. Therefore, they consider it marked.

Not willing to give up, I started a GoFundMe page “Civil War Sailor’s Gravestone – Corrective Action” to purchase a military footstone.”

Well, this seemed like a worthy thing to put out to those who visit the site. Here’s the link to the GoFundMe page:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/civil-war-sailor039s-gravestone-corrective-action

And here’s what you need to know:

Needed: $ 25.00 from 52 people or $20.00 from 65 people or $10.00 from 130 people, any amount will help.

Along Rt. 7, just north of Branchville, Connecticut, thousands of commuters pass an old cemetery, unaware of the story that lies within the stonewalls enclosing the old burial ground known as New Florida Cemetery. 

Two headstones, roughly three and a half feet in height, standing one in front of the other, within inches. In the rear, slightly taller, a private headstone. Inscribed in small letters, near the base, “In sacrifice to his country”  words chosen by or suggested to a windowed mother. In front, a military headstone for a Civil War Soldier. Charles E. Jennings had just turned seventeen, four days, before. The date, March 27, 1865. Oh, so very close to the end of the Civil War.

For years, the private headstone stood alone, when and a well-meaning person or group wanted to place the military stone at the gravesite which reads: SGT. CHARLES E. JENNINGS  Co. G 17TH C.V.I.  DIED MAR. 27, 1865 AE. 17.

All would be well and good except the stone is a mismatch of two different people. Charles Edgar Jennings did die on March 27, 1865, on board the U.S.S. Massachusetts, in Philadelphia Navel Yard, four days after his 17th birthday. He was a Landsman in the U.S. Navy.

Charles Augustus Jennings, Sergeant Co. G, 17th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, died January 15, 1933, at the age of 90 years, 10 months, 15 days. He’s buried in Branchville Cemetery, a few miles south of New Florida Cemetery, both cemeteries are in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Each person has memorials on Find A Grave, Jack Saunders, a retired newspaper editor and Ridgefield historian, maintains the memorial for Charles E. Jennings. Together, we sought to have a flat corrected military footstone placed at the base of the upright military stone.

Jack contacted Donna Barber, the sexton of St. Mary’s Cemetery. She graciously offered the services of St. Mary’s grounds crew for all necessary work needed at the gravesite. With all aspects coordinated, the last part of the project, apply to the Department of Veteran Affairs for a footstone.

The application was denied because a privately purchased stone marks the gravesite. The Department of Veteran Affairs, by law, can only issue a “second marker” if the veteran died on or after November 1, 1990. If the gravesite were unmarked, a military stone would have been issued, anywhere in the world, at no cost.     

The purpose of this Go Fund Me campaign is to place a military regulation styled footstone, at the base of the incorrect military headstone. Charles E. Jennings gave his life for his country. Shouldn’t a military stone give the correct details of service?

For Charles E. Jennings on Find A Grave: 

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/36399790/charles-edgar-jennings

For Charles A. Jennings on Find A Grave:

https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/68917217/charles-augustus-jennings

20 years!

Hard to believe, but this is the 20th anniversary of the 17th CVI website. It’s come pretty far from its humble beginnings as a free AT&T WorldNet website. Thank you to all those folks who have contributed their time, effort and information for everyone who has an interest in honoring those who served.

This is also the 130th anniversary of the dedication of the 17th CVI monument on East Cemetery Hill (a couple of months and a couple of days early, to be exact). I’ll be in Gettysburg for a few days this week showing my son-in-law the battlefield, of course spending extra time with the 17th CVI.

The October 1889 dedication of the 17th CVI monument on East Cemetery Hill

A new image and a question

A few months ago I received an email from a visitor to the site who was the great-great-grandson of Marcus Comstock, Company A. He had a hardcover copy of Benson J. Lossing’s A History of the Civil War. This copy was issued by the War Memorial Association in New York in 1912 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Civil War.

Hand colored postwar image of Marcus Comstock, Company A.

On the inside cover is a hand-colored image of Comstock (post-war). I’ve seen 3 of these now – some have post-war images, one has a war-time image, all hand-colored. The majority of this set seems to be found in the original, 16-part softcover set that seems to have been issued on a weekly basis. I’m guessing that it was through a subscription since the Catalogue of Copyright Entries issued by the Library of Congress in 1913 shows these parts being issued each week during summer 1912.

Hardcover “A History of the Civil War” by Benson J. Lossing, published by the War Memorial Association, 1912.

So here’s the question, for anyone who might read this and be able to shed light on it: is it possible that these hardcover copies with the hand-colored and lettered images inside the front cover were done as part of a subscription/sales effort to increase the sale of the bound version? It makes sense – if I were a veteran of the war or the relative of one, this would make the book that much more interesting to me.

