In what must be one of the most unusual cross-country funeral entourages, the ashes of Civil War Veteran Jewett Williams left Oregon last month on a motorcycle relay organized by the Patriot Guard Riders and are expected to arrive in Williams’s home state of Maine on Aug. 22. Two Civil War stops, each with a memorial ceremony, have been added to the trip: Aug. 18 at Appomattox Court House and the next day in Gettysburg.
Those additional stops are appropriate, because Williams, a member of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, was present at the surrender at Appomattox Court House. However, he has been mistakenly identified as fighting with his regiment in Gettysburg. He did not. He joined the Union army in October 1864, more than a year after the Gettysburg battle. However, his regiment famously fought there at Little Round Top, and the memorial that stands at the site may be selected for the ceremony Aug. 19.
Williams was rescued from obscurity when more than 3,500 copper urns filled with the remains of men, women and children who had died at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem were discovered in a locked basement room in 2004. In recent years, researchers have been cross-checking the numbers on the urns against admission logs in hopes of identifying those who had died at the hospital and whose remains were never claimed. Williams was one of those identified.
The soldier ended up at the hospital after a long life. Records indicate that he became a carpenter, and in the 1880s was living in Brainerd, Minn. Like many other veterans, he moved often as the West became available for settlement, showing up in census records in the Washington territory as a married man with five children. In 1903, he appeared to be living alone in Portland, Ore. In 1922, he was admitted to Oregon’s state mental hospital for what was listed as senility. Three months later, he died at age 78.
Last year, Tom Desjardin, historian of the 20th Maine Regiment, was successful in convincing state officials that Williams’s ashes should be brought home for a proper burial. The Patriot Guard Riders volunteered to escort his remains.