Friday, May 20, 2011

Civil War under my nose: A hero's grave

Congressional Medal of Honor winner Patrick Scanlan is
 buried in St. Mary's Cemetery in Avon, Conn.

Civil War graves are often marked by
plastic G.A.R markers such as this
one on Patrick Scanlan's grave.
G.A.R. stands for Grand Army of the Republic.
A hero lies buried slightly more than a mile from my house.

Born in Ireland, Patrick Scanlan was a bootmaker from Spencer, Mass., a small town about 45 miles from Springfield. Irishmen served both sides of the Civil War, of course. In their terrible assault on Dec. 13, 1862, at Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, Va., Union boys of the famed Irish Brigade were cut down by Irishmen from Georgia.

After enlisting in the 4th Massachusetts Cavalry in December 1863, Scanlan sailed from Boston to Hilton Head, S.C., aboard the steamer "Western Metropolis" on March 20, 1864. The 25-year-old private arrived in Hilton Head on April 1, but the 4th Massachusetts was assigned mostly picket and outpost duty.

In late May, Scanlan and his comrades finally "saw the elephant."

This sign at St. Mary's Cemetery in
Avon, Conn.,  marks the row for
Patrick Scanlan's grave.
As the steamship "Boston" made its way up the Ashepoo River on May 24, 1864, with nearly 400 soldiers aboard, it came under heavy fire from a Confederate shore battery. Stranded Union troops on the "Boston" were rescued by Scanlan and four other soldiers who volunteered to bring them to shore. For his bravery, Private Scanlan was finally awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1897.

Scanlan, whose name is misspelled "Scanlon" on his gravestone, died in Farmington, Conn., on Sept. 5, 1903. He was 64. His final resting place is among other Irish graves at St. Mary's Cemetery, a rolling plot of land in Avon, Conn., that slopes toward the Farmington River.

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