Memorial Day 2020

Lest We Forget

Graves of Unknown Union Soldiers, Memphis National Cemetery,

In spite of the worst pandemic in a century, a quick glance at the news will show that many Americans are celebrating this Memorial Day in our now usual way, as “the first day of summer.” Beaches and parks are open, stores entice customers with deals and sales, and people are crowding shoulder to shoulder in swimming pools and along ocean boardwalks.

But for many of us, Memorial Day remains rooted in its origins as Decoration Day. The first national observance was in 1868, when retired general John A. Logan, commander and chief of the Grand Army of the Republic—the Union veterans’ organization—issued his General Order Number 11, designating May 30 as a memorial day “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

This Memorial Day, let’s remember those Clark House family, friends and Mequon neighbors who served in the Civil War, and what they fought—and died—for. The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties of 1881 lists these 65 volunteers from Mequon:

History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, Wisconsin […], Western Historical Co., Chicago, 1881. page 497 (detail). Click to open larger image in new window.

After listing all the men that served from all the towns in the county, the book notes “This does not include the [Ozaukee] men who were drafted, or those who enlisted under recruiting officers in the cities of Milwaukee and Chicago. As has been before stated, many of the young men, on being opposed by their parents, would leave the county and go to other towns, where they could enlist without opposition; if these were credited to Ozaukee County, the list would be increased at least fifty.

Family and friends of the Clark’s that enlisted elsewhere or were drafted include:

  • Benjamin Turck (1839-1926), youngest brother of Mary Clark. Served 2 years, 9 months as Private, 10th Independent Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery. He survived the war and filed for a Civil War invalid’s pension in 1905.
  • Evander Bonniwell (1847-1930), son of neighbors James and Phebe (Capes) Bonniwell. Private, Co. I, 2nd Regt., Wisconsin Cavalry (Bugler). He enlisted at age 14, served four years as bugler.
  • Watson Peter Woodworth (1839-1863). Private, Co. I, 2nd Regt., Wisconsin Cavalry.

Watson P. Woodworth was one of the first white children born in Washington (later Ozaukee) county. His parents—James W. Woodworth and Mary Cerena Loomer—were the first couple to marry in the county, on March 1, 1838. Mary Turck Clark’s father, Peter Turck performed the ceremony.

When the war came, Rev. Woodworth was reluctant to let his eldest child join the army, but eventually relented and gave his blessing. Watson enlisted on November 1, 1861. James Woodworth was relieved that Watson was able to serve in the same cavalry company as their young friend Evander Bonniwell. Their unit, the second regiment of Wisconsin cavalry saw action, but both Evander and Watson survived.

Watson lived through the fighting but not—as was so often the case in the Civil War—camp life. Shortly before May 22, 1863, Watson took ill and reported to the camp hospital. Evander Bonniwell was there, and wrote to Watson’s father: “He expected to die from the commencement of his sickness, and appeared to be perfectly reconciled to it.” Given his deep religious faith, this gave James some comfort, but he was still devastated when he received the news of Watson’s death. In his diary he wrote “May 31. Our house has been made a place of weeping. O, the heavy tidings have reached us that our beloved son and brother has departed; God help us to bear this.

So on this, and every Memorial Day, let us remember the sacrifice of the men and women that have served our country and paid the ultimate price. And let us remember what Watson Woodworth and his comrades died for. As Rev. Woodworth noted in his diary for February 10, 1862, “O God, save our beloved country in her troubles. O bring the crafty counsels of the wicked to naught, and purge our country from the sum of all villainies, (slavery,) […]

Watson Peter Woodworth died on May 22, 1863, in a military hospital at Memphis, Tennessee. He was buried in the Wisconsin section of the Mississippi River National Cemetery, now the Memphis National Cemetery, Tennessee, grave number 1778. The cemetery is also the final resting place of 8,866 unknown Civil War soldiers, a portion of whom are represented in the photograph at the top of this post. Altogether, almost 14,000 members of 537 Civil War regiments are interred at Memphis National Cemetery.