James Holmes Watson. A Patriot.

Greenwood Web (18 of 38)

James Holmes Watson. A Patriot.

It was 2004, and I was on a short vacation in Cincinnati. My hosts suggested that we visit Spring Grove Cemetery, and we spent a few hours marveling at the place.

We went to the back of the cemetery where the graves were the oldest. Most were between 100-200 years old. This section of the cemetery seemed a little less manicured and definitely less visited than the newer sections.

As I looked around, I realized that some of these people hadn’t been thought of in years. No one had come to mourn them for some time.

Their names just listed on a branch of a family tree somewhere, or published in an archived newspaper articles not read in years.

Worn graves marked lives well lived, but soon forgotten.

This brings me to James Holmes Watson.

Andy and I walked around Green-Wood Cemetery a few weeks ago, and I brought my camera. I got the same feeling in Green-Wood as I did in Spring Grove: lives well lived, but forgotten.

As we walked, we stumbled upon James Holmes Watson’s cenotaph pictured above. You can’t read much of it anymore, but you can decipher:

His name: James Homes Watson.

His regiment: 9th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment aka Hawkins’ Zouaves.

His death: September 17, 1862 on the field of Antietam.

I looked him up and found the following info on the Green-Wood Cemetery site:

Watson, James Holmes (1838-1862). Sergeant, 9th New York Infantry, Company A. Watson is not buried at Green-Wood; a cenotaph in the family’s lot honors his memory. Watson enlisted as a private at New York City, his birthplace, on September 2, 1861, mustered directly into the 9th New York, was promoted to corporal on October 14, 1861, and rose to sergeant on January 19, 1862. He was killed in action on September 17, 1862, at Antietam, Maryland, and buried at its National Cemetery, gravesite 747. A handwritten “Final Statement” written by his captain, Andrew Graham, notes that Watson, who was a clerk in civilian life, was 5’9″ tall with blue eyes, brown hair, and a fair complexion. The note went on to say that he was owed $54 by the government for his service. 

As it’s Memorial Day, I wanted to think on James Holmes Watson.

He will have a flag placed on his grave today, but most likely no one will think about his 5’9″ frame and blue eyes. What he saw that day as he fell in the field of Antietam. How his family mourned when they received the news.

1864_hawkinsparade1912 (1)

The picture above is veterans of the Hawkins’ Zouaves regiment during a 1912 Memorial Day Parade.

I would like to think that one of those veterans knew James Holmes Watson and was thinking about him as he marched. Thinking about his dark hair and fair complexion. Remembering his last moments on earth in the field of Antietam. Knowing that he was a patriot.

Watson’s cenotaph may be worn, and largely forgotten, but 153 years later it still speaks volumes. Just as the graves of all the fallen.

Happy Memorial Day.


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