BURRILLVILLE – They rest in sections of local cemeteries that don’t often draw visitors but the town’s old soldiers of the Civil War still have stories to tell.
Betty Mencucci, president of the Burrillville Historical Society and a local history expert, hopes to put those stories in people’s minds this weekend while offering a tour of the town’s Civil War grave sites today beginning at 2 p.m. at Pascoag Cemetery and St. Patrick’s Cemetery off Route 107, Pascoag.
Mencucci began planning the tour along with fellow member Henry Duquette and others when the society decided to hold an exposition on the local area’s role in the Civil War in early May at the Bridgeton School. Researching that portion of local history made Mencucci think about all the Civil War soldiers who came to rest in local cemeteries, some of whom were natives of the town and its villages and others who came here to live in the years after the war.
Over 150 men from Burrillville served during the war, many with the 12th Rhode Island Volunteers, the 7th Rhode Island Volunteers, or the 4th Rhode Island Volunteers and some with cavalry or heavy or light artillery units, according to Mencucci. More than 30 of those soldiers are believed to have died in battle or of illness and disease, she noted.
The expo on May 4 and 5 had a variety of events to keep visitors at Bridgeton School busy and the Society decided to hold an actual tour of the local cemeteries holding Civil War soldiers at a later date, which is today.
Like other area communities who lost residents to the Civil War, Burrillville’s Civil War history is filled with accounts of bravery, resourcefulness, and deep sorrow and the sense of loss.
One war account maintained by the Historical Society tells of the heroics of a Peter Friery, a local resident and a private of Company D, the 4th Rhode Island Regiment. Friery was captured at the mine explosion before Petersburg and was reported by the Woonsocket Patriot newspaper to have returned to his home in Burrillville after escaping from a rebel prison in Danville, with 96 others. He is buried in Pascoag Cemetery and can be found by looking for the Civil War veteran medallion and American Flag marking his grave stone.
Another of the Civil War soldiers at rest in Pascoag Cemetery is John C. Brown, originally of North Berwick, Maine, and who was able to fool recruiters about his age and sign up for service in the war before he turned 14. A member of a Maine infantry unit, he was wounded twice and survived. He served under General Sheridan and was even reported to have been present for the surrender of General Lee, standing 100 yards from where it took place, according to the town’s historical documents.
Brown came to Burrillville after the war, worked at the Nasonville Woolen Mill, and belonged to Smith Post 9 of the Grand Army of the Potomac.
James Monroe Steere, a native of Burrillville, enlisted with the 1st Regiment, Troop D of the Rhode Island Cavalry Volunteers at the age of 18 and participated in the battles at Warrenton, Cedar Mountain, Bull Run and Chantilly in Virginia. He was medically discharged in December of 1862 but rejoined as a commissary sergeant with the 3rd Regiment of the R.I. Cavalry Volunteers in June of 1864, and also served as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Brigade Division of the Rhode Island Militia.
He later married Fannie M. Baker in St. Louis and had three children, according to Historical Society documents. After the war he became a successful businessman and a homesteader while living in Texas, Iowa and North Dakota, but later lost his fortune and returned home to Burrillville. He also was laid to rest in Pascoag Cemetery.
Mencucci said there is more history to be found when the full list of local Civil War veterans is studied and the tour this weekend could be a good starting point for those wishing to learn more.
“We flagged everybody that fought in the war and a lot of the stones say what unit they were in and whether they lived to an old age or died during the war or right after,” she said.
Some of the town’s soldiers came home from the war wounded or with illnesses that would soon claim their lives, given the inability to treat illnesses in their day.
“Some were sick or wounded and had a very hard time after the war,” Mencucci said.
The Society’s listing of the soldiers who died includes information on the “gunshot wounds’’ that took the life of Nelson M. Paine, the deaths of Corporal Henry R. Thayer and Private Richard Thayer from disease, and the death of U.S. Navy landsman Edward S. Brown aboard the vessel “Perry” on June 20, 1864.
That information and more is available at the Society’s headquarters at the Bridgeton School at 16 Laurel Hill Ave. For more information on the tour and other upcoming events, call 568-8534.