A Clifton lad who “fudged” his age so he could fight to save the Union received a singular honor — the Last Soldier Ceremony — from the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War on Veterans Day 2019.
Beneath a glowering, snow-threatening gray sky, some 50 people gathered at Maplewood Cemetery on the Rebel Hill Road (Route 180) in Clifton to honor Melvin S. Jellison, one of Maine’s two surviving Civil War veterans when he died on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 1947.
Jellison was the last Civil War veteran in Penobscot County. His family buried him in the Jellison family plot under a rectangular flat marker engraved “Father.”
His death and funeral made headlines in the Bangor Daily News and other Maine newspapers. More than 11 million Americans had just served during World War II; the Civil War already receded into American history and lore, and Jellison was a last living connection to that bloody conflict.
Yet, although he died 72 years ago, his hometown never forgot him. Neither did Daniel Chaplin Camp No. 3, SUVCW, which along with the Clifton Historical Society organized the Veterans Day event.
Born in Clifton on Wednesday, November 4, 1846, Jellison stood 5-6 and had hazel eyes and dark hair when he joined Co. B, 6th Maine Infantry Regiment on Aug. 23, 1862. On page 224 of Appendix D, the 1863 Maine Adjutant General’s report claims that Jellison was 18 and single when he enlisted.
That’s not quite right. He certainly was single, but Jellison “was not quite 16 years old” and “fudged” his age, his great-grandson Raymond Williams said as the Veterans Day ceremony began at 1 p.m.
Onlookers quietly stood along two sides of the Jellison lot, and eight members of the Daniel Chaplin Camp stood along a third side, with the two-man color guard from Camp No. 3 forming the far corner. The arrangement strongly resembled the “hollow square” that Jellison would have known during his three years with the colors.
Jellison enlisted about the time his father, John Jellison, joined the 18th Maine Infantry Regiment at Bangor, Raymond Williams said before thanking the SUVCW members.
Elizabeth Grinnell, Jellison’s great-granddaughter and Williams’s sister, then read a letter that Melvin Jellison wrote his mother on November 11, 1863. Designated the “orderly for the provost marshal,” Jellison wrote, “I am so busy I don’t know what to do.”
He mentioned a recent battle during which the 6th Maine “went in with 370 men” and emerged with 85 soldiers unscathed. That sentence succinctly described the November 7 night attack that saw the already worn-out 6th Maine boys attack Confederate fortifications at Rappahannock Station, Va. and capture the position with the liberal application of bayonets, rifle butts, and fists.
Grinnell noted that while Jellison was away, a younger sister and younger brother died at home.
After Grinnell spoke, the Daniel Chaplin Camp No. 3 members conducted the SUVCW’s “Last Soldier Ceremony.” One member read the list of battles in which Jellison served: Antietam (after which he got the measles); Second Fredericksburg (the regiment’s wild charge up and over Marye’s Heights); Salem Church; Brandy Station; Gettysburg; The Wilderness; Spotsylvania Court House; Cold Harbor; and Petersburg.
When the surviving three-year enlistees of the 6th Maine mustered out in July 1864, Jellison transferred to Co. A, 3rd Volunteer Reserve Corps. He was honorably discharged at New Haven, Conn. on July 6, 1865.
A Daniel Chaplin Camp member related one Jellison tale that drew laughter. Now in the VRC, Jellison stood guard duty one day at an Army hospital in Washington, D.C. “As I recall[,] a rather plain man with a distinguished tall stove pipe hat once rode up to the hospital and strode purposefully toward the entrance,” Jellison remembered years later.
“I said, ‘Advance and give the counter sign.’”
“‘I don’t know the counter sign,’ said the man, ‘but I’m the president of the United States.’”
“‘I’m sorry,’ says I, ‘but I’ll send for the Sergeant of the guard,’” Jellison responded.
“Next thing I know the Sergeant is climbing all over me,” he remembered. “I started to apologize, but [President Abraham] Lincoln gave me a pat on the back, shook hands and said, ‘Don’t apologize, my boy. It’s quite all right. You only did your duty.’”
Other SUVCW members spoke different parts of the Last Soldier Ceremony. Eric Boothroyd, Camp No. 3’s chaplain, then placed an American flag and a shiny bronze, five-pointed Grand Army of the Republic star on Jellison’s grave. A floral bouquet and a weathered GAR star already stood by the grave stone.
The new, engraved GAR star identified Jellison as the “Last Union Veteran Buried In This County” and indicated the star was “Placed By SUVCW.”
Boothroyd attached an American flag to the star and placed an unadorned wreath on the grave. He drew his sword and held it upright as the SUVCW members saluted. Flagbearers Joseph Belding dipped the Daniel Chaplin Camp No. 3 flag.
Boothroyd delivered a closing prayer. After the ceremony, many people attended a reception at the Clifton Town Office on the Airline Road (Route 9).
If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–
Brian Swartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.