History’s fog obscures Freeport’s Anderson Brewer Jr.

On Veterans Day 2020, let history’s bright sunlight clear away the light fog surrounding a Maine hero buried at Antietam.

There stands at Woodlawn Cemetery in Freeport a gray-granite monolith (now tilted a few degrees off perpendicular) dedicated on one side to “Anderson Brewer Jr.,” a private in Co. K, 20th Maine Infantry Regiment, “Died At Antietam, Maryland” on October 28, 1862. He was 32 years old.

Engraved on the Brewer family monument at Woodlawn Cemetery in Freeport is the name of Anderson Brewer Jr., a 20th Maine soldier who died at Antietam, Maryland in late October 1862. (Courtesy Steve Garrett)

There stands at Antietam National Cemetery a white Union veteran’s marker for Anderson Brewer Jr, from “ME.” Its white hue slightly discolored by the green mildew plaguing most such stones shaded by the cemetery’s large trees, the stone is number “3148.”

Brewer’s not the only 20th Maine lad buried at Antietam, but an Internet source disputes his fate. The fog obfuscating Brewer can be found at https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/40024816/anderson-brewer, where a poster wrote on June 20, 2014 that Brewer was “wounded at Antietam Sept 17, 1862” and “died of his wounds on the battlefield.”

Find-A-Grave works fine for its intended purpose, learning where a particular person’s buried, but as for historical accuracy, it’s not always a reliable source. Double-check the dates, parents, siblings, etc. found at this website.

Unfortunately, this particular “mortal wound” fog has surrounded Brewer for almost 6½ years, and what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet.

But historical sunlight burns through Brewer’s fog — and the fog thinning started within months of this hero’s death. Tom Desjardin, the 20th Maine’s modern historian, informed Maine at War that Brewer “died of “Dysentery Ac[ute]’” on October 28, 1862 “in the regimental hospital at Antietam Ford.”

A white headstone typical to Union soldiers marks the actual grave of Pvt. Anderson Brewer Jr. at Antietam National Cemetery in Maryland. He died of dysentery at the 20th Maine Infantry’s hospital on October 28, 1862. (Brian F. Swartz Photo)

The 20th Maine’s pages in the Maine Volumes 1861-1865 briefly describes the regiment’s involvement at Antietam: “Wednesday, Sept. 17th supported a battery during the battle of Antietam. Saturday, Sept 20