ALEXANDER, Maine — Hiram Crafts was 36 years old in 1864 when he volunteered to serve in the Maine Coast Guard Unattached Infantry where he was charged with protecting Northern shipping interests from attack by Confederate navy ships.
A native of New Brunswick, he lived on a farm on Arm Road in Alexander, and when he died in 1891 at the age of 63, he was buried in the Alexander town cemetery.
Although as many as 62 men with ties to the town served in the Civil War, only a handful are buried with Crafts in town. Four were known to have died from wounds in battle during the war, according to local historian John Dudley, and a dozen died of disease and are buried in battlefield cemeteries.
Dudley, a member of the Alexander-Crawford Historical Society, placed a spray of cedar on each of the graves of the Civil War veterans and briefly discussed their lives on Saturday during a Decoration Day cemetery walk.
Most states have passed laws requiring that American flags be placed on the graves of veterans for Memorial Day, and that was done in Alexander earlier last week. But Decoration Day recalls an earlier custom, the forerunner of Memorial Day, which, according to Dudley, started after the Civil War in the South, when Southern women began decorating the graves of the soldiers killed in the many battles and buried in their local communities. Some accounts indicate that the practice actually began before the war ended.
“I used cedar greens for decoration,” Dudley said. “It could have been pine or hemlock — but it was greens; that’s what the original decorations were.”
It wasn’t until 1868, when Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a general order that May 30 would be set aside to decorate the graves of the soldiers who “had died in the defense of the country in the late rebellion.”
On Saturday, Dudley recognized the local men who had served in the war and talked a little about their lives.
Charles Card, also a New Brunswick native, may be remembered more for his children than for his Civil War service. He and his wife, Hannah, had four sets of twins, and as many as 18 children.
“It depends on whose list you read, 16, 17 or 18,” Dudley said.
Card served in the 6th Battalion, Maine Mounted Artillery and, as did many other soldiers on both sides, slept in the rain for several nights during the Battle of the Wilderness. He developed rheumatism and was crippled for the rest of his life.
Isaiah Bailey was born in 1823 in Baileyville, the town named for his grandfather, and was 40 when he was drafted to serve in the 16th Maine infantry regiment, which was disbanded and merged with the 20th Maine during the last year of the war. Bailey Hill was named for him, and the cedar boughs and pine stakes used for the grave decorations came from land once owned by Bailey and his son Jasper.
“The thing about history in a small town is that there’s not a lot of changes in families,” Dudley said. “You can make a lot of relationships between what has happened in the past and what is going on in the present.”
For example, Bailey’s home, which was destroyed by fire in the 1950s, sat near the site of Dudley ‘s home; Dudley now runs a tree farm on the old Bailey lots where the cedar and pine came from, and Bailey’s sister Mary is one of Dudley’s bygone ancestors.
Sumner Varnum, born in Princeton, was just 18 years old when he volunteered to serve. He was wounded in Cold Harbor, Va. He had a big farm after he moved to Alexander and also rain a dairy for a while.
Joseph Perkins was 44 years old in 1864. A New Brunswick native, he served in the 20th Maine regiment, joining the unit after its famed action at Gettysburg. He lived on Cooper Road in a house that’s still standing and died in 1895.
Levi Hooper served in the 22nd Maine regiment, a short-lived troop. After he moved to Alexander, he drove the stagecoach on the Airline, one of the last drivers on the line.
Stephen Decatur Frost was born in Calais in 1815 and moved with his family to Alexander in 1830. He was 48 when he volunteered, making him the oldest of the group of Alexander veterans when he began is Civil War service. He also served in the Coast Guard Unattached Infantry.
Levi Flood is buried in a private family cemetery in Alexander. He served in the 6th Maine Regiment, serving three full years and when he was discharged in 1864, re-enlisted almost immediately. He was the only one of the Alexander veterans to reach the rank of sergeant.
Then there is John Spearin, “Side-hill John,” a nickname that came apparently from a leg wound he received in the war. Spearin is a special case. It’s believed he and his wife are buried in the Alexander cemetery, but there is no record of a family plot there.