By Jon McGinty
Last Saturday, May 8, a local Union veteran of the Civil War finally got the recognition he deserved. Members of Logan Camp 26 of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) conducted a graveside ceremony for Lt. Col. Melancthon Smith, who died of wounds suffered at the siege of Vicksburg in 1863. For reasons unknown, Smith’s grave remained unmarked for 147 years.
Smith was a native of Rockford and a lawyer by occupation. He once served as the city’s postmaster. Smith enlisted in November 1861 and served as a member of the 45th Illinois Infantry Regiment, sometimes called the Lead Mine Regiment, since many recruits were from the Galena area. He participated in several battles, finally being mortally wounded at the siege of Vicksburg, Tenn., June 25, 1863. He died three days later of infection to his wounds.
Smith’s body was returned to Illinois, where it lay in state at the Rockford home of John Edwards, his father-in-law, for a few days. Smith was then buried in a family plot in Greenwood Cemetery, where he was afforded the full honors of a Masonic service by members of the Rockford Lodge. Members of the same lodge performed a similar ceremony for Smith last Saturday.
“We don’t know why no gravestone was installed,” says Steve Aarli, Graves Registration Officer for the Logan Camp. “I found his gravesite during my research at Greenwood.”
The SUVCW is a national educational and patriotic organization chartered by the U.S. Congress as the official successor of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the veterans’ organization for Union soldiers after the Civil War. Part of SUVCW’s mandate is to locate, inspect and repair or restore the gravesites and monuments to union soldiers throughout the U.S. The Rockford Camp Logan, one of eight in the state, has a 10-county region in northwestern Illinois for which its members are responsible. Smith’s new gravestone was obtained from the Veterans’ Administration.
“We estimate that more than 9,000 Union veterans are buried within our region,” says Camp Commander Greg Carter. “So far, we have located more than 1,000 of the graves, mostly by Steve Aarli.”
Logan Camp 26 meets at 7 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month in the Post Room of Memorial Hall, 211 N. Main St., in Rockford. Membership is open to descendants of Union Civil War veterans, as well as people with an avid interest in the history of the conflict. Information can be obtained from their Web site at www.logancamp26.com.
From the May 12-18, 2010 issue