This week Tombstone Tuesday falls on Veterans Day. Unlike Memorial Day which honors those who gave their lives for our country, Veterans Day celebrates all of America’s veterans. Even so, I couldn’t resist including this unique monument to a long-ago war in this Tuesday edition.
At Moultrie Creek I recently wrote an article about the massacre of Major Francis Dade and his men during the Second Seminole War. The bodies of the slain soldiers lay where they died until late February when an expedition was organized to find the site and properly bury them. Their cannon was mounted, muzzle down, at the site to serve as a monument to the dead.
Since this was the largest defeat the United State’s Army had yet suffered (Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn would eclipse it 40 years later), it received a lot of attention from both the military and the civilian communities. Contributions from the officers and men of the Army were collected to move the bodies once again – this time to the post cemetery in St. Augustine. Not only the men of the Dade expedition, but all soldiers who died during the conflict were included in this effort.
On July 25, 1842, Colonel William J. Worth published an order stating, “The remains of officers who have been killed in battle or who have died on service, including those of the non-commissioned officers and soldiers (being the command save two) who fell with Major Dade, as also those of several non-commissioned officers and privates who fell under peculiar circumstances of gallantry and conduct, have been gathered and transferred to St. Augustine, where suitable vaults are constructed for the final reception, over which unostentatious monuments will be erected to the memories of our late comrades. For this purpose sufficient pecuniary means have been raised by the voluntary subscription of the soldiers and officers of this command.”
The ceremony took place on August 14, 1842. Seven wagons drawn by “elegant” mules and each covered with an American flag carried the soldiers to their final resting place. The following description of the ceremony was included in Niles’ National Register of September 3, 1842:
The St. Augustine News of the 20th Aug. says: The burial of Major F. L. Dade’s martyr’d dead, and those officers and soldiers who have died in Florida, took place on Monday last. So solemn and interesting an event excited on the part of our citizens the liveliest sympathy and feeling, and afforded them by joining in with the military, the heartfelt satisfaction of commingling their tears in union with those who had assembled to pay the last sad duties of love to their fallen comrades. At half past 10, a gun was fired from the battery in front of the green, by a detail of 3d artillery under lieutenant Churchill; when the mayor and council, the masonic fraternity, and St. Augustine City Guards, capt. P. R.. Lopez, proceeded to the St. Sebastian bridge, to await the arrival of the remains. In a short time, the melancholy wail of music was heard in the distance — the bright glitter of arms was seen glancing among the deep green of the woods, and the wagons covered with the stars and stripes, containing all that was of the honored dead, moved slowly onward. It was indeed a brilliant, a melancholy spectacle. On arriving at the public square, the cortege wheeled to the right, and proceeded up George street, continued down St. Francis street, when moving up Marine street they were brought to the spot appropriated for interment, the garden of St. Francis’ Barracks; the procession under the orders of Major Belknap, 8th infantry; Captain Gwynne, 8th infantry, commanding the escort; Lieut. A. T. Lee, acting adjutant.
The remains were removed from the funeral train amid the firing of minute guns, and the religious services were performed by the rev. Mr. Waters, the rev. Henry Aztell and Mr. John Beard, esq. A monody on the dead was pronounced by Dr. W. Whitehurst, esq. of the masonic fraternity.
Half hour guns were fired until sunset, closing the solemnities of the day.
The tombs, three in number, erected by the troops of the post, in which the remains are deposited, are vaults each about ten feet square, surmounted by a pyramid of five feet height, rising from a grassy mound, enclosing the body of the tomb. It is designed to cover these pyramids entirely with marble, on which will he placed the names of all other officers who have died or been killed in Florida, in addition to those deposited beneath.
Coquina (a native shell-rock) pyramids were later constructed over the vaults. They were originally covered with white stucco. The marble cladding never happened. Instead, an obelisk was also erected to the memory of these brave men. The inscription on its east side states, “This monument has been erected in token of respectful and affectionate remembrance by their comrades of all grades, and is committed to the care and preservation of the garrison of St. Augustine.”
References and Resources:
- Sprague, J. T. The Origin, Progress, and Conclusions of the Florida War To Which Is Appended a Record of Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Musicians, and Privates of the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, Who Were Killed in Battle or Died of Disease ; As Also the Names of Officers Who Were Distinguished by Brevets, and the Names of Others Recommended. Together with the Orders for Collecting the Remains of the Dead in Florida, and the Ceremony of Interment at St. Augustine, East Florida, on the Fourteenth Day of August, 1842. New York: D. Appleton, 1848.
- Niles’ National Register, Volume 63 (1842-1843). Washington City: William Ogden Niles, 1837.
- Brown, George M. Ponce De Leon Land and Florida War Record. St. Augustine, Fla: [The Record Print. Co.], 1902.
- Department of Veterans Affairs – St. Augustine National Cemetery page.