A cross-country trip from Oregon ended Monday as Civil War veteran Jewett Williams’ remains returned home to Maine.
For 22 days, volunteer Patriot Guard Riders from across the country accompanied Williams’ ashes from state to state. At each state border, they handed off a wooden box containing the copper urn that contain the ashes, a framed photo of Williams and several American flags.
On Sunday, Patriot Guard Riders walked 1,200 feet across the Portsmouth bridge above the Piscataqua River that separates New Hampshire from Maine. Dozens of people gathered for a ceremony at John Paul Jones Memorial Park in Kittery, Maine, WMTW-TV reported.
“This son of Maine is back on his home state soil. Maine soil ... the state he fought under as an American soldier,” Christabell Rose, director of the Maine Living History Association, wrote on her Facebook page.
During the trek through 19 states — including Idaho — two distant cousins of Williams came forward and asked that the soldier be buried next to his parents, Jared and Rosaline Williams, in a family plot in their hometown of Hodgdon, Maine. The small farming town where his parents were raised is just west of the U.S. border with Canada.
Adria Horn, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans Services, told the Bangor Daily News the state was happy to comply with the family’s request.
When Williams’ journey began in Salem, researchers had been unable to identify any living family members. The state of Maine had planned to bury the ashes at the Togus National Cemetery in Chelsea, Maine, 6 miles east of Augusta, the state capital.
It was to take place during the 150th anniversary celebration for the adjacent Togus VA Medical Center, the oldest Veterans Affairs hospital in the nation. There will still be a ceremony honoring Williams on Sept. 17, during the anniversary celebration. Then his remains will be transported to Hodgdon, 200 miles northeast of the national cemetery.
The ashes, accompanied by nearly 50 motorcycles and other escort vehicles, arrived Monday afternoon at the Togus medical center, where a ceremony was held to officially return the remains to his home state.
Some Maine Patriot Guard Riders were upset by the announcement that Williams’ remains will not be buried at the national cemetery.
“I think it’s terrible,” Bangor resident Bob LaBrie told the Bangor Daily News, referring to Williams being buried in Hodgdon rather than at Togus.
The plan was for Williams’ remains to be buried in the same cemetery as five fellow members of Company H of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment.
“He was very proud of being a soldier,” Rose told the Daily News. “That’s why it would be very appropriate for him to be laid to rest with his brothers-at-arms. With his military family.”
Dario Bell, who as captain of the Idaho Patriot Guard Riders arranged for the transport of Williams ashes through Idaho, said he is glad that family members were identified.
“Personally, I am glad that members of his family want him to be laid to rest with some of his relatives,” Bell told the Statesman.
FORGOTTEN IN A BASEMENT ROOM
Williams was admitted to the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane in Salem. Records indicate he was admitted to the hospital for senility. He died there three months later, at age 78.
His remains, stored for 94 years, were among 3,600 found in copper urns in 2004 in what was dubbed the “Room of Forgotten Souls,” located in the basement of the hospital. Roseburg, Ore., researcher Phyllis Zegers discovered Williams’ role as an Army private in the Civil War.
At age 21, Williams enlisted in Company H of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He came from Hodgdon, Maine, a small farming town just west of the U.S. border with New Brunswick, Canada, where his parents were raised.
After Williams joined, the regiment took part in three battles near Petersburg, Va., in late 1864 and early 1865.
Jewett shared a tent with his cousin, Albert Williams, who in a letter reflecting his rudimentary education, described long marches in bad weather and sleeping in the open, according to a family history published online in 2005 by Barbara Ann Estabrook, the Associated Press reported. Albert also described a scorched-earth campaign.
“i didnt have a chance to get a shot at a reb when we on the rode but i made the Cattle and Sheep and hogs suffer. You bet we killed every thing that we see and burnt every thing as we went,” Albert Williams wrote on Dec. 18, 1864, less than four months before he died of fever at age 21.
The 20th Maine also took part in Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s April 9, 1865, surrender at the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean in the rural town of Appomattox Court House, Va., and later marched to Washington, D.C., where a military procession and celebration dubbed the Grand Review of the Armies took place on May 23 and 24, 1865.
After the war, Williams became a carpenter. In the 1880s he lived in Brainerd, Minn., with his second wife, Nora Carey, according to census records researched by Phyllis Zegers of Roseburg, Ore., a volunteer with the Oregon State Hospital genealogy project.
The Williamses later moved to the Tacoma area in what was then Washington Territory. Williams also lived in Everett, Wash., before moving to Portland by 1903.
Zegers found newspaper references that Williams spoke at schools in the Portland area between 1914 and 1919. In the 1920 census, the Portland resident was listed as a widower.