Stoddard's grave of the Unknown Soldier

COURTESY PHOTO

Stoddard’s grave of the Unknown Soldier has been maintained since the Civil War.

Although the Robb Cemetery in South Stoddard is located far from any Civil War battlefields, a young unknown victim of that war was buried there late in 1864. He is buried near Henry Stevens, another young soldier who lost his life in that conflict. It is with Henry Stevens that the story of Stoddard’s Unknown Soldier begins.

Young Henry longed to join the Union Army from the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. It was not until 1864, however, that he could be spared from the family farm in Stoddard. He was the sixth of the Stevens sons to enlist and serve in the war. Henry enlisted in the 18th N.H. Regiment on Sept. 13 of that year.

He never made it to the battlefield, however; three weeks later, the Stevens family received word that he had died of typhoid fever at a military hospital in New York. He had requested that if he died, his body be sent home for burial in the family plot. When the coffin arrived, however, it was found to contain the body of a handsome young man of about Henry’s age — but it was not Henry. Imagine the family’s relief when they realized it was not their son. Military officials at Fort Schuyler had reported the wrong name, had dressed the man in Henry’s clothes, notified the family and sent him home to Stoddard. When the Stevens family notified the military, government officials could not identify the man and refused to take him back. The family buried the young man in the cemetery at South Stoddard.

Three days later, the family once again received the heartbreaking news that Henry had died at Fort Schuyler. The second coffin, also marked “Private Henry Stevens, Co. A, 18th New Hampshire Volunteers,” contained the body of young Henry. Once again, they went through the ritual of burying a young Union soldier in the cemetery in South Stoddard.

The family cared for the stranger’s grave as they did for Henry’s. After the Civil War, Henry’s brother Charles contacted the military and acquired a government marker for the stranger’s grave so he would not be forgotten.

Somewhere, the young man’s family probably waited many long months for word of their loved one, never to learn his fate. The simple granite stone, inscribed “U.S. Soldier,” is still on his grave. In recent years, residents of the neighborhood placed and dedicated a more substantial stone, inscribed “Unknown U.S. Soldier, Civil War,” and each year on Memorial Day, a U.S. flag is placed on Stoddard’s grave of the Unknown Soldier.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.