Dispatch from the Field: Cemetery Visits in Northern Frederick County (Pt. 1)

Another beautiful fall weekend means another field trip. Sunday morning the wife and I packed up and took off towards the northern part of Fredrick County. We didn’t have any sites in particular that I needed to visit, so we just took our time meandering the back roads and stopping when we saw something interesting.

Full confession time – I love historic cemeteries. A lot of this blog is going to be taken up by cemetery visits, so fair warning. Nothing grounds me to the past quite like going an “visiting” the people I write about. In a way it personalizes and humanizes them in my mind. It adds another layer to the narrative to see them, resting eternally with their family, friends, and communities. Etchings on headstones help to show marriage or familial ties, and they also shed light on their worldview. Personal things aside I like the quiet reflection. I like being able to forget about everything else and try an put myself in the mindset of those who have passed before me. As a material culture guy I also appreciate the symbolism that go into memorials – straddling the line between mass production and art in nineteenth century America. Victorian Americans had a lot of strong notions on death, many of which were profoundly challenged by the Civil War (if you haven’t read Drew Faust’s This Republic of Suffering pick up a copy). One idea that reaches a pinnacle during the Victorian age is the cemetery as a place for the living. Beginning with Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1831, “rural” or “garden” cemeteries swept the country. Their creators envisioned them as places where pastoral beauty combined with artistic sculpture, to the benefit of the community at large. Not only were they meant to be places of recreation, but also places of moral instruction. Visitors could contemplate the meaning of community, virtue, and man’s nature; following the Civil War civic values like military sacrifice and patriotism also became part of the “conversation” at these cemeteries.  None of the cemeteries we visited last weekend were large garden cemeteries. Instead they were for the most part small churchyard burying grounds, part of a much older tradition. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a good place to reflect on these issues, though…

Our first stop for the day was the Beaver Dam Bretheren Church near Johnsville, MD. Located just off of MD Rt 75 (Green Valley Road) between Johnsville and Union Bridge, the church is an unlikely place to find a Civil War Soldier.


Beaver Dam Church of the Bretheren, Johnsville, Md. (Author’s photo)

The roots of the Bretheren Church go back to the Anabaptist community in 18th century Germany, but many adherents came to America during the colonial era in search of greater religious tolerance. Many of the immigrants settled in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where they became known as Dunkards or Dunkers. This name should be familiar to students of the Civil War, where it lent its name to the small Bretheren church that was fought over during the Battle of Antietam.


The Dunker Church at Antietam National Battlefield – significantly more famous than the church I visited (NPS)

Although the movement has since split into several orders one of the central tenants that runs throughout is the belief in pacifism. With that in mind I did see a handful of veterans buried at Beaver Dam – primarily those who had served in the Second World War. I was looking for one veteran in particular as I walked between the rows of marble and slate. Abraham Hendrickson was a local boy, one of six children born to John and Anne Hendrickson. He was only 16 years old when the war came, but he set aside the church’s teachings on pacifism and enlisted in the 1st PHB Infantry on October 5, 1861. The boy’s military service would be short, unfortunately. Those of you who remember the entry on Camp Worman  might remember that Abraham was one of the unlucky men who succumbed to disease during the war’s first winter. He passed away on Christmas Eve, 1861 of  “typhoid fever supervening on measles.” His body was brought home and laid to rest at Beaver Dam Church.


The grave of Abraham Hendrickson, of the Home Brigade’s early casualties (Author’s photo)

After visiting with Abraham we headed northwest to another historic cemetery. The village of Graceham is located just east of Thurmont, Maryland. Like the Dunkard Church, Graceham also has roots in the European pietist movement. Graceham was settled in the 18th century by members of the Moravian Church, a pietist sect dating back to 15th century in what is now the Czech Republic. Like the German Bretheren, many Moravians came to Pennsylvania, Maryland, and other colonies in order to practice freely.

