Dedham’s Ultimate Sacrifice: The Civil War Dead

Old Village Cemetery Civil War Memorial

Old Village Cemetery Monument for the 64 men who had died in training at Camp Meigs.

In 1866 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts placed a monument on a large plot that it had purchased in the Old Village Cemetery for the 64 men who had died in training at Camp Meigs. Among these were men from the three African American regiments from the State. Causes of death ranged from drownings to Smallpox and other diseases of the age. While we know that some of the trainees were buried in the plot, we do not know who or how many because many of the men were buried privately by their families, and others were buried initially at Camp Meigs and later moved to the OVC where their wooden crosses were removed and discarded when the State re-graded the plot in 1892.

Brookdale Cemetery Obelisk

In Dedham’s Brookdale Cemetery lie the remains of 14 veterans of the Civil War in a plot maintained by the Grand Army of the Republic Post (Charles W. Carroll Post 144). In 1880, the Post erected a monument of “rough cut” Dedham Granite to the fallen. Upon this obelisk is inscribed, “Erected in 1880 as a monument to the loyal soldiers and sailors of Dedham, who served in the war of the rebellion 1861-1865. Many of whom died, and rest, in unknown graves and dying broke the bondman’s chain and made the slave a man.”

The Tablets

The Tablets are prominently displayed in the new Town Hall; Photo by Nancy Baker, Town Manager

On September 29, 1868, a tableau to Dedham’s 47 Civil War dead was commemorated in the brand-new Memorial Hall, Dedham’s Town Hall for 94 years. The key tablet states, “The Town of Dedham has caused to be inscribed upon these tablets the names of her Sons who fell representing her in defense of the Union in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865, and in whose honor she has erected this Hall.” Among the dead was Charles W. Carroll for whom Post 144 is named. When Memorial Hall, which stood on the site of the Dedham Police Station, was demolished in 1962, the tablets were relocated to the Bryant Street Town Hall, and are now prominently displayed outside of the O’Brien Meeting Room on the 3rd floor of the new Town Hall on Washington Street.

The Fighting 55th

Less well known than the famous African American 54th Regiment under the command of abolitionist Robert Gould Shaw, the 55th Regiment was the second of three African American Regiments from Massachusetts that saw service in the Civil War. When the 54th rapidly became fully subscribed by free Blacks, Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew in 1863 authorized the formation of a sister regiment, the 55th. Both regiments trained at Camp Meigs in Dedham, the largest of Massachusetts’ camps, and saw service together during the war, most notably at the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina in November 1864. e 55th also distinguished itself at the Battle of Olustee in February of 1864 during the invasion of Florida under General Truman Seymour, and at battles for James Island in South Carolina in May and July of the same year. In February of 1865, Union troops, including the 55th, under General William Tecumseh Sherman, entered Charleston, SC, where the war had begun, to the “welcoming cheers of newly freed men, women, and children.”

The 55th was officially marshaled out of service in September of 1865. In 1866 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts placed a monument on a large plot that it had purchased in the Old Village Cemetery for the 64 men who had died in training at Camp Meigs. Among these were men from the 54th and 55th Regiments.

Cecil B. DeBride

We are happy and relieved to welcome back celebrated Dedham cinematographer, Jim Bride, after a lengthy touch and go battle with Covid-19. Jim’s latest video is an informative tour of the progress and prospects for the Old Village Cemetery with Marie-Louise Kehoe, former State Representative and Dedham Selectman.

Marie-Louise and Jim visit the Cemetery and discuss her dream to resurrect it from years of deterioration, and the team she has assembled to help her accomplish the daunting effort of restoring a 17th century Colonial cemetery. You can view the video on You Tube, and on Dedham TV, Channel 40, and in its entirety below.

Look for future videos by Jim as he chronicles the ongoing restoration of one of Dedham’s most important historic landmarks.

Fall 2020 Cemetery Update

I hope that you have had the opportunity to walk past the Old Village Cemetery over the Summer and Fall and have observed the wondrous transformation that Joe Flanagan and his crew have wrought in this ancient and historic place that features so prominently in Dedham history.

The bier path has a splendid new gravel surface (that still needs a few tweaks) extending from the beautifully restored main gate, the handiwork of Bob Gillette and Stephen Black of the Dedham DPW, past the replicated ironwork of the Richard’s plot, to the no. 10 crypt, containing the remains of Elihu Onion, one of 104 Revolutionary War Veterans buried or cenotaphed in the OVC. David Ray and Kevin Duffy continue to scrub away the dirt and grime of centuries from stones marking the remains of ancient Dedham families. Additionally, they have been able to recover lost stones from deep underground and return them to their original bases.

If you have visited St. Paul’s enticing new kid-centric playground, you will see that the children have safe passage via a path bordered by appropriate new trees and plantings, a cooperative effort by the Church, the DPW, and the DVPA, Inc.

Sadly, the second Halloween Gala Fundraiser, scheduled for this October, has been cancelled because we want to keep our revelers safe, and, it did not seem appropriate at a time when everyone is struggling. Last year’s gala was a fun evening and we look forward to putting another good scare into Dedham next Halloween. In the meantime, we are working on a matching grant fund raiser, made possible by generous benefactors, that we hope will appeal to end of the year donors.

