A Civil War Veteran goes home via cross-country motorcycle ride
Pvt. Jewett Williams, a Civil War soldier who fought with the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry regiment, will never be forgotten again.
This month, Williams’ cremains were claimed after 94 years then transported across the country from Oregon to Maine by the Patriot Guard Riders, a volunteer motorcycle group with members from across the nation whose mission is to honor U.S. military Veterans both living and dead.
The Patriot Guard began its journey with Williams’s cremains on Aug. 1 in Portland, Oregon. Members of the guard have traveled by motorcycle with Williams’ remains roughly 3,500 miles, across 19 states with transfers at each state line.
The escort made a stop at the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park in Virginia, where a ceremony was held in Williams’ honor August 18. As part of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Williams was at Appomattox Court House for the end of the Civil War, as Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Gen. Ulysses Grant in a ceremony on April 12, 1865.
“A Civil War Veteran coming across county like this just doesn’t happen.”
Over 100 motorcyclists participated in the segments of Williams’ journey through Virginia alone. Riders from states that were not a part of the route, such as Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, traveled north to participate at Appomattox.
“That’s who we are. We are the patriots, we are the guard of our Veterans and we want to make sure to get them back home to their resting places,” said Virginia Patriot Guard rider James Tennant, who carried Williams’ cremains during the ceremony at Appomattox.
Tennant, a Navy Veteran and a ten-year member of the Patriot Guard Rider, described the ride as the highlight of his life. He said the Patriot Guard Riders have participated in numerous escorts. However, he acknowledged the history that was made during this particular mission.
When discussing the receipt of Williams’ cremains for the leg of the mission that led to Appomattox, Tenant said, “that’s a body, it’s a person, a Veteran, a soldier… that touches my heart. To be able to put him on my motorcycle with my wife and ride here, it’s an experience I can’t describe. It’s unbelievable.”
Jewett Williams was born in 1843 in the small farming community of Hodgdon in northern Maine. He was drafted into the U.S. Army at Bangor, Maine, on Oct. 12, 1864. Williams served his last six months with the 20th Maine Infantry regiment fighting during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, the Stony Creek (or “Applejack”) Raid and other battles, such as Peebles Farm, Hatcher’s Run, White Oak Road, Quaker Road, Five Forks and Appomattox.
After the war, Williams returned home to Maine before living in several different states. Upon moving to Michigan, he and his wife had their first child, who died at 19 months. They then moved to Minnesota where they had five more children before settling in Washington and then Oregon in the 1890s.
Up until about 1919, Williams frequently spoke to local school groups during Memorial Day events. His wife died in 1920.
Williams died in 1922, at the age of 78, after a three-month stay in the Oregon State Hospital for the Insane in Salem, Oregon. There, he was diagnosed with senility. His ashes were discovered in a copper can in 2004, shelved in a shed on the hospital’s property alongside the remains of more than 3,600 other people. No one claimed Williams’ cremains until Maine historian Tom Desjardin, who was researching members of the 20th Maine stumbled across an online archive that housed Williams’ record.
The effort to transport Williams to his final resting place in Maine was a joint effort coordinated by volunteers, including the historian who found him, the Patriot Guard Riders, the Maine Living History Association, with support from the Togus National Cemetery, the adjutant general of the Maine National Guard and the Oregon and Maine state departments of Veterans affairs.
The Patriot Guard Riders delivered Williams’ cremains on August 22 to Maine where they will be returned to surviving family members.