Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Two Green-Wood Cemetery Civil War Stories

I'd like to tell you about some of the special Civil War soldiers interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, whom I learned about through my volunteer work for the Civil War Project.
One was but a child, and the other almost had his legacy of letters and mementos lost in the trash in California!

The Little Drummer Boy

Clarence David McKenzie, the Little Drummer Boy, was born on February 18,1849 and enlisted at age 11 in the drum corps of the Thirteenth Regiment, New York State Militia, in July 1860.

From the book, Final Camping Ground: Civil War Veterans At Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery In Their Own Words:

Clarence went to war over his mother's objections; she was convinced that, once he marched to the front, she never again would see him alive.

But Clarence, who loved her dearly, had reassured her: "Oh no! no! mother," he would say: "I am only a little boy--they will not want to shoot me."

On April 22, 1861, when the first Brooklyn troops marched off to the Civil War, twelve-year-old Clarence helped to beat the march cadence for his regiment on his drum.

On June 11, 1861, as Clarence was sitting on the floor of his barracks in Annapolis, Maryland, another drummer boy, William McCormick, was practicing the manual of arms of "charging bayonets" and the hammer of the gun caught in his belt. The gun went off and the ball went through the barracks wall and hit Clarence in his back. He died a few hours later and was Brooklyn's first casualty of the Civil War. His body was brought to Green-Wood Cemetery and was buried in a public lot under a simple wooden sign that said "Little Drummer Boy" as his only memorial.

In 1878, Effie Brower wrote a poignant plea for a more proper memorial for Clarence so that he not be forgotten, and soon afterward his remains were moved to the Soldier's Lot, which Green-Wood had donated for the burial of Civil War veterans. Money was raised, and on Thanksgiving Day of 1886 a life-size figure, cast in zinc, of Clarence, dressed in his uniform, standing at parade rest with his drum, was dedicated to honor him.
His gravestone stands high on the hill surrounded by graves of soldiers killed in battle, and of veterans of the Civil War.

Samuel H. Sims -- and a fortunate discovery!

Photo courtesy Green-Wood Historic Fund

In April of 1861, Samuel H Sims (1828 - 1864) enlisted in the 13th New York State Militia as a second lieutenant. After serving three months with the 13th, he was discharged, then re-enlisted as a private in the 51st New York Volunteers and was soon promoted to captain of Company G.

Sims was in command of the 51st during its attack on Confederate fortifications at the Crater, Petersburg, Virginia, on July 30, 1864. He was killed in battle while heroically leading his men.

Sims was interred at Green-Wood Cemetery on August 17, 1864. He left behind his fiancee, Caroline Eliza (Carrie) Dayton. Carrie Dayton never married and kept a large collection of the letters Sims had sent to her and other mementos he had passed on to her. She died in 1911. Other letters written by Sims to his sister Lucretia during the Civil War, along with his commissions and drawings, were passed down in his family until the family line ended with the last descendant.

In 1993 charities inherited the estate of this last descendant, and Sim's papers were thrown into the garbage! Fortunately, they were rescued from the trash bins outside the California house by a woman who recognized them as antique documents. Many of the documents were purchased by the great nephew of Carrie Dayton, Stuart MacPherson, who had inherited his great aunt's collection of Sim's mementos.
The Green-Wood Historic Fund has acquired the MacPherson collection of Sim's mementos, and they will never again be in danger of being lost or destroyed.
Captain Samuel H. Sim's gravestone lists the many battles he fought in during the Civil War.

Photo by Brian Rose 2007

There are many more fascinating stories about soldiers from the Civil War interred in Green-Wood Cemetery, including the first general to be killed in combat, a Confederate, Robert Selden Garnett.
Also, Captain William Wheeler, a lawyer who was educated in Yale, Harvard, and the University of Berlin. His eloquent letters written during the Civil War were published in 1875.
Another is General George Crockett Strong, who led the famed 54th Massachusetts infantry made up of African Americans that fought valiantly on the 1863 attack on Fort Wagner which was memorialized in the 1989 movie Glory.

We are honored to remember all these brave men!
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Lisa's RetroStyle said...

I can't imagine letting an 11 year old go to the mall alone these days. It's so strange to think of letting a child go to war. Actually, I have trouble thinking of letting any loved one go to war.

Vee said...

Your posts just amaze me. You select the most fascinating things to share...I suppose that there are so many stories from the Green-Wood Cemetery that it must be hard to choose.

The story of the Little Drummer Boy...just have never heard it and how sad, sad, sad. Those days were so very different. As bad as things get today, we don't worry about the country splitting in two.

And oh I smiled to read that the letters were rescued. What a horrible loss that would have been. I suppose that such losses go on daily...

Thanks, Pat, for your scholarship!

Mrs. B said...

Pat, you never cease to amaze me! This was another wonderful and educational post. I am so sad for poor little Clarence. And it makes you wonder how many other important stories have been thrown away. I can't believe anyone would do that! Thanks for sharing this with us!

Rue said...

Hi Pat :)

The story of the little drummer boy is so sad. Isn't it strange how much times have changed. Now a boy isn't a man until he's 18 and back then it wasn't odd to send a child into war. Amazing.

I often think about all the papers that must be thrown away. I've been researching ancestors for years with nothing to go on but names. I'm stuck on quite a few and wonder if someone threw their things away too. How wonderful that those papers were saved by chance.

Thank you for telling about these brave men. You do it so well :)

rue :)

Tess Kincaid said...

I have been researching my husband's family over the last several years. His gg grandfather's Civil War file from the National Archives was over 80 pages...a treasure trove of info. I have been mesmerized by the Civil War lately. Great post!