From Jane Fant
Remembering Three Lyme Soldiers
The first Memorial Day took place in 1868 in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, overlooking Washington, D.C. Arlington was Robert E. Lee’s home in 1860. Early in the war, it was seized by the Union Army, and its grounds became a cemetery for the growing thousands of Union dead.
Many young men from Lyme volunteered to serve the Union cause, and many died. Their names are on the Soldier statue on the Lyme Common.
This is the story of three Lyme soldiers who enlisted together, fought together, died together, and are buried together in Lyme’s Old Cemetery*.
On August 14, 1862, three men from Lyme joined others enlisting in a new unit, the 11th Regiment of the New Hampshire Volunteers: Turner Grant, whose family still owns the brick house he lived in on East Thetford Road; his cousin John Gilbert; and Turner’s friend Charles Lovejoy, who was engaged to his sister, Callie Grant. All were placed in Company H.
After training, their Regiment was attached to the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Ninth Army Corps, commanded by Ambrose Burnside. In late fall they were marched to confront the rebel army—General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia — at Fredericksburg, Virginia. While they waited for pontoon bridges to arrive – and 10 more days as Burnside dithered — the enemy grew stronger and better fortified. Finally, on December 13, the battle commenced. Thousands paid a heavy price for this delay.
The Ninth Corps was committed on the battle’s third day. Wave after wave of attacks were ordered across an open plain, uphill. Soon the three Lyme soldiers were pinned down; to stand up or even move was to invite death. No one could help the wounded.
John Gilbert described the scene in a letter home:
“We had to march across a flat field a good way up under the fire and the mercy of the enemy. The shot and shell flew in every direction. Men were wounded and dying, some groaning. I tell you it was a pretty hard sight. We were in position just under a little rise… which made a kind of shelter from their galling fire. It would seem that nothing but a mad man would think of taking men into such a place. We loaded and fired as for our lives, sweating like a man mowing, our faces black with powder… It is said our regiment suffered more than any other.”
Turner Grant and Charles Lovejoy received slight wounds but all three survived the awful battle and ensuing weeks of marching and counter-marching in the cold and mud. On February 9, 1863, they were sent by train and steamers to Newport News, Virginia, for recuperation (R&R today). Initially they enjoyed bountiful food, pleasant surroundings, and mild weather. But illness was prevalent, and you may know that in the Civil War more than twice as many soldiers died from disease than in combat.
Measles struck the camp and also the three soldiers, who suffered from “complications,” probably pneumonia. All died in a military hospital: Charles Lovejoy, age 23, on March 5th; Turner Grant, age 22, the next morning; and John Gilbert, age 24, on March 12th.
Through a tragedy of errors, the families of the three soldiers were not notified of their deaths even though their bodies were shipped north by train. For an unknown reason, they were taken off the train in Canaan instead of East Thetford (the nearest station to Lyme). It was Saturday, and the station master did not want the caskets left there over Sunday. A Canaan man who knew where the Grants lived agreed to take them to Lyme on Sunday morning.
That Sunday, the Grants had walked the short distance to church as usual, but without Callie, who was out of town. As they returned and the house came into view, they could see three caskets on the front porch. That was how they learned of the three deaths.
Callie Grant, who lost a brother, a cousin, and a fiancé, eventually received a letter from another cousin who had shared a tent with the three men. He described the deaths of Charles and Turner, but not that of John Gilbert, who was expected to live.
“Now, while I am writing, they are embalming the bodies of our dear friends…in the tent where they used to live with us. [Charlie’s] face is mild and pleasant as the last visions which brightened and illuminated it.
I assure you, his comrades feel that they that they have lost two of their best boys. I know how you will weep at home. “
No funeral in the Lyme church had ever been so well-attended. A portion of the Reverend Erdix Tenney’s eulogy is engraved on the obelisk:
“Earnest and active in the Redeemer’s service, and united by the dearest ties of friendship, from the strong impulses of Christian duty and true patriotism, they enlisted in the 11th Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers August 14, 1962. Together they shared the vicissitudes of a soldier’s life and fought side by side at the battle of Fredericksburg. At Newport News, Virginia, stricken nearly together by the same disease, God’s finger touched them, and they slept. Their remains rest together beneath this monument until the Resurrection Morn. Lovely and pleasant in their lives, in their death they are not divided.”
*Please visit Lyme’s Old Cemetery, where veterans’ graves are marked with flags. The obelisk marking the grave of Turner Grant, Charles Lovejoy, and John Gilbert is in the southwestern section, near the south wall (roughly behind the Lyme Country Store). You are welcome to park at the Lyme Historians, next to the Country Store.