Meet Leonard Drown, not Leonard Droun, a Civil War hero buried (we think) at Arlington National Cemetery 

  • Leonard Droun marker at Arlington National Cemetery.

  • Captain Leonard Drown’s grave marker at Woodlawn Cemetery on Village Street in Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Captain Leonard Drown’s memorial marker at Woodlawn Cemetery on Village Street in Penacook. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A headstone lists “Captain Leonard Drown” at Woodlawn Cemetery on Village Street in Penacook. The Penacook marker uses the term “In Memory,” which often signifies a person is buried elsewhere. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Leonard Drown of Penacook. Archive photo sleone

Monitor staff
Published: 5/28/2022 1:09:55 PM

The headstones at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia line up like dominoes, stretching as far as the eye can see.

It’s breathtaking and powerful, hallowed ground that is the final resting place for many of this nation’s most revered and honored dead. The marble headstones somehow remain glowing-white, no matter their age. The red roses stand tall. The grass is perfectly manicured.

Yet the chaos of war spreads far, even after the war has ended, even to a place like Arlington, despite its attention to accuracy and detail. In this case, Stuart Lord, a retired history teacher from Littleton, discovered from an Arlington headstone that a Leonard Droun of Penacook was a captain for the North during the Civil War. He died in 1862.

Lord’s research showed him that Leonard did, indeed, live in Penacook. He served bravely as a captain in the Civil War and was killed in 1862 at the Battle of Williamsburg.

All the details matched except for one: Captain Droun did not exist. Captain Drown, though, did.

“I couldn’t find (Droun) in the regimental history of the 23rd New Hampshire Volunteers,” said Lord, who spent 25 years in the military. “That had me digging to know more about Drown and it said he was buried in Penacook.”

To Lord, that added a new layer to the mystery. Where was Drown buried? Here at Woodlawn Cemetery in Penacook, under a worn, stained monument that looks ancient, or there at Arlington, with its clear writing and glorious surroundings?

He started his investigation five years ago, after visiting Arlington and, for the most part, piecing the puzzle together.

The pandemic and life and in general slowed an already arduous process to identify someone who died 160 years ago. But with Memorial Day Weekend here, Lord chose to retell the story created by the chaos and guesswork that can happen while trying to ID the war dead.

He figured it was time to call the media and explain what he knew. Maybe a relative lives nearby and will come forward.

Drown is most likely buried at Arlington. The marker there, in clear lettering, says, simply, his name with the improper spelling, that he was a captain in the 2nd New Hampshire infantry, and he died on July 28, 1862.

Drown’s marker at Woodlawn, for the most part, is illegible. Fungus and algae and time stain the monument. Only Drown’s name and the words, “In Memory,” are visible.

So although the monument could pass for a grave’s headstone, ‘in memory’ often means that the person was buried elsewhere.

For example, while JFK and Bobby Kennedy are buried at Arlington, their brother, Joseph Kennedy Jr., who was shot down while fighting the Nazis during World War II, has a memorial there in his honor. His body was never recovered.

“A lot of times, if there’s an ‘in memory’ marker, the person is not usually buried there,” said John Harlow, director of media relations at Arlington.

Harlow wasn’t aware of the error and said he knows of no plans to fix it. An explanation will never be known.

Meanwhile, Lord once served on the board of directors for the State Veterans Cemetery. He researched material and collected artifacts for its Leaning Center.

He wanted to know more about the soldier buried at Arlington under unique circumstances. The soldier from Penacook.

Through pages and pages of documented history, Lord learned that Drown was tall and had good posture, and while he was quiet for the most part, his men knew he was upset by the fiery look in his eyes.

His military career included a note of historical fact: Drown was the first officer from New Hampshire killed during the war. He agreed to accept surrender from the Confederate Army at the Battle of Williamsburg, telling his men to stay behind while he moved out to greet them.

He was killed, shot in the head. His career and courage landed him, most probably, in Arlington National Cemetery. That story, however, will be buried forever.

“It seems that maybe he’s buried here, but I’m not really sure,” said Jill McDaniel-Huckins, the Cemetery Administrator for the city of Concord. “Or maybe he’s not here and he’s in Arlington.”

Lord would welcome any news about Drown and Arlington National Cemetery. The place immediately stops any chatter and insists that tourists absorb this 624-acre landmark, with its 400,000 gravesites.

Most are marked accurately, but, undoubtedly, not each one. War tends to complicate things, never leaving life simple in its aftermath.

“Maybe we can put the mystery out there and better minds than mine can solve it,” Lord said. “Maybe there are family stories and legends that I do not know. I hope there is.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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