At Last, This Civil War Veteran Will Receive a Proper Military Funeral

Civil War Graves. Robert Lawton / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 2.5
Civil War Graves. Robert Lawton / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 2.5

Jewett Williams was a soldier in the 20th Maine Regiment during the Civil War. He died in 1922 in a mental institution in Oregon, was cremated, and his remains were stored alongside those of thousands of other patients.

“He was a son, a brother, a husband, and a father. At the end of his life, however, he was alone and institutionalized here,” Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney said at the ceremony. “When he died, nobody came. Nobody came to honor him. Nobody came to take him home. Nobody came. Until today.” In 2004, Courtney was on a tour when he noticed the ashes of more than 3600 former patients stored in a shed in corroding copper urns.

Oregon State Hospital officials handed his ashes to the Patriot Guard Riders with a color guard on hand in uniforms from the Civil War era. The Patriot Guard Riders attends the funerals of U.S. veterans, firefighters, and police. They received the ashes and then rode off on their Harleys to deliver the ashes back to New England for a proper military burial.

The hospital, made famous by One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, still has hundreds of ashes of other patients in a memorial, which was dedicated in 2014. The memorial stores the ashes of the deceased patients and displays them with the name, birth date, and death date.

The 20th Maine is famous for a bayonet charge at Little Round Top which prevented a Union defeat at Gettysburg. Williams didn’t join until a year later but was involved in plenty of action. He served during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and in other battles up to General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Virginia.

Williams was married, divorced, and remarried. He moved to Michigan and then on to Minnesota to get work as a carpenter. They then moved to Washington, where Williams’ wife left him.

In 1922, Williams was admitted to the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane (as it was known at the time). He died on July 17, 1922, at the age of 78, from cerebral arteriosclerosis. No descendants have been located.

His ashes are scheduled to arrive in Maine on August 22. He will be buried in Togus National Cemetery in Maine on September 17. His grave will be marked with a white marble veterans headstone that matches headstones of the time.

“He will rejoin his comrades-in-arms in Maine,” said Greg Roberts, the superintendent of Oregon State Hospital. Five other veterans of the 20th Maine, including one from the same company as Williams, Company H, are buried in Togus.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE