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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Friday July 19th 2024

Tales: Remembering the Fallen, Memorial Day 2023

Tales from Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery

210th in a Series

By SUE HUNTER WEIR

Thousands of people gathered at the intersection of Minnetonka and Washington Avenues on May 30, 1870. They formed a parade that stretched for two miles as they marched to what became known as Layman’s Cemetery. Flags were flown at half-mast and business throughout the city came to a standstill since “there were none in the stores to sell nor to buy.” The Civil War might have been over but the trauma remained. Disease and disability continued to claim lives. The war and its aftermath left unimaginable numbers of widows, orphans, and bereaved parents in its wake.


The first division of the parade was led by the Fort Snelling Twentieth Infantry Band followed by members of the Grand Army of the Republic, a benevolent organization that advocated for veterans. Their motto was “Fraternity, Charity, and Loyalty.” They were followed by other former soldiers and their families.
The Minneapolis Tribune listed 28 known soldiers believed to be buried in Layman’s Cemetery. Even though every effort was made to identify all of the veterans, their list mistakenly identified some men as veterans who weren’t and overlooked a handful of men whose service has since been verified. Several of the veterans on their list were moved to other cemeteries in the 1920s when the future of the cemetery was in doubt.


Six of the remaining veterans died before April 15, 1865, the day that Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. Private Edgar B. Comstock, born in Canada, died on February 27, 1865, leaving a wife and two young children; the cause of his death was not recorded. Private Samuel Costello, aged 44, died from consumption in Memphis, Tennessee. Private Joseph Hankerson, aged 19, died on September 19, 1863, only two and a-half months after he enlisted; the cause of his death is not known. Martin Luther Nicks, aged 26, served in the Missouri Light Artillery, was given a medical discharge and came to Minnesota hoping to recover from tuberculosis; he was originally buried in the cemetery’s paupers’ section but the Grand Army had him moved to a block of graves which they purchased specifically to prevent veterans from being buried as paupers. Captain Charles W. A. Nudd, aged 29, the son of a veteran of the War of 1812, was on his way home but died on board a boat before he reached St. Paul. Private James Towner, aged 20, died in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, while on his way home after he had been released from a Southern Prison camp.

Private Edgar B. Comstock served in Company D of the First Minnesota. He is pictured with his wife, Emily, and their two children. He died on February 27, 1865. The cause of his death was not recorded. Source: ancestory.com


Twelve others died between the time that Lee surrendered and the 1870 Decoration Day parade, several of them from diseases and disabilities most likely related to their military service. Private John Barton, aged 57, was a Scottish immigrant, who was taken prisoner at the Second Battle of Bull Run, was paroled and returned to service. Captain William A. Clark, aged 31, who served in Company B of the 9th Minnesota Infantry died from congestion of the lungs. Private James Crowder, aged 29, born in England, who suffered the loss of his left eye died from an enlarged liver. Private Edward C. Dwight, aged 28, who was discharged for disability, died from consumption. Private Thomas Fingland, aged 55, served in Colorado, guarding gold mines to prevent them from falling into Confederate hands; he died from pneumonia. Private William Holtz, age 43, a Prussian immigrant, was discharged for disability after the Battle of Corinth in 1862; he died from dropsy. Private William James, aged 29, whose occupation at the time of his enlistment was “gentleman”, was discharged for disability and died from consumption.

Sergeant John Van Pelt served in Company H of the 8th Indiana Cavalry. He died on April 5, 1868, most likely from consumption. Source: findagrave.com

Sergeant David J. Lewis, aged 29, was born in New York; the cause of his death was described simply as an “accident.” Private Lawrence (Lorenzo) Prescott, aged 30, was a Native American veteran who served with the 1st Minnesota Sharpshooters; he was discharged for disability after he contracted malaria. Private Julian Putnam aged 35, a bootmaker, died from pneumonia in Chicago, Illinois. Sergeant John Van Pelt, born in Indiana; the cause of his death was not recorded but three months after he died, his wife Mary died from consumption. Captain David S. Yardley, aged 24, drowned in Lake Harriet; he had received a medical discharge for wounds that he received at Antietam.


An estimated 650,000 to 750,000 men died during the Civil War. It is not possible to say whether these 18 veterans were among those counted. Please join us in remembering them on Monday, May 29th, at 10 AM.

Sue Hunter Weir is chair of Friends of the Cemetery, an organization dedicated to preserving and maintaining Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery. She has lived in Phillips for almost 50 years and loves living in such a historic community.

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