Sunday, April 8, 2012

STRADDIE TALES-A CIVIL WAR VET'S DEATH FAR FROM HOME


A LONE SOLDIER'S GRAVE


Frederick Macomber was a mere boy of 17 when he marched off to America's Civil War back in 1861.  Within months of enlisting he was attached to Company F of the First Rhode Island Light Artillery and sent to Camp Sprague near Washington DC where the battery received its guns, four ten pounder Parrott rifles and two 12 pounder howitzers.

It fell to the youngest member of the battery to perform watch duty during the long hours of the early morning. Inevitably, in 1862 he was found guilty of falling asleep at his post, appeared before a court martial and was given sixty days hard labour at Fort Macon, North Carolina.  On this occasion the presence of battle shortened the sentence.  Then in 1863 he again was found guilty of the same misdemeanour, this time in New Berne.

The following years saw several skirmishes involving his Company including the Siege of Petersburg when the Rhode Island battery engaged the Confederates on the Richmond and Petersburg Pike, the main road between the two cities.  The battery exchanged fire at Drury’s Bluff on the 16th of May, 1964 losing 3 men, wounding another 8, and with 4 left missing.  26 horses were killed in the encounter and the battery’s Captain Belger was captured by the Confederates and sent to Libby Prison in Richmond.

In the same theatre of battle Macomber was seriously wounded and spent the next six months in a field hospital in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.  Eventually he was mustered out of the service, applied for a pension and was granted “a three quarter disability, probably permanent, by gun-shot wound of left arm.” He was paid US$6 a month; at this time Fred Macomber was still only 19 years of age.

Thus was young Fred Macomber’s experience of hands on battle.

William James Glackens – Wickford Harbour, Rhode Island
 
Fred did return home to convalesce, but he didn’t stay on Rhode Island for long.
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A CEMETERY FAR FROM HOME
Fred’s grave site in the midst of fresh mown grass.
By now you must be wondering why I’m writing about a young Union soldier engaged in the internecine battles of America’s Civil War.  He is after all not related to me, and until a few short weeks ago I wasn’t even aware he once existed.  The photo above showing young Private Macomber’s last resting place should give you a clue.

I wrote some time ago about my husband, the Reluctant Traveller’s discovery of his great great-Grandmother’s grave in our local Stradbroke Island cemetery at Dunwich, the photo below shows Stan contemplating Jane William’s memorial plaque. (Straddie 5 – A Surprising Slice of History.)
 
Like our relation from long ago, many of those who died on the island in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were buried in unmarked graves with only a few bearing elaborate headstones detailing their birth and death and relationship to kin.

Fred Macomber’s grave is the only one in the midst of a wide expanse of mowed grass.  Above his last resting place  spreads the shady limbs of a tree that possibly wasn’t even a stripling when he died in Dunwich in 1909.

Taking a short cut through the cemetery to the water taxi jetty at the One Mile I stumbled across the old weather beaten grave stone by chance.  The words ‘Civil War’ leapt out and I wondered why on earth a veteran of America’s darkest moments could have ended his days so far from home.

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FRED MACOMBER’S BRIEF AUSSIE HISTORY

Little is known about Fred’s years in Australia. It’s believed he arrived in New South Wales in 1870;  that’s only six years after his discharge from the American Union army.  But what could have triggered his move to a country so far away from family and home?

Possibly the lure and adventure of gold.  The 1870’s saw gold discoveries in both New South Wales and Queensland, but if Fred was lured here by the gold fever that gripped so many hopeful diggers, he obviously was unsuccessful. 

By 1886 Fred applies successfully to the American pension department for restoration of his war pension.  He tells them he is now 43 years of age, unmarried with no children and had previously received a pension for 22 years until it had suddenly ceased.

Perhaps Fred Macomber is one of these inmates rushing to the Benevolent Societies dining hall.

By 1899 he is recorded as living in Ingles, New South Wales, but two years later he becomes a resident of the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum in Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island.  What had happened in Ingles?  In fact where is the town of Ingles?  I could find no record of its existence.


It took an internet search by my daughter Jenny in Ecuador to discover an 1874 plan of the New South Wales town of Tamworth ‘in the county of Inglis’. And yes gold was the catalyst that brought a wandering Fred Macomber to this rural corner of this mid eastern part of Australia, all of which at that time was known as New South Wales.

By the time Fred arrived the gold was all but panned out, for lone operators like himself anyway.  No doubt he continued north to eventually finish his wandering  in the part of the country that would soon become the State of Queensland.  How did he survive? 

With his damaged and possibly crippled arm he would have been reduced to menial work, but remember he did have his Civil War pension, and that money would have been more than many of the other hopeful and disappointed gold miners would ever see much less jingle in their pockets.
The Dunwich Society’s records list him as inmate number 6218.  Eight years later, at the age of 65 Fred Macomber dies of ‘valvular disease of the heart’.

Fred spent 39 years of his life in Australia.  When he died, like all  inmates of the Asylum he was buried in an unmarked grave, just one of the many lost and lonely souls who ended their days in the sunshine and serenity of Dunwich.

There must still be Macomber kin living in Rhode Island where Fred grew up. I wonder do they have memories of their soldier kin.  He was born in 1844 in Liverpool, England, to George Macomber and Louise Downey before the family migrated to the United States and became residents of Portsmouth.

I hope it will be a comfort for them to know that 80 years after his death, in June of 1992, the American Veterans Administration in Washington DC erected a headstone on his grave site acknowledging this soldier of the Civil War...
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Fred Macomber though, wasn’t the only American Civil War veteran to settle in Australia, 128 other American soldiers crossed the Pacific to Australia and never returned home.  By the same token an equally large number of young Aussie men made the rush trip in the opposite direction to fight on either sides of the battle. 

(A reader and Civil War Researcher, Terry has left a comment on this story advising the number of known Civil War vets buried in Australia and New Zealand now exceeds 200.  I wonder has anyone researched the number of 'down unders' who lost their lives in the same conflict.)

Curiously, Fred Macomber wasn’t the only one to end his days at Queensland’s Dunwich Benevolent Society Home for the poor, the aged and the intemperate. 

Edward Charles Wright Osborne, another Englishman born in 1844 arrived in the United States at the age of 18 and almost immediately enlisted in the 47th Massachusetts Infantry.  Nine years after his war service, Wright, (he had dropped his surname of Osborne), migrated to Australia and married Henrietta Sheridan in Melbourne in 1874.

Apparently the marriage failed and by 1891 Wright too had been admitted to the Dunwich Asylum. He died there three years later, his death certificate lists his occupation as ‘actor’ and he is buried on the island in a paupers grave.

In 2003 members of the American Civil War Round Table of Queensland placed a plaque  on a cemetery wall to commemorate his memory.
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Robyn Mortimer ©2012-04-08