Thursday, August 16, 2012

A familiar name on a Massachusetts memorial

The Haverhill (Mass.) Civil War memorial. 
After we pulled off the road in Haverhill, Mass., for much-needed grub on the return from R&R in Maine on Wednesday, I discovered the name of a familiar Civil War soldier etched on an old memorial. It was a nice surprise.

Van Buren L. Towle died after his release from a
Southern prisoner-of-war camp.
Van Buren L. Towle, a 26-year-old shoemaker, was among the nearly 1,500 men from Haverhill who served in the Union army during the Civil War. After I purchased four tintypes of Towle three years ago, I pulled records on the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery private from the National Archives. Sadly, those records revealed details of a terrible fate.

Captured at the Battle of Harris Farm, near Spotsylvania Courthouse, Va., on May 19, 1864, Towle was sent to the infamous rebel prisoner-of-war camp in Andersonville. The young soldier with blue eyes, black hair and a dark complexion spent nearly six months in the  southwestern Georgia POW camp before he was paroled around New Year's Day 1865. After his release, Towle, deathly ill from his prison experience, died aboard the U.S.S. Northern Light and was buried at sea.

Towle's teen-aged brother, also a POW, encountered his brother in a South Carolina camp just before he was paroled.

"I last saw him on the seventh day of December A.D. 1864 in Florence, S.C. in a rebel prison," 19-year-old Carroll Towle, a private in the 2nd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, noted matter-of-factly in an undated pension claim affidavit. "He left said prison that day in feeble health. Since that day I have never heard from him. I was confined in said prison at that time and for several months subsequently. He was my brother. I was in prison with him from about the first of July 1864 until he was paroled. He was in prison first at Andersonville, Ga. and was transferred to Florence, S.C.

"I have no doubt that he died soon after leaving the prison."

Today, on a tiny island of concrete across from a CVS, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken, a beautifully carved 20-foot Civil War memorial honors the men of Haverhill who died during the Civil War. Few probably pull off the heavily trafficked roads near the monument to read the names etched on the front -- including the name of Van Buren L. Towle in the bottom left corner.

A 24-year-old shoemaker from Haverhill, Mass., Van Buren Towle is one of many soldiers from 
the town who died during the Civil War. His name appears on the Haverhill Civil War memorial.


  1. Hi John, I don't know if you remember me but I'm a distant cousin of Van Buren L Towle and have been looking for my great (x3) Civil War grandfather, Pvt. Elbridge G Towle of Kingston, NH (The search continues, by the way). I just wanted to let you know that Van Buren L. Towle was buried at Beaufort National Cemetery, 1601 Boundry St. Beaufort, SC. Section 13, Grave 1084. I found this information in my search for my grandfather and thought you'd like to know.

  2. Ah, yes, Hi, Laurie. i remember your comment from about a year ago. The pension records indicate Van Buren was buried at sea. Pretty sure the marker in Beaufort is an effigy grave that does not contain remains. But yah never know! Thanks for writing, and good luck on the search. Have you gone to the National Archives?