Civil War decendents get Gen. Burnett's grave inscription restored

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:48

    Goshen-Civil War Brigadier General Henry Lawrence Burnett got the words for his headstone back last Sunday. Mary S. Van Deusen came from Massachusetts to see an historical marker installed at her great-grandfather's grave in Slate Hill Cemetery in Goshen. The marker contains the inscription that originally appeared on a plaque affixed to the general's headstone. Many years ago, vandals stole the bronze plaque, presumably for the value of the metal. Ever since then, the overgrown grave gave no clue that a great American was buried there. "The sad thing is you've got somebody here who desperately wanted to be remembered," Van Deusen said of her ancestor, a Judge Advocate who investigated the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and prosecuted the conspirators. After an extensive search through the Internet, Van Deusen found what she was looking for: the text of the missing inscription. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Col. Ellis Camp 124, raised money to have the inscription restored to the general's grave. It was General Burnett's wish, expressed through his will, to be buried at the Slate Hill site. "If you look out from the grave spot, you can see his horse farm," Van Deusen said. "So not only does he want to be remembered, he loves this area so intensely, he wants to be here for eternity." When Van Deusen took an early retirement from IBM, where she was a researcher, she became interested in finding her roots. "I knew nothing about my ancestors," she said. "I knew my mother left my father when I was six weeks old." She obtained a box of letters and photographs that included an obituary for her grandmother. It said she was the daughter of Henry Burnett. The Governor of Colorado and three generals were among the pallbearers. "What was hitting me so strongly was that I had found this ancestor who clearly wanted to be remembered," Van Deusen said. "So I searched out everything I could find on him. I did cold calls to people of the same name as his pallbearers in New York City." She discovered that the general in his heyday "was dining with the Roosevelts, in complete high society. So I'm hearing things like, ‘That grandfather's clock down the hallway was the gift to all the grooms at that wedding.' I started going through the wills and started calling people all over the country who had the same name as his third wife's family. And finally in California I found somebody who in fact was a descendant of the third wife's family, who had no interest in genealogy, but who got me in touch with my cousin. And my cousin's father had everything that had descended in the family. When he died, my cousin contacted me. She had this huge box of material and had no idea what anything in it was. And that's when I realized for the first time she had the plaque picture. She had no idea what it was. It would have just disappeared. We lucked out that I was looking for it, and she happened to have this unexplained piece of paper." President Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865. General Burnett conducted the investigation that followed and served on the prosecution team against the conspirators. After the trial he practiced law in Cincinnati and New York City. In the 1880s he bought the Hillside Farm on Chester Road in Goshen. He stayed on the farm in the summers and raised trotting horses for the Goshen Driving Club. He died in 1916. Sons of Union Veterans Guide Gordon Mathsen, who lives in Sugar Loaf, said President Lincoln's re-election to his second term in 1864 was "a squeaker" against challenger Democrat George McClelland. McClelland ran on a platform of ending the war by appeasement — letting the Confederacy remain the Confederacy and the Union remain the Union, he said. "And a lot of people thought that was a great idea," except for members of the military, said Mathsen. "Those absentee ballots carried the vote," he said. "The soldiers and sailors of the Union Army and Navy at that time were so ticked off, saying, ‘We've been in this war for three years already and we've lost so many people, we've come this far. We're not walking away from this until we win it and we're going to keep Lincoln in office until we do that.' They turned the tide of that election." The Sons of Union Veterans is headquartered in the 1841 Courthouse in Goshen. "The reason for that is because that's where the 124th regiment left from when it went into service in 1862," Mathsen said. "They got their flag and charter right on the steps of that courthouse." The Sons first organized in 1881. Their members are direct male descendents of Civil War veterans. The organization also admits associate members interested in preserving the legacy of those who fought for the Union. The Sons extended thanks to others involved in the project. Louis D. Neuburger Sr., the Ellis Camp's memorial officer, had first told the local chapter about General Burnett and helped secure a grant from the county. Senior Vice Commander Jeffrey Albanese helped with research and coordinating the dedication. Past Camp Commander George Miller worked to acquire the plaque and clear the memorial site. Former Camp Commander and former Department Commander Michael Bennett helped put together the program. Also present were Junior Vice Commander John Dickerson and Chaplain Barry O'Neill, who conducted the benediction, Color Bearer Warren McFarland, and Gordon Mathsen, the Sons of Union Veterans Guide. John Cristiano, Pat Perry, and Richard Loffredo represented Catholic War Veterans.