This year has seen the Halvorsan Design Partnership Plan of 2018 for the OVC begin to come to life on schedule despite a very difficult year for everyone. We are grateful to the many workers and volunteers who have made this possible, and to our loyal supporters, and, as the season ends, we are already excited about plans for 2021.

Video: Old Village Cemetery – A Brief History – 2017-2020

Matching Gifts for the Old Village Cemetery

Marie Louise Kehoe, Chairman of the Dedham Old Village Cemetery Restoration Committee, is pleased to announce that the Dedham Village Preservation Association, Inc. is offering a $5,000 matching gift program through the end of 2020 for the benefit of the Restoration Fund. The offer has been made possible by generous supporters who wish to give end of the year donors an opportunity to double their gifts.

The landmark Old Village Cemetery, established in 1637 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the most significant Colonial Cemeteries in America, and among Dedham’s most visited historic sites.

Mrs. Kehoe and her Committee have pledged to raise $1 million over 4 years to address serious deterioration of the Cemetery. Restoration and preservation of the site has been ongoing since 2017 by the Dedham DPW, guided by a Design Plan developed by the Halvorsan Design Partnership, with major improvements completed or in progress.

To donate, please fill out the form on our donation page, or mail to Dedham Village Preservation Association, Inc., POB 1037, Dedham, MA 02027

African American Regiments Honored

For Memorial Day, the Dedham Historical Society and Museum honored the men and women who sacrificed their lives while serving their country with a Facebook post of the monument in the Old Village Cemetery erected for soldiers who died in training at Fort Meigs in Readville/Hyde Park, once part of Dedham.

Fort Meigs was a training camp from 1861-1865. The 64 names on the monument represent 24 units of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, including three African-American units: the 54th, commanded by Robert Gould Shaw, the first black regiment recruited in the North (see the movie “Glory”), the 55th, and the 5th Cavalry. The Civil War claimed more American lives than any conflict in U.S. history, and Memorial Day, originally Decoration Day for the decoration of graves with flowers, began being celebrated in the the late 1860’s. It became an official federal holiday in 1971.

For more information on Memorial Day, visit this link on History.com.  For more information on the African American regiments at Fort Meigs, visit this link on Archive.com.

New Trees and Walkway for St. Paul’s

In cooperation with the Town of Dedham DPW, and its Director, Joe Flanagan, the DVPA, Inc. has planted four Sugar Maple saplings adjacent to St. Paul’s new children’s play area and cleared a path to give the children safe access. Reverend Melanie McCarley, Rector of St. Paul’s, writes: “St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is grateful for the assistance of The Dedham Village Preservation Association in planning and constructing a walkway for the safety of our children to move from the church building to their new playground.  Prior to the installation of the walkway children would make their way behind cars through the parking lot; a hazardous undertaking to a place of play.  The Dedham Village Preservation Association and the Dedham DPW made this pathway possible by removing overgrown areas as well as a fence, gifting a small portion of land and constructing the walkway.  We are deeply appreciative of their efforts.”

The Wreck of the Maritana

The Monday, November 20, 2019 edition of the Boston Globe featured an article by columnist Steve Annear about the wreck of the full-rigged cargo ship, Maritana, on Egg Rock in Boston Harbor on a stormy night in the winter of 1861, claiming the lives of 13 passengers and 11 crew, including its Captain, G.W. Williams, who is buried right here in Dedham in the Old Village Cemetery. According to Joan Pagliuca, historian and Board Member of the Dedham Historical Society and Museum, who was interviewed for the article and leads tours of the Cemetery, the OVC has many stories to tell that will continue to be revealed as the restoration continues.

Video: The Maritana Shipwreck

A Note of Thanks

We are so grateful to the many generous donors who have made the restoration of the Old Village Cemetery possible, and for the enthusiastic support of the Dedham community, and to the many volunteers who have given their time and effort to the project. This season we are trying hard to make the Old Village Cemetery a source of pride and beauty for the Town of Dedham and its residents at a time when bright spots are sorely needed. We hope that you will continue to be able to support our efforts at this difficult time when the strength and resilience of our community is being tested as never before in memory. Until the crisis passes, please look after yourselves and support those who are providing for the comfort and care of the victims of COVID-19.

– Marie-Louise Kehoe

Old Village Cemetery Scavenger Hunt Provides Family Fun and Historical Exploration

Old Village Cemetery neighbors Meg Duncan and her daughter Cookie recently created a scavenger hunt for kids, families, and individuals looking for a little outdoor time and entertainment while maintaining social distance. The “treasures” are some of the beautiful gravestone carvings in the Cemetery. Simply open the scavenger guide using this Google Slides link, start at the main gate on Village Avenue, and enjoy a little time exploring one of Dedham’s historic landmarks.

Meg and Cookie noticed that a lot more families with kids have been visiting the cemetery in the past few weeks.

“We thought we could provide a little entertainment in the form of a scavenger hunt with photos of some of our favorite stone carvings,” explains Meg. “It’s also been a nice project for both of us, with our extra time at home. Cookie is a senior at Dedham High School who is hoping to study history at college next year, so we couldn’t resist including some of our favorite stories as well.”