JONESPORT, Maine — A former sea captain who lay in his unmarked grave next to his beloved wife for 86 years was honored Saturday as a Civil War hero.
Taps was played, prayers and speeches were offered, and Maine Military Funeral Honors Program members respectfully and solemnly folded the American flag as dozens of descendants of William Wallace Clark gathered in Richardson Cemetery, overlooking Moosabec Reach.
A genealogical search by Clark’s great-great-great-granddaughter Linda Harvey of Jonesport and New Hampshire unlocked the mystery of where the soldier had been buried and revealed a story of terrible battlefield suffering.
“This just feels so important,” Harvey said as people gathered for the ceremony. “It really means so much to me that other people feel that importance, too.”
Harvey was looking for Clark’s grave when she contacted Jonesport Historical Society president Donald Woodward.
Woodward, who has documented more than 4,000 graves and many of their stories in Jonesport, had no listing for Clark. But a grave for Clark’s wife, Lucy, was listed for Richardson Cemetery. Upon investigating, a depression next to Lucy’s grave signaled an unmarked grave, and Woodward and Harvey concluded that was Clark’s resting place.
A headstone was donated by U.S. Veterans Affairs, and Woodward planned the honors ceremony.
Along with dozens of Clark’s descendants, Saturday’s event was attended by the U.S. Coast Guard Honor Guard from Jonesport and the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment Company B re-enactment group members.
The story of Clark’s service in the Civil War is one of enduring pain.
When he was 18 and living in East Machias, Clark enlisted as a private in the Army in February 1864. Five months later he was part of one of the most horrific battles of the Civil War — the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Va.
According to information from records compiled in a congressional inquiry after the battle, Clark and a group of coal miners from Pennsylvania decided to tunnel under the Confederate line and blow them up with gunpowder. The men dug a 500-foot-long, 5-foot-tall tunnel, but unfortunately it was directly under one already dug by the Confederates.
The fuse was lit and 8,000 pounds of gunpowder detonated, blasting open a crater 170 feet long and 30 feet deep. The Union soldiers charged through the crater and were trapped by the Confederates who were lying in wait. When the Confederates saw that, for the first time, black soldiers were in the battle, they became even more infuriated and began picking off the trapped Union soldiers like sitting ducks. Sensing the futility of the situation, American Indians in the Union Army began a death chant and the records said the blood ran ankle-deep.
More than 4,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded in that crater, which thereafter was called “The Horrid Pit.”
Only one in five Union soldiers survived the battle.
Clark was gravely wounded. His left arm was shattered and left useless by a musket ball. Another ball entered his side, where it remained until he died.
He spent four months in a hospital in Rhode Island and, with only one good arm, was returned to the war front.
Clark finally returned to Maine and settled in Jonesport in 1865 and was a sea captain the rest of his life.
After his death in June 1924 at his son’s home in Corea, his remains were brought to Jonesport and buried.
At Saturday’s ceremony, 98-year-old Charles Woodward of Jonesport recalled knowing Clark when Woodward was just a boy in Corea.
“He lived in a little cabin by his son,” Clark said. “It is my pleasure to attend today’s ceremony. I’m tickled pink he is finally getting the recognition he deserves.”
Harvey said the flag that she was presented would be given to the Jonesport Historical Society.