Renewing the history of a Civil War soldier in Franklin’s cemetery

  • Franklin Cemetery superintendent Kris Meinhold, left, and Danbury resident Andy Powell, right, walk Thursday towards the grave of a Civil War soldier Powell and his wife helped replace the marker for. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Andy Powell, a Danbury resident and veteran, worked with his wife to get a marker for a buried Civil War solider in Franklin Cemetery.

  • Andy Powell (left) takes a look at the grave marker he and his wife, Jeanne, worked to attain for Civil War soldier Simeon Bohonon while Franklin Cemetery superintendent Kris Meinhold looks on. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • The new grave marker above Simeon Bohonon’s burial site is shown at the Franklin Cemetery. ELODIE REED / Monitor staff

  • Franklin Cemetery superintendent Kris Meinhold leaves the 100 year old chapel on the cemetery property, which has received some maintenance lately. Meinhold said he's making different efforts to preserve the cemetery, which is privately funded, and encourage active use of the grounds.

  • Danbury resident Andy Powell and Franklin Cemetery superintendent Kris Meinhold stand outside the cemetery's 100-year-old chapel.

Monitor staff
Published: 11/26/2016 11:00:24 PM

A little more than a century after his death, Civil War veteran Simeon Bohonon has a new marker for his gravesite at the Franklin Cemetery.

“We put it in just before Veterans Day on the 11th,” said Kris Meinhold, the cemetery’s superintendent. The marker, a plaque set into the ground next to an old, blank headstone several hundred feet into the cemetery, came from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is a culmination of two decades of research plus some lobbying by Danbury residents Jeanne and Andy Powell.

The Powells, a couple in their 70s, bought their Danbury home on Bohonon Road in 1993. That purchase, Jeanne Powell wrote in an email, “began a process of deed research, library research and conversations that took place over many years.”

The couple soon found out that their property was referred to locally as the Bohonon Farm, and that Simeon Bohonon had been born there in the mid-19th century. In September 1861, Bohonon enlisted in the Fifth New Hampshire Regiment, a volunteer infantry for the Union Army during the Civil War.

By the end of the war, the regiment sustained the greatest loss in battle of any Union Army infantry or cavalry unit, with 295 dead and 756 wounded. Bohonon was among the wounded in the Battle of Fair Oaks in Virginia in June of 1862 after being shot in his left leg, and he was discharged as “disabled” on Nov. 24 of that same year.

Bohonon returned to his family’s property in Danbury, where he stayed and farmed until, Jeanne Powell said, an executor took the land from him and his family in 1879.

“He apparently had borrowed some money from a lady in Wilmot,” Powell wrote in an email. “She died and the executors wanted payment which he could not make.”

The Bohonons moved to Franklin in the latter part of the 19th century, and that was where the Powells discovered Simeon Bohonon was buried after his death in 1914, next to his wife, Jenny, who died the same year.

When the Powells visited the site, they discovered something missing: the bronze marker signifying Bohonon’s service during the Civil War.

“It was desecrated many, many years ago,” Andy Powell said. He added that, as a Vietnam War veteran himself, “I felt that . . . ‘we need to do something because he’s a vet.’ ”

The Powells went to Veterans Affairs to try and replace the marker, but they met an obstacle: they weren’t related to Bohonon, and they hadn’t been able to find any of his descendants.

“Simeon had three sons who only had daughters,” Jeanne Powell explained.

The Powells wrote to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte this past summer and asked for her to help broker a solution with the VA.

“The senator got it back to the VA and they answered her request and got it done,” Andy Powell said. “It was like, what? The federal government started working.”

The Powells contacted the Franklin Cemetery superintendent, Meinhold, who learned at that moment that he had not 65, but 66 known Civil War veterans in the cemetery.

“I had no idea,” Meinhold said. “He was here all the time.”

“Just waiting,” Andy Powell added.

Meinhold and Powell met for the first time recently and looked at the new marker on Bohonon’s grave together. Meinhold assured Powell this one couldn’t be stolen – it was attached to concrete extending a foot and a half down into the ground.

“They’d have to work hard,” Powell said.

Powell took a photo of the new marker when he visited Nov. 17, recording the new chapter in Bohonon’s history.

Though she hadn’t seen it in person yet, Jeanne Powell said in an email she was happy to see historical discrepancy finally resolved.

“It is most satisfying to be able to have a part in recognizing the last Bohonon to live on what is now our land and especially to note his service during the Civil War,” she wrote.

Meinhold said he was glad for the outcome, too, as he is trying to keep up the cemetery not only for history’s sake, but for the enjoyment and education of present day, living people.

He pointed out that back in the day of Bohonon, people used to have picnics and Sunday events in cemeteries, since they were “the nicest places in town.”

Somehow, though, Meinhold said, that went away over the years. Moving through the bright green, grassy grounds, along tree-shadow dappled walkways and inside a renovated chapel built 100 years ago, he said, “I’m trying to renew that.”

He wants people to come and enjoy the grounds, and also educate themselves – perhaps learning something about their ancestors, or from other features, like the new marker by Bohonon’s grave.

“It’s the history of our community, right here,” Meinhold said.

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