Memorial Day, 2021

This is a revised and updated version of a post that originally appeared here on May 25, 2020. Please be sure to read the Notes & Updates, below, for new information.

Lest We Forget

Graves of Unknown Union Soldiers, Memphis National Cemetery, photo by Clayton B. Fraser, (Library of Congress), public domain. Memphis National Cemetery is the final resting place of Mequon’s Watson Peter Woodworth, and almost 14,000 of his Union Army comrades.

As we begin to recover1 from the worst pandemic in a century, a quick glance at the news will show that many Americans are celebrating this “Memorial Day Weekend” 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 (1881) lists these 65 volunteers from Mequon:

Mequon’s Civil War Veterans

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

After listing 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 Jonathan and Mary Clark that enlisted elsewhere or were drafted include2:

  • 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.3

Watson Peter Woodworth

Watson P. Woodworth was one of the first white children born in Washington (later Ozaukee) county. His parents, Nova Scotian immigrants—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 (1847-1930).

Watson lived through his unit’s early skirmishes and guard assignments, 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 Rev. Woodworth 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.

More than a “holiday”

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 P. 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.


NOTES & UPDATES, May 30, 2021:

  1. Things are indeed getting better with the Covid-19 pandemic, but we still have a way to go yet. Please be kind and do what you can to protect yourself, your neighbors, and your community.

  2. Jonathan and Mary (Turck) Clark’s children were part of the generation that made up the majority of the Civil War’s soldiers and sailors. The war had a profound impact on that generation, including members of the Clark family. Daughter Persie A. Clark married an injured and seriously disfigured veteran, Henry D. Gardner, in 1872; they lived a long and apparently happy and adventurous life together. Persie’s younger sister, Laura M. Clark, married second husband Sydney T. Wentworth, a four-year veteran of Co. K, 8th regiment Wisconsin Infantry, in 1883. This marriage was a disaster, leading to a very public divorce in 1886, and the disappearance of Laura M. (Clark) Wentworth from the historical record.

    Jonathan M. and Mary (Turck) Clark’s only son, Henry M. Clark (1843-1866) may have served in the Civil War. He did register for the draft in 1863, and we have a mysterious handwritten note on a scrap of mid-20th-century stationery that states “Henry M. Clark born Feb. 21, 1843 in Ozaukee Co. served thruout war as carpenter with master of bridge construction. Went ahead of soldiers with sharp shooters and built bridges. Was with Sherman on march to sea. Let out in 1865. Contracted dysentery in south and died April 21, 1866 @ Milwaukee” Is any of this information about Henry’s possible military service true? It’s not impossible, but it’s certainly not yet proven. I’ll have more on this in future posts.

    Also missing from the list of Mequon veterans in the History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties (1881) are two of the sons and one son-in-law of early Mequon settlers Cyrus Clark and his wife Sarah A. Strickland. Since last year we have learned—and written—a lot about Cyrus, Sarah, and their family. (Reminder: Cyrus Clark was born and raised in Massachusetts and is not believed to be related to Jonathan M. Clark.) For the best overview—including photographs of Sarah and Cyrus in later life—start with their family timeline at Sarah and Cyrus: part 3.

    In June, 1863, Cyrus and Sarah’s son [Albert] Byron Clark registered for the Civil War draft, as required by law. It appears he was not called up for service immediately. On March 19, 1864, Byron’s younger brother Charles E. Clark enlisted as Corporal, Co. C, 37th regiment Wisconsin Infantry. And on March 24, 1864, Albert Byron Clark and his brother-in-law, Francis H. Rasey (both of Moscow, Wisconsin), enlisted as Privates in the same Co. C, 37th Wis. Inf.

    Less than three months later, June 17, 1864, two of Cyrus and Sarah (Strickland) Clark’s family members were wounded in the Second Battle of Petersburg: son Charles E. Clark, and son Byron’s brother-in-law, Francis H. Rasey. Private Francis Rasey died of his wounds later that day (or early on June 18, sources differ). He left a young widow and an infant daughter to mourn him. Francis Rasey was buried near the battlefield in Poplar Grove National Cemetery.

    One month later, July 17, 1864, Cyrus and Sarah Clark’s son, Corporal Charles E. Clark died of his wounds at the army hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania. He was originally buried in Sec. 22, Chester Rural Cemetery, Delaware Co., Pennsylvania. His grave may have been moved later; Wikipedia notes that “[m]any of the soldier’s graves were moved to Philadelphia National Cemetery in Philadelphia in 1891.”

  3. Watson Peter Woodworth does appear in the roster of Mequon’s Civil War veterans, page 497, of the History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties (1881). He is listed with the Second Cavalry’s Co. I, as “Peter Woodworth.”

7 thoughts on “Memorial Day, 2021

  1. As usual, a very thorough posting and full of local names, interest. And mysteries, especially Henry Clark. We are so lucky to have you on his radar, Reed.


    • Thanks, Liz.

      I think I’m about ready to share what we do—and still don’t–know about Jonathan and Mary Clark’s only son, Henry, and his possible Civil War service. I’ve got one or two short (?) posts left in our Infrastructure! series and then I’ll have a series of posts on Henry. Stay tuned…


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