War hero’s descendants “met” him in Bangor 150 years later

Gathered at the Mount Hope Cemetery graves of Army Maj. Stephen Decatur Carpenter and his son, John, are Elizabeth Bamford Keepper (center) of Illinois and her brother Bill Bamford and his wife, Barbara, who live in Scarborough. Carpenter, who was killed in action in Tennessee on Dec. 31, 1862, was the great-great-great uncle of Elizabeth Keepper and Bill Bamford. The family reunion took place on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013. (Brian Swartz Photo)

Beth Keepper traveled a long way — about 1,200 miles and 150 years — to meet Great-great-great Uncle Stephen Decatur Carpenter.

She wasn’t disappointed.

They met at Mount Hope Cemetery on Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 exactly 150½ years to the day since Carpenter took up residence on the cemetery’s topographical centerpiece, the hill overlooking the Penobscot River. Along with his 9½-month-old son, John, Stephen D. enjoys a tree-shaded view of the river, State Street, and North Brewer.

He earned the view.

Born in 1818 to Col. Joshua and Susan (Heald) Carpenter and named for a Navy hero, Stephen Decatur graduated from West Point in July 1, 1840, joined the 1st U.S. Infantry Regiment as a shavetail lieutenant, and fought in Florida’s Seminole War. He later fought in Mexico and served as various godforsaken Army posts in Texas.

Along the way Carpenter married Margaret Gear at Fort Snelling, Minn. Before her death at Fort Terrett in Texas, she bore her husband a daughter, Alice Carpenter.

Stephen D. fought Comanches in Texas and, in 1856, returned to Bangor (where he had lived from 1833 to circa 1837-38) to marry Laura Clark, the adopted daughter of Richmond Hayward. They soon had a daughter, Sara Elvira, and later a son, John, likely born in late September 1860.

Laura Carpenter died at Fort Stockton in Texas late that year, possibly from childbirth-related complications.

After his death (likely in Bangor) on July 7, 1861, John was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery. His father commanded the 19th U.S. Infantry during the April 7, 1862 fighting at Shiloh, Tenn.; eight months later Stephen D. marched with his men to Murfreesboro, Tenn.

There a substantial Confederate army attacked Union troops on Tuesday, Dec. 31. Now a major, Carpenter maneuvered his regiment against a Confederate brigade. As he withdrew his surviving men, Carpenter died in a Confederate volley. A soldier rescued Carpenter’s body, which was shipped to Bangor about a month later.

Bangor residents staged an Episcopalian-themed funeral for him on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 1863.

Father-and-son Carpenters settled into adjacent graves at Mount Hope Cemetery; relatives had the bodies relocated elsewhere in the cemetery in 1881.

The Carpenters now lie in plot 718CG, just off Central Avenue.

This oil portrait of Army Maj. Stephen Decatur Carpenter hangs in the Illinois home of Elizabeth Bamford Keepper. Carpenter is her great-great-great uncle. (Elizabeth Keepper Photo)

To this day, Stephen D. Carpenter’s relatives have never forgotten his sacrifice. His immediate family included brother Benjamin F. Carpenter, born in 1822. He and his wife, Rebecca, had a daughter, Kate Laura, who was born in Lincoln in 1847.

Her daughter, Laura Katherine Hammond, was born in Van Buren in 1867. Hammond’s daughter, Harriett Ouida Ward, was born in Ossawatomie, Kansas in 1895.

Ward’s son, David Ward Bamford, was born in December 1916 in Montana. He married Imogene McMinn of Masardis in late November 1937.

Among their children was daughter Elizabeth “Beth” Bamford Keepper, who lives in Lake Bluff, Ill. Like her siblings, including younger brother Bill Bamford of Scarborough, Beth knew all about Stephen Decatur Carpenter while growing up.

She even knows what he looked like.

Mounted on a wall in Keepper’s home is a framed oil painting of a bearded Stephen Decatur Carpenter, who wore his Army dress uniform (even to his shoulder epaulettes) while sitting for the artist. The painting depicts an older soldier, not a youngster looking forward to his first battle; Carpenter’s etched face reveals a man who had seen many battlefields.

“This is the portrait of my uncle which was given to me by my Father,” Keepper noted by email. The painting “is presiding over a chest which his niece Carolyn Carpenter Hammond bought when she was married in 1865.

“My father … gave me his (Stephen’s) biography and portrait many years ago, with the request that Lt. Col. Carpenter (his promotion arrived after Stephen D.’s death) never end up in the attic or basement!” Keepper wrote by email. “I have honored his request and now feel that our uncle should be shared with all of our family.”

Carpenter’s painting has “hung in my childhood dining room and now my own since the ’40s,” Beth later indicated.

Keepper contacted The Weekly after reading a “Maine at War” column about Stephen Decatur Carpenter. She and other relatives planned to attend a funeral service in Masardis on Aug. 10; Keepper then hoped to visit Mount Hope Cemetery and meet her family’s Civil War hero.

Could The Weekly direct her to the grave? Yes: Better yet, we arranged a guided tour and met Beth, Bill, and his wife, Barbara, at their Bangor hotel on Aug. 11.

Meanwhile, Keepper had explained her mission to Mount Hope superintendent Stephen Burrill, who promised to have the Carpenter gravestones cleaned.

So when we arrived at plot 718CG that lovely Sunday morning, the gleaming white Carpenter stones stood out among the adjacent lichen- and mildew-covered gravestones like two healthy teeth amidst diseased molars.

Beth, Bill, and Barbara crossed 150½ years and the Mount Hope grass and met Stephen and John — who possibly have not seen any relatives for a long, long time.

“It was with a sense of awe that I first saw his newly whitewashed tombstone at Mount Hope,” Beth later said.

“It was like visiting the grave of an old friend. My father kept my long deceased uncle alive in our minds since we were little,” she said. “I was familiar with his family and Army life from the biography my father had saved for so many years.”

“It brought my experience with Stephen Decatur Carpenter full circle,” Bill said later. “He was for so many years [just] a man in a painting with a fascinating story.

“Standing at his resting place completed his story for me,” he said.

There, backdropped by a sunlit Penobscot River, the generations posed for photos. Only Route 2 traffic intruded on the once-in-a-150-year moment.

“I stood there wishing we could talk and catch up these 150 years, and I could console him on the death of his infant son, buried beside him,” Beth said.

“I felt close to him in that still, quiet, and peaceful place,” she said.

“It was an honor to visit the grave of a true patriot and hero, and it was made more meaningful and special because I was related,” Bill said.






Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.