In Holy Rood Cemetery, in Section 1, along the western fence, there is a small stone that marks the final resting place of a Minuteman of the American Revolution. The bronze plaque in front of the stone reads:
REVOLUTIONARY WAR SOLDIER
PRIVATE OF MARYLAND
BORN 1752 IN ST. MARY’S COUNTY, MARYLAND
DIED OCTOBER 25, 1834 IN WASHINGTON COUNTY, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MARKER PLACED BY THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA STATE SOCIETY, NSDAR
Union Veterans in Holy Rood Cemetery
The largest category of military men buried in Holy Rood Cemetery is Union soldiers. In 1891 it was reported that there were forty. Since there were still many Union veterans alive at that time, the number can only have grown. (Evening Star, May 30, 1891).
Unfortunately, only about a dozen of these can be identified today, mostly by the handful of government-issue grave markers scattered here and there in Holy Rood. A few have been identified by way of newspaper items, obituaries, and published lists of members of the Grand Army of the Republic. The GAR was the fraternal organization of Union veterans. Among the missions of a GAR posts was to make sure that every Union grave within their jurisdiction was remembered, and received its annual due in flowers and flags.
In Washington, in the waning years of the 19th century, the task of recording every local grave of every Union soldier was entrusted to a veteran named Richard Goodman, commander of the Charles Sumner Post of the GAR. As a result of his efforts, in fourteen cemeteries in and around Washington, even the most out-of-the way Union graves were annually honored. (It was Goodman who counted forty Union veterans at Holy Rood. It is possible that some of these forty might have been black; if so, Goodman would have known them, as he was a black Civil War veteran himself.) (Evening Star, May 30, 1891)
Of many of these men, hardly anything is now known. Those who died during the war probably died in a local hospital. One epitaph in Holy Rood records how long it took one man to die:
Peter Kelley, Co. A, 2nd U.S. Infy., born in Kings County, Ireland, died September 22, 1862 from wounds received at the battle of Bull Run, Va. August 29, 1862, Aged 42 years. Erected by his dear wife, Mary Kelley.
Some were from Georgetown, and came home and resumed their civilian lives. Others, born elsewhere, settled here after the war. Whatever their origin, each year they gathered at the graves of their comrades-in-arms, until, one year, a Memorial Day dawned when all of them were in the ground.
One of the Union soldiers buried (somewhere) in Holy Rood Cemetery is Capt. Charles H. Rodier. Rodier raised a company of Georgetowners in 1861 to join in the defense of the Washington; near Chain Bridge the Anderson Rifles––named in honor of the hero of Fort Sumter––are said to have taken the first rebel prisoners of the war. Capt. Rodier died the following year, at age forty-three, after being shot in the leg accidentally. His widow could not afford a tombstone. (Captain Charles Henry Rodier, 1st District of Columbia Infantry, died April 3, 1862: section 15?)
A grave that is more readily identified is that of Thomas Henry French , who started the war as First Sergeant of the Tenallytown Rifles. In the 10th U.S. Infantry, French was wounded at Petersburg, and rose to the rank of Captain. After the war, he joined the 7th Cavalry, and went west. In the disaster on the Little Bighorn, Capt. French and his men fought a running battle four miles east of Custer’s Last Stand, and came away with their lives. French saw action again in the Nez Perces War, took to drink, and died at Ft. Leavenworth, at age thirty-nine. His remains were brought home by his Tenleytown relations.
The 47th Regiment was organized on May 27th, 1862 for a three-month tour of duty. It was recruited entirely in New York City and served in the garrison of Washington D.C. during the Civil War.
Private Patrick C. Meer, Company B, 2nd U.S. Infantry, Mexican War; Company F, 73rd Ohio Infantry, Civil War, died July 29, 1865 (Section 24)
Memorial Day Observances
For a half century or more after the Civil War, the members of GAR Post No. 19, the George U. Morris Post, on N Street in Georgetown, turned out on the morning of Memorial Day, and paraded to the two Georgetown cemeteries that contained the graves of Union veterans. One of these was Oak Hill, which was Protestant, and the other was Holy Rood, which was the Catholic cemetery of Georgetown.
The observances followed a prescribed order. A priest from Holy Trinity – who might, like Fathers Brennan and McAtee, have been a Union chaplain during the war – offered the prayers. There was a reading of the GAR Memorial Orders, which begin: “The 30th day of May is designated for the purpose o strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country in the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.”