If you know, leave a comment. Thanks to Ed Comstock for sharing it with me.

New Image Added

A new image has been added to the Rank and File section. A post-war image of Jacob Krieg (who is listed on the rolls of Company B as Jacob Kreig) was provided by descendant Phillip Dwigans.

Krieg listed his age at enlistment as 44 years old, but later census records make it more likely that he was about 52 when he enlisted. His government gravestone lists his age when he died as 87 years old – in 1897. This would make Krieg one of the oldest enlistees in the regiment. He served until he was transferred to the VRC due to disability in 1864. Krieg stated that he had been wounded at Chancellorsville upon his admittance to the New York State Soldier’s and Sailor’s Home in Bath, NY but there is no official record of that being the case.

This is a marker commemorating the Civil War service of Jacob Krieg's 3 sons, erected by their sister.
Marker in Hillside Cemetery, Cortlandt Manor, NY commemorating the CW service of Jacob Krieg’s 3 sons

Krieg’s 3 sons also served in the military during the war – something that is memorialized on a grave marker in Hillside Cemetery, Cortlandt Manor, NY by his daughter Mary. Krieg is mentioned in the Stamford Soldier’s Memorial as one of those citizens who gave addresses at a rally for the Union a week after Fort Sumter. It would appear that he went the extra yard and enlisted himself the following summer.

“Honest Mike” Cahill

One of the more interesting stories of the 17th Connecticut surrounds Elias Howe, Jr. – he of sewing machine fame, whose service in the regiment was told in this blog in July 2015 (Elias Howe, Jr. and the 17th).

In September and October 1867 several newspapers across the country printed a story telling of Howe’s enlistment in the regiment. A highlight of the story is the subsequent enrollment of his coachman, one Michael Cahill. According to these accounts, Cahill was so moved by his employer’s enlistment that he put his name down as well:

The next incident that occurred was one in which the comic and pathetic were blended. The coachman who had driven Mr. Howe’s carriage that evening, attracted by the continual cheers within the hall, had hired a boy to hold his horses, and had entered the building to witness the proceedings. He was a warm hearted Irishman, named Michael Cahill, past the age of military service as defined by law. Upon hearing his employer’s speech, he rushed forward, and clambering upon platform, cried out: “Put down my name, too! I can’t bear to have the old man go alone.”

So down went the name of Michael Cahill, coachman, next to that of Elias Howe. Laughter and cheers, mingled in about equal proportions, followed the announcement of “Mike’s” intentions. – Other names came in with great rapidity.

Later in the account, it is said that after completing his term of service in the 17th, “’Honest ‘Mike’…went to his old home and has advanced from driving Mr. Howe’s carriage to driving his own horse and cart, which he is still doing.”

This is such an interesting story that it begs the question – who was “Honest” Mike Cahill?

A search of the original muster rolls of the 17th finds only one Michael Cahill, age 45, and occupation listed as farmer, who enlisted in Company K on August 9, 1862. The service with the regiment for this Michael Cahill ended when he was discharged due to disability a year later in August 1863.

A search of the US Census Records finds several Michael Cahill’s. While no Michael Cahill can be found residing in Fairfield or Bridgeport in the 1860 census, there is only one who lived in the Bridgeport area in later census years (namely the 1870 and 1880 census). Let’s assume for the purposes of this exercise that “Honest Mike,” working as he did for Elias Howe, resided in Bridgeport, with that city also being a good guess since Company K was made up primarily from residents of Bridgeport and Fairfield.

A check of the 1870 census finds a Michael Cahill, born about 1822, living in Bridgeport and listing his occupation as “drives team.” In 1880 he is still in Bridgeport and is now occupied as a “cartman,” which among other things is someone who hauls goods. In 1884 this same Michael Cahill applied for an Invalid Pension, and one of the contributors to the 17th CVI monument on Barlow’s Knoll was Michael Cahill of Bridgeport. Those census records show his wife’s name as Bridget, and both Michael and Bridget are buried in St. Augustine Cemetery in Bridgeport, CT (this cemetery has an interesting story as well, click here to read about the restoration of this forgotten and neglected cemetery). His gravestone (put up by his grandchildren according to the inscription on the stone) offers no clue to his Civil War service.

Is this, then, the “Honest” Mike of the story? Or is this just a good story put forth in the style of the 19th century press to enliven the story of Elias Howe, Jr.? A look at Cahill’s pension file would offer some clues here.  Perhaps someone knows more about the Michael Cahill/Elias Howe/17th CVI connection but for now the story of old “Honest Mike” Cahill remains something of a mystery.