May 14, 2009

Civil War soldier's grave finally gets its headstone

For 94 years, Thomas Rowe's grave was unmarked...

This year’s Memorial Day has taken on a new meaning for Racine resident Jeff Alderson. Between 11 a.m. and noon, at Yorkville Cemetery, he and several other Civil War reenactors will conduct a small service to dedicate a newly placed headstone over the grave of civil war veteran Thomas J. Rowe. Rowe’s grave has gone unmarked most likely since his death in 1915.

“I found a reference to Thomas being buried at Yorkville at the Racine County Historical Society.” said Alderson. That listing started a search that took over a year to confirm where Rowe was buried. The first effort was a visit to the cemetery on a delightful summer day. The Rowe family plot was located but no marker for Thomas Rowe was found.

Numerous trips to the Racine Library, Racine County Historical Society, and the Register of Deeds office yielded little help. “The thought of obtaining a marker for Thomas had crossed my mind right from the first time I stood near the family plot. But my biggest fear was that I would be placing a stone over an empty grave,” said Alderson. It seemed possible that the cemetery reference was based on purchasing the plot rather than a burial being performed.

Realizing that obituary records near the turn of the century were less than promptly printed in the paper, Alderson returned to the Racine Library and expanded his search of newspaper records. The Jan. 29, 1915, issue of the Racine Journal News put everything together. Rowe’s obituary confirmed his death two weeks earlier, at the home of his brother in Maquoketa, Iowa. That explained why no death record was in Racine’s Register of Deed’s office. The body was escorted back to Yorkville by Rowe’s brother and a sister who lived in Racine. The grave went unmarked most likely because of Thomas' being poor at the time of his death.

On the same day the obituary was found, Alderson began the effort to place a veteran’s marker over Rowe’s grave. “As a veteran, I was moved to do this. Also, my reenactment group does preservation work at Antietam and Gettysburg. This was my chance to do similar preservation work here in Racine County,” he said.

The application form was obtained from the Veterans Administration website. Copies of Rowe’s military records were secured from the National Archives. Signatures were obtained from a cemetery official and a local monument company that agreed to assist. “My military experience, interest in history, and genealogical skills were all necessary to put the application together,” claims Alderson. The complete application was mailed in November 2008 and the stone was delivered before the end of the year.

The marker was placed after the ground had thawed. Its dedication service will be held on Memorial Day: Monday, May 25.

Gravestone ready for dedication

Thomas J. Rowe

Thomas J. Rowe was born in 1844 in Wisconsin, the son of English immigrants. His father was Matthew Rowe. Born in 1815, he settled down as a farmer in Yorkville Township from 1850 to 1880. Matthew’s wife was named Ann and she was born in 1817 in England. The children of Matthew and Ann included Mathew Rowe who is buried just to the east of Thomas along with another of Mathew’s wives, Grace Vyvyan.

Thomas enlisted on April 23, 1861. He was mustered into Federal Service as part of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry on June 11, 1861 in Madison for a three year term. Thomas fought with the company at First Bull Run. He was absent, sick in the hospital in Baltimore from Aug. 20, 1862, through Dec. 1863. Admission to the hospital most likely saved his life in more than one way: Just eight days after he entered the hospital, Thomas’ brigade was in one of its bloodiest battles of the war. Other major battles followed while he remained in the hospital.

A special muster dated April 10, 1863, lists Thomas as on duty at the General Hospital in Philadelphia. He was either performing light duty while recuperating or had remained at the hospital as a worker. The muster roll for April lists him as sick in the hospital in Baltimore. Thomas was transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps (an organization of soldiers not fit for the front line) on Dec. 12, 1863. The final muster sheet lists his transfer on Jan. 17, 1864. One record indicates he was mustered out on June 11, 1864, in Baltimore, due to expiration of his three year term of service.

Thomas was residing in Walworth County when he re-enlisted in Battery E 1st Wisconsin Heavy Artillery on Sept. 1, 1864. He became a sergeant and was promoted to Regimental Commissary Sergeant on April 1, 1865. Thomas was mustered out on June 26, 1865.

In 1880, Thomas was age 36 and unmarried. He was still living with his father in Yorkville Township. Thomas’ mother passed away on November 14, 1884. Thomas married a lady named Bena who was born in Norway on Oct. 14, 1851. Thomas and Bena had no children. Thomas’ father died on April 12, 1900.

Thomas died on Jan. 15, 1915. The January 29, 1915, Racine Journal News printed the following obituary:
“Thomas Rowe, an old resident of Racine county, died Jan. 15, at the home of his brother, William Rowe at Maquoketa, Ia. The brother and sister, Mrs. Mary Burns, of Racine accompanied the remains to Wisconsin for interment at Yorkville, the old home. Funeral services were held in the Iowa town.”
Thomas was buried in Lot 183, Block 16 with no stone marking his grave.

Bena Rowe died on March 13, 1940. Her obituary in the March 14, 1940, Racine Journal Times said:
“Mrs. Bena Rowe, who died Wednesday night, was born in Norway, Oct. 14, 1851 and came to Racine in 1910. Survivors are a niece, Mrs. Isadore LaFave of Racine, and a nephew, Bernt Peterson of Chicago. Funeral services will be held at 1 p. m. Saturday in Beffel’s mortuary with Rev. E. R. Andersen in charge. Burial will be held in Yorkville cemetery. Friends may call at the mortuary Friday afternoon and evening and until the time of the services.”
Bena is buried beside Thomas also with no marker.