Honoring a Civil War veteran

JDickinson1My great-great-great-grandfather, Elijah Dickinson, enlisted in Union Army in 1862. He was joined by both of his brothers, Atwood and James, as well as their sister’s husband, Nelson Cohaskey. The four of them served in Vermont’s 6th Infantry. Elijah died of disease during the war and is buried in Washington, D.C. Nelson also died while serving and is buried in Annapolis, Maryland. Atwood survived the war, moved from Vermont to Iowa, and is buried there.

I didn’t have too much trouble locating the final resting places for the three of them, but I had some difficulty locating James, the youngest brother. I found that he did have a pension record, but it wasn’t available online, so I headed down to the National Archives, which is fortunately just a subway ride away from my home in Maryland.

[A] hunch that James must be interred somewhere in Cambridge

All indications in the pension file were that James lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his wife and daughter. The file even contains a letter from the undertaker who buried James. The letter states that the undertaker lived in East Cambridge and that “my return of his death to the City Hall Boston reads James Dickerson which is a mistake, his correct name being James M. Dickinson.” Not only did this affidavit confirm my hunch that James must be interred somewhere in Cambridge, but it led me to his death certificate, which was indexed under Dickerson instead of Dickinson. Unfortunately the death record did not state the place of interment.

So I started randomly calling cemeteries in Cambridge, a method which has worked well for me in the past. No Cambridge cemetery had James, but a woman at one cemetery said, “You should call Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden. A lot of Catholics from Cambridge were buried there.” It couldn’t hurt, right? So I called Holy Cross, and sure enough he and his wife were buried there, but there was no headstone on their plot.

Plenty of my relatives who are buried in and around Boston do not have headstones, but James is the first one I found who was a veteran. So I decided to apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for a government-issued headstone.

The application itself is online, but submitting it requires proof of service as well as assistance from the cemetery. In October 2015 I completed the application, attached proof of service from the pension file, and sent it off to the cemetery, which also required a $100 setting fee for veteran markers. My contact there was tremendously helpful and she submitted the completed application to the VA with an authorized signature from the cemetery.

They wanted copies of the original records from 1888

In early December I got a letter from the Veterans Administration stating that they needed documentation confirming that James was buried at Holy Cross, but would not accept contemporary burial records. They wanted copies of the original records from 1888. Knowing that these aren’t always available, I sent an email to my contact at the cemetery and held my breath. They were able to scan and email to the VA handwritten records from a Burial Book from the late 1800s. Phew!

Two weeks later I got word that my application was complete and that the marker would arrive at the cemetery in 4-6 weeks, which would be late January 2016. Because the cemetery would not install the marker during winter, they assured me it would be installed by Memorial Day.

I had only two minor disappointments along the way. First, VA policy prevented me from having the name of James’ wife, Annie (Needham) Dickinson, added to the marker. Second, this particular cemetery requires all veteran headstones to be the flat markers, so I was not able to get one of the special Civil War-era upright markers that are available.

It would be another couple of months before I could travel up to Malden to see the installed marker for myself. The entire process from application to installation took about seven months, and I could not be more pleased with the assistance I received from my contacts at both the cemetery and the Department of Veterans Affairs. And now all four members of the Dickinson family who served together in the Civil War are resting in properly marked graves.

Patty Vitale

About Patty Vitale

Patty Vitale lives in Germantown, Maryland. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1986. She has a B.S. Business Administration from Boston University and a J.D. from American University. Patty is a member of the Society of Mayflower Descendants as well as the Daughters of the American Revolution, Hungerford’s Tavern Chapter, where she serves as the Chair of the Women’s Issues Committee.View all posts by Patty Vitale