I wasn’t looking for any Civil War soldiers at Graceham – to my knowledge there aren’t any there. It is one of the more interesting cemeteries in the area, though. Most of the early gravestones are laid flat against the ground, and many are carved in the native tongue of the church’s German, Czech, and Danish adherents. Today Graceham Moravian is the only Moravian congregation in the state of Maryland that dates back to the 18th century.


Some of the newer graves at Graceham Moravian church. The older graves in “God’s Acre” are flush with the ground. (Author’s photo)

A short drive west from Graceham takes you to Thurmont, Maryland. The “Gateway to the Mountains” was originally founded as Mechanicstown, and a number of citizens from the small community went to war with the Home Brigade in 1861. We went to visit a number of them at Wellers Cemetery, on the northwest side of town.


Weller Methodist Church, Thurmont, Md (Author’s photo)

One of the most prominent members of the Potomac Home Brigade to be buried at the Weller Cemetery is Lt. John Willman. John was born and raised in Graceham in 1835 and entered military service as a 1st Lieutenant in Co. D of the 1st PHB Infantry in September 1861; by December his younger brother Julius was serving as a private in the 3rd PHB Infantry (1). Lt. Willman served ably with the regiment until September 1, 1862, when he was named aide de camp to the ill-fated Colonel Dixon Miles. Miles was the commander of the Federal garrison at Harper’s Ferry , which included both the 1st and 3rd PHB Infantry and Cole’s Cavalry at the time. Colonel Miles was to win everlasting ignominy for his botched handling of his troops during the Confederate attack on the town during the Antietam Campaign. Not that he had to live with the shame – he was cut down by an artillery round as the fighting ended. John Willman survived and was paroled with the rest of the Home Brigade Infantry. The Lieutenant would see action again in 1863, when he fought alongside his men at the Battle of Gettysburg. On the final day of the battle the regiment was engaged in repelling a Confederate counterattack near Spangler’s Spring at the base of Culp’s Hill. It was here that Lt. Willman received a mortal wound. Shot through the abdomen he clung to life through July 3 and into the 4th before dying in the XII Corps field hospital. His body was returned home to Frederick County soon afterwards.


Grave of Lt. Willman, killed at Gettysburg (Author’s photo)

John Willman’s brother, Julius was lucky enough to survive the war. Like John he was captured at Harper’s Ferry, and he was promoted to 2nd Lt. in the 3rd PHB Infantry shortly after the regiment was paroled. The newly commissioned Lieutenant would soon run afoul of his commander, Captain Falkenstein, however. In the summer of 1863 Julius was court-martialed on six different charges, ranging from fraud and absence without leave to promoting insubordination and threatening to shoot Captain Falkenstein. Julius resigned his commission in September 1863. Long after the war he ended up in the disabled soldier’s home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Suffering from diabetes, he arrived at the home in January 1885, but his stay would not last long. In April of the same year he committed suicide and was buried on the grounds of the home, far from his family in Maryland.

Suicide isn’t something tend to think about when we talk about Civil War veterans, but it was a profound issue that touched many veterans in the 19th century. For an in depth look at the challenges facing US veterans of the Civil War I can’t recommend Brian Jordan’s Marching Home enough. I found the book to be thoroughly engrossing (if heartbreaking at times) and would count it among the better books on the war to come out in the last few years. After years away at war many soldiers still bore mental and physical scars that shaped the rest of their lives, and many civilians just couldn’t understand. Jordan’s book does a remarkable job of bringing this topic to light with sympathy and dignity. And – if you’ll permit me to step outside of the 19th century for a minute – it’s an issue that affects our veterans to this day. So I encourage you all to reach out to the veterans in your family or communities, and if you are a veteran yourself know that there are resources out there. Consider giving time or resources to one of the many reputable organizations that help our service men and women transition to civilian life.

Back to the 19th century – we’ll take a break from touring cemeteries for now. We’ll return to Weller Cemetery next time and look at some of the enlisted men buried there.


NARA M384. Compiled military service records of volunteer Union soldiers from the State of Maryland. Roll:0198

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