Last Saturday, we held a ceremony to remember Samuel Davis Agin – the Civil War veteran in my family tree – 150 years after he first marched off to war.
Davis served two tours of duty with the Union Army. In September 1862, he signed up with the 21st New Jersey Infantry, Company H for a nine-month enlistment. Then, in September 1864, he joined again for a one-year enlistment, this time with the 38th New Jersey Infantry, Company I.
His stint with the 21st New Jersey regiment took him from the battlefield of Antietam (arriving the day after the bloodiest battle in U.S. history) to some of the most famous episodes of the war, including the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862), the “Mud March” (January 1863), the Chancellorsville Campaign (April-May 1863) and the Battles of Marye’s Heights and Salem Heights (May 1863). In that last battle, the regiment’s commanding officer, Col. Gilliam Van Houten, was killed in battle. Davis’s enlistment ended in June 1863, just as the regiment was sent to defend the lines at Gettysburg.
During his second tour of duty with the 38th New Jersey regiment, Davis and his comrades were mainly assigned to garrison duty at Fort Powhattan, Virginia. But toward the end of the war, in April 1865, the regiment did participate in the capture of Petersburg and in the final operations that forced the surrender of General Robert E. Lee.
Davis died on the 50th anniversary of the Confederacy’s defeat. He was buried in Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, N.J. Newspaper obituaries referred to him as a well known Civil War veteran – one of the few left. They noted his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic, a prominent Civil War veterans organization.
When my sister and I found his final resting place, we were chagrined to discover there was no tombstone to honor him. I wrote about it on this blog. When a second cousin named Jacki Bolton came across that post and contacted me, we decided to right this wrong by applying to the Veterans Administration for an official Civil War veteran’s grave marker. It was installed this summer and last Saturday marked its official dedication.
There were about a dozen family members in attendance, descendants of Davis’s oldest son Jacob Sylvester Agin (my great-grandfather) or his second son Charles Augustus Agin (Jacki’s grandfather). I was joined by my sisters Cathy Brown and Mary Tress. And I was delighted to see my cousin Harry Agin and aunt Nancy Agin, whom I had not seen in over a decade.
The ceremony – which was covered in the Princeton Packet – was conducted by the local chapter of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Gen. James A. Garfield Camp No. 4. The organization, a corporation created by Congress in 1954, perpetuates the memory of of the men who served in the Union Army between 1861 and 1865. It is the successor organization to the Grand Army of the Republic.
The ceremony started at 10 A.M. with an honor guard that advanced from the cemetery gate to a position behind the grave. It included these words, taken from the ceremonies performed by the Grand Army of the Republic a century ago:
Brothers, we meet here as Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to honor the memory of Private Samuel Davis Agin, a Union soldier. The march of this soldier is over. Let him rest here under the blue skies of Heaven, guarded by the silent stars that in life watched over him when he bivouacked on battlefields or lay down weary and foot sore on the soil of the Southland. May we, as we stand here by his grave remember that as the years come and go it will be our duty, as Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to honor the memory of the men who stood shoulder to shoulder on bloody fields of battle, who guarded so faithfully, so honestly and so well the sacred bonds of statehood and who fought for liberty and the dear Old Flag. Upon us has devolved by sacred right of heritage the duty of perpetuating the principles for which they fought.
May we not forget as the years roll on that we too shall have battles to fight, that in time we too shall be carried to the silent city of the dead and that our lives here should fit us for the great bivouac of Eternity.
After Jacki and I placed a wreath on the grave, the service concluded with “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, three volleys of gunfire with vintage rifles and a trumpet rendition of “Taps” (the first time I ever heard it in person). Here’s a slideshow capturing some of the highlights from that morning:
On behalf of my family, I want to offer my thanks to the Gen. James A. Garfield Camp No. 4 for this moving tribute to my Civil War ancestor.