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A Time to Remember

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“All gave some, some gave all” is a phrase you may have heard through the years as folks celebrated Memorial Day – but maybe not enough. For us New Englanders, this long weekend is the unofficial kick-off to summer, and many of us observe the day by enjoying time at the beach or at a backyard barbecue if the weather cooperates. A few of us may carry on the tradition of our parents and grandparents by visiting cemeteries and leaving a small flower box on the graves of our loved ones who have passed. Some may join the town veterans, Scouts, clergy and others as they make their way through Hopkinton’s various cemeteries on Monday morning, offering prayers for those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. We praise them with words of remembrance accompanied by a bugler and in some cases a rifle salute.

>> RELATED: Letter to the Editor: Memorial Day from a Veteran’s Perspective

Our modern Memorial Day descends from what was earlier known as “Decoration Day”. It was born out of the terrible loss of life during the Civil War, when some 600,000 troops died. Like so many other origin stories, this one is mired in controversy, as different locations make claims to being the first community to change focus to the recently deceased war dead.

The first “official” National Decoration Day was sponsored by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) and was observed on May 30, 1868. However, some historians credit Memorial Day to an event which took place in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865, when 10,000 gathered to dedicate the newly dug graves of some 267 Union prisoners of war that had died in the Hampton Park prison camp.  Their bodies were buried in a mass grave as Confederate soldiers retreated. Thousands of freedmen, many of them members of local Black churches, organized to unearth the bodies and place the soldiers into individual graves. On May 1, they came together with U.S. Army officials, troops, and teachers from nearby freedman schools to pay their respects to those who had fought and died for the Union cause. Activities included speeches, prayer, and singing along with grave decorating. Over the year, the Union soldiers were gradually disinterred again and brought to national cemeteries.

3 Hopkinton GAR members, from L-R: 
Edwin Newton, Sidney Whitney, and Samuel Smith.
3 Hopkinton GAR members, from L-R: Edwin Newton, Sidney Whitney, and Samuel Smith.

The G.A.R. was an organization of Union veterans, and just about every community in the North had a chapter. Hopkinton’s was named for Charles C. Phillips, who first appears in Hopkinton on the 1855 census as a laborer in the boot industry. Phillips enlisted in Hopkinton in 1862, mustered out in January 1864, and like so many of his comrades, re-enlisted later that same year. He was killed at the Third Battle of Winchester, Virginia on September 19, 1864, where over 5,000 Union troops died and another 3,000 were injured. Phillips was just 26 years old. The Hopkinton chapter met at a building on Church Street, located across from the end of Price Street. Their sons carried on the tradition of commemorating their father’s sacrifice well into the 1930’s.

There were other young men from town who died on the battlefield during the Civil War, including Thomas Fetherston (aka Featherstone), born in 1842 in County Roscommon, Ireland. The entire Fetherston family emigrated to the area at the height of the Famine, and most of the men found employment in the boot and shoe industry.  Early maps show that they lived on the Hopkinton/Southboro line. Some records identifying them as being in Cordaville and others in Hopkinton. Either way, Thomas worked here and when he enlisted, Hopkinton was credited.  

The Monument to the 11th Mass at Gettysburg
The Monument to the 11th Mass at Gettysburg

According to his service record, Thomas enlisted on June 1, 1861 into the 11th Massachusetts Infantry. This unit saw considerable action and Thomas suffered wounds the following year at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He likely recuperated in one of the multiple makeshift hospitals that sprung up nearby scenes of protracted fighting. He may have even returned to Hopkinton to recuperate, not an unlikely event during the Civil War, by any means. Upon his return to his unit, Fetheston was promoted to Sergeant. Ten months later was killed July 2, 1863 at Gettysburg, a few months shy of his 21st birthday.  There is a dramatic monument to the 11th at Gettysburg; at the top of the obelisk is carved an arm holding a battle sword aloft.

Grave of Thomas Fethersone
Grave of Thomas Fethersone

Thomas Fetherston is buried in the Wilson Street Cemetery and his headstone has recently been repaired and strengthened by Marine Corps veteran Mike Whalen. Mike deserves much credit for his work maintaining the Wilson Street cemetery, the site of the earliest Irish Catholic burials for both Southborough and Hopkinton. Further recognition must be given to the Boy Scouts who have done their Eagle Scout projects there as well.

Woodville’s Comey family sent several of their sons to war. Henry Newton Comey (1840 – 1932) enlisted in the Second Massachusetts Division and served the length of the war. Henry was wounded at Gettysburg and earned the rank of Captain before mustering out. During his final days in the Army, Captain Comey was assigned a guard in the courtroom where the co-conspirators in the Lincoln assassination were tried.

Manlius Comey
Manlius Comey

Comey’s brothers Alphonso, Lawson and Manlius were less fortunate. As a member of the First Massachusetts Heavy Artillery, Manlius was captured at the battle of Petersburg and spent the duration of his time as a P.O.W. in Andersonville. He died of starvation at sea while being transported home after a prisoner swap. Manlius Comey was 21 years old at the time of his death. Brother Lawson Comey was killed in the battle of Brashear City near New Orleans in 1863 and Alphonso at Cold Harbor. The Union lost 8,000 men in twenty minutes at Cold Harbor, and according to Claire Wright, former president of the Historical Society “it was the only assault General Grant later said he regretted.”

In total 8 first cousins in the Comey family served in the Civil War. In 1918, Henry erected a small chapel in Evergreen Cemetery to memorialize the family’s contributions to the cause. The chapel still exists thanks to the efforts of the Woodville Old Home Association and the citizens of Hopkinton who funded restoration efforts through the Community Preservation Act.

George Royal Comey of the 15th Massachusetts Battery Light Artillery not only survived the war, he kept a pocket diary from 1864-65. In 2018, his great, great granddaughter Jane Hallett transcribed the diary and it is available on the Historical Society’s website.

Memorial Day events here in town include visits to the town cemeteries and the unveiling of a new World War II memorial on the Common. All are invited. Details and schedules can be found on the Hopkinton Veterans Celebration Committee Facebook.

Never forget.

Anne Mattina is a Board Member and Vice President at the Hopkinton Historical Society

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