The cadets of Western High School presented a salute to the dead. The Gettysburg Address was recited. A quartet from the Georgetown University Glee Club might render “Tenting On The Old Camp Ground” “The Soldier and His Boy”, or “Rest, Soldier, Rest”. At the close of the exercises, school children brought baskets of flowers, the graves of Union soldiers were decorated with flags and flowers, and “Taps” floated out on the morning air. (Washington Star, May 28, 1896; Programs of Memorial Day Services in the District of Columbia from 1901 to 1918, Grand Army of the Republic, Department of the Potomac)
The original connection of Memorial Day to the Union dead of the Civil War is long-forgotten, as is the role of ordinary local men who served in the war. About three thousand men enlisted for three months to defend the city in 1861, and a thousand or so stayed on for the duration of the war. After the war the District was credited with furnishing upwards of 16,000 men. (GAR, Roster of Departments, 1888, p.54; Washington, Past and Present, vol.1, p.388)
(While the 1st District of Columbia Infantry Regiment was mainly employed in the defense of the capital, seven companies recruited in the District served elsewhere in the war, and under other state designations: the 3rd Maryland Infantry, 1st Maryland Cavalry, 11th New York Cavalry, 71st Pennsylvania Infantry, and the 3rd Pennsylvania Cavalry, each had a company or more recruited in Washington.)
Confederate Veterans Buried in Holy Rood Cemetery
The only evidence to date of a Confederate presence in Holy Rood comes through the efforts of a genealogist researching the Clements family of Georgetown.
In 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, Horace Clements of Georgetown enlisted for three months in the District of Columbia Militia, to defend Washington against a threatened Confederate attack. His older brothers Joseph and Andrew were part of that threat, having gone to Alexandria and joined a company made up of Confederate volunteers from the District of Columbia and Maryland.
All three brothers survived the war and returned to live in Georgetown. Joseph was a tailor, Andrew a painter, and Horace a machinist. Horace’s three month service to the Union entitled him to end his days at the National Soldiers Home in Elizabeth City, Virginia; he is probably buried in a military cemetery there. His brothers Andrew and Joseph, who served on the Confederate side, lie buried in the family plot in Holy Rood Cemetery (Section 5, lot 36). (Obituary of Joseph E. Clements, The Evening Star, July 10, 1899; obituary of Andrew J. Clements, The Evening Star, November 24, 1896)
Other Veteran Graves Identified in Holy Rood Cemetery
Holy Rood contains the graves of at least two defenders of Washington in the British attack of 1814:
Private Daniel A. Scheele, District of Columbia Militia, War of 1812 (section 19); and Private Conrad Schwarz, District of Columbia Militia, War of 1812 (section 9).
John Green was a purser in the United States Navy in the War of 1812, served aboard Commodore Decatur’s flagship in the Second Barbary War (1815), and was, in later years, Clerk of the Navy Commissioner’s Office.
(Register of the Society of the Sons of the Revolution in the District of Columbia, 1910; Louise Mann-Kenney, Rosedale, The Eighteenth Century Country Estate of General Uriah Forrest, Cleveland Park, Washington D.C., 1989)
John Green died at Rosedale on February 22, 1850, at the age of 72. His wife, Ann Forrest Green, died at Rosedale, September 13, 1870, at age 71. They are buried together at Holy Rood Cemetery (Section 41, lot 400).
Sgt Joseph Branzell, 23rd Infantry, born Georgetown 1875, was serving in the Phillipines in 1900. (1900 Military and Naval Census, series T623,roll 1840, p.28)
Lost Graves of Veterans
The following veterans are known from various sources to be buried in Holy Rood Cemetery, but their graves have not been found to date. The index of Holy Rood Cemetery burials, Special Collections, Georgetown University Library, could shed light on these. (“1951 Roster of Richard J. Harden Camp No. 2, Department of the District of Columbia, United Spanish War Veterans”, contributed by Tom Buckley.)
Private Joseph Sampson, Seminole War (pauper burial, no stone)
Andrew Daly, Troop D, 4th Regiment, U.S. Cavalry, died January 23, 1892, aged 45 years
George M. Drescher, 23rd Infantry, Spanish-American War, died March 2, 1907
John T. Griffen, 3rd U.S. Volunteer Engineers, Spanish-American War, died March 15, 1927
Edward McGinnis, Spanish-American War
Luke Welch, 3rd U.S. Volunteer Engineers, Spanish-American War, died August 29, 1912
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