The forgotten funeral of Leonard Drown

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

  • David Morin’s website includes more details on Leonard Drown. Courtesy

  • Leonard Droun marker at Arlington National Cemetery.

  • LEFT: Captain Leonard Drown’€™s grave marker at Woodlawn Cemetery in Penacook. A marker in Arlington has a different spelling on his last name and a different date of death. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • This undated photo provided by the Pulitzer Administration in New York shows Mike Pride. On Tuesday, July 1, 2014, the board and Columbia University in New York, which administers the prizes, announced that Pride, the former editor of the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire who has served as co-chair of the Pulitzer board, has been named Pulitzer administrator. (AP Photo/Pulitzer Administration)

For the Monitor
Published: 6/4/2022 9:51:58 PM

A story on the Sunday Monitor’s front page on Memorial Day weekend posed the question of what happened to the body of Leonard Drown, an Army officer from Penacook who was killed in battle during the Civil War. By coincidence, I spent much of the first year of the COVID pandemic researching Drown’s regiment, the Second New Hampshire Volunteers, for a biography of Harriet Dame, the famous war nurse from Concord.

Because she and Drown were friends, he became a character in my book, No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame’s Civil War. The book is scheduled for publication in October, but there is no reason to leave the mystery of where Drown is buried until then.

First, a bit of background on Drown, whose extensive wartime papers are at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

Before the war, he was a blacksmith in Penacook and the foreman of the Pioneer Engine Co., a volunteer firefighting outfit. He and his wife, Molly, had three young children. I’m not sure whether she met Dame before the war, but he did stay at the Pavilion Inn while on jury duty at the old Concord courthouse nearby. Dame’s brother, George, ran the Pavilion just a few blocks north of his sister Harriet’s boarding house at Montgomery and North Main streets.

When the Civil War broke out in mid-April of 1861, Drown joined Edward E. Sturtevant, the night watchman for the Concord police, in running a volunteer recruiting post on the State House lawn. Together they signed up 226 men for the state’s first two volunteer regiments. Drown enlisted as a private, but by early June he was captain of E Company of the Second New Hampshire.

Against the wishes of higher-ups, Dame wangled her way into the same regiment as a matron at about the same time. She was 46 years old, and Drown was 41, which may have helped them bond once the Second reached the seat of war that July. Most of the foot soldiers were much younger.

The regiment’s first battle, at Bull Run, Va., was a disaster. Like the rest of the Union army, the Second fled from the field after hours of fighting and maneuvering and rushed in disorder back to Washington. The regiment’s colonel, Gilman Marston, who was wounded that day, called Drown “the bravest captain on the field.” Drown warned Molly in a letter after the battle to expect a long war. “Rest assured that the right will prevail,” he wrote. “Whether I live to see the end or not, I shall not have lived in vain.”

The regiment was relatively idle for nine months after Bull Run, and it was during these times that Drown and Dame became close. When they arrived in Maryland in rainy season, he blackened her muddy boots for her. When he dropped in to visit her at their next post on the banks of the Potomac, she asked if he was the officer of the day. No, he told her, he had special orders to look after her. 

On New Year’s Eve, Drown and the regimental surgeon played a practical joke on Dame that involved the surgeon dressing up in a gown and prancing around. Back in his own tent that night, Drown wrote a long letter to his wife. “When I look back it seems like a dream my being from home,” he observed. “I think Molly we shall love one another better for this separation. Let us bear it as patiently as may be, hoping that it is for the best.”

Not long afterward, he composed a letter to his young son. It began: “Not knowing whether I may ever have the privilege of seeing you again, I write this for your future reading that you may know something (of) what I wish you may be.” The letter ticked off lessons on telling the truth, treating others as he wished to be treated, honoring his mother and answering the call to arms if tyranny ever threatened his country. “Never do anything but what you would be willing your mother should know and you will save yourself from sorrow,” Drown closed his letter. “That you would be a good man is the ernest (sic) prayer of your Father.”

On May 5, 1862, near the end of the battle of Williamsburg on the Virginia Peninsula, Drown was gunned down by a group of Confederate soldiers who he believed were surrendering. Marston’s battle report described his killing as an act of barbarism, but rebel prisoners countered that the flag their comrades had waved was a faded battle flag with a white background, not a flag of surrender.

The battle of Williamsburg was a draw, but because the rebels retreated, most of the New Hampshire men believed Union forces had prevailed. With the enemy gone, they controlled the field and could easily retrieve their dead and wounded.

Dame was in nearby Yorktown toiling at a Union hospital at the time of Drown’s death. A second captain from the Second, Abiel Colby of Bow, died of illness there a few days after the battle. He had worked in a grocery on Concord’s Main Street before the war. “It’s so useless for me to say one word about the death of our dear Capt. Colby or Capt. Drown & many other dear friends of mine who fell in the battle, only that I am situated where every moment of my time is devoted to poor suffering Soldiers,” Dame lamented to a young friend in Concord. “I could hardly bear the loss of these more than friends. They were like brothers to me.”

The bodies of Colby and Drown reached Concord at about the same time. Colby lay in state at the New Hampshire State House. A military procession then accompanied his body to the Bow town line and turned it over to his family and friends for burial. In Penacook, Drown’s old fire company, the Masons, and the Governor’s Horse Guard turned out to lead the large crowd at his funeral on May 20, 1862. While impressed with the pomp at his service, the local reporter who covered it for the New Hampshire Statesman in Concord detected its deeper meaning in “the host of sympathising people, now brought face to face with a palpable memorial of the disaster which has overtaken our once happy land.” Drown was the first New Hampshire officer killed in battle during the war, though far from the last.

As the recent Sunday Monitor story reports, it is curious that a marker at Arlington National Cemetery honors “Leonard Droun,” a captain of the Second New Hampshire, but several factors argue strongly against his body being there.

The most obvious is his well-attended funeral in Penacook and burial in Woodlawn Cemetery. In addition, the Arlington stone misspells his name and has a curious date at the bottom: July 28, 1862. Drown had been dead for nearly three months by then. Also, according to the Arlington cemetery’s website, the first burial of a Union soldier at Arlington did not occur until May of 1864, more than two years after Drown was killed.

Since early in World War II, one of the first words any American serviceman or woman learns is SNAFU, an acronym for “situation normal, all f---ed up.” Although the word does not date to the Civil War, the men who fought it would have nodded their heads at the idea. To me, this is the likeliest explanation for the Droun headstone at Arlington.

Mike Pride is the editor emeritus of the Concord Monitor and a historian. He lives in Bow.

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