Woman Seeks to Honor Lebanon Civil War Vets
Lebanon — As history buffs across the nation mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a city resident is aiming for a more lasting tribute in Lebanon’s cemeteries.
Fran Hanchett is raising money to purchase stone markers to place on the graves of more than 80 Civil War veterans buried in city cemeteries. And at about $300 for each stone, it’s a project that Hanchett estimates will cost more than $20,000, which she hopes to raise from businesses and individuals.
Hanchett, who sits on the city’s Soldiers Memorial Building Committee and is the secretary of the Lebanon Historical Society, started the project two months ago, and has so far raised enough money to order commemorative stones for five soldiers who had no grave markings whatsoever, plus other soldiers whose graves had markers but did not acknowledge their status as veterans. There’s still scores of graves in need of markers.
“It just bothered me that all of these Civil War soldiers were buried in our cemeteries and there was nothing that indicated they were a veteran,” Hanchett said. “It bothered me that they didn’t have recognition.”
After the unmarked graves were marked, Hanchett had met her initial goal. The response from the community, however, spurred further action.
“I never expected this to go on the way it has,” she said. “I had originally figured if I had gotten five stones for the ones that didn’t have any marker at all, then I’d be doing well.”
Hanchett has received donations from businesses, and Ricker Funeral Home has agreed to order, store and set the markers at no cost to Hanchett.
Greg Henderson, a Lebanon resident and member of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers Civil War reenactment group, was one of the first to buy a commemorative stone. Henderson chose to purchase one for John S. Flanders, a soldier who served in the real Fifth Regiment.
“This guy didn’t have one and it wasn’t going to break the bank, so I said well, you know, he needs a stone,” Henderson said.
Aside from reenactments, the Fifth Regiment also raises money to restore and repair grave markers for Civil War veterans.
Naturally, Hanchett’s project has Henderson’s full support.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be done. These guys did a lot for the country with their combined efforts. It’s a worthy cause to at least give them the recognition they deserve.”
Thirty-eight of the Civil War veterans were Lebanon residents when the fight broke out, but the majority of them moved to Lebanon after the war, according to Hanchett’s research.
Tom Ledoux, who runs a Vermont-centered Civil War history website, said Union soldiers often enlisted in neighboring communities for the promise of better pay. Vermont, for instance, paid $7 more per month than New Hampshire, according to Ledoux.
“And every town gave a different bounty,” he said. “There was a lot of passing back and forth.”
Gary Ward, a Plainfield resident who is the commander of the Sons of Union Veterans McKinley Camp Nine based in Lebanon, said soldiers returning from the war could have chosen Lebanon because it was starting to develop as an industrial center.
“That may be why they came from Vermont, if Vermont was more rural and didn’t have the industry that Lebanon did,” he said.
In researching the veterans, Hanchett said she found some interesting characters. Roger Smalley, for instance, was born in Meriden and attended Kimball Union Academy. But at the time of the war, he was a teacher in Mississippi, so he joined the Confederates.
Hanchett said Smalley never returned to Lebanon, but it’s where he was buried nonetheless. “It makes you wonder if he wasn’t accepted here and if he was always considered a wanderer,” Hanchett said. “Was he not accepted anywhere in the North?”
Another man, Tom Pennick, is not on Hanchett’s project list because his grave stone is marked. But the history is still unique. According to Hanchett, Pennick was a black man who fought in Kentucky, but he moved to Lebanon in 1864, before the war ended, to work on the railroad.
“You can almost picture him being a porter,” said Hanchett. “We’ve got quite the variety here.”
Ben Conarck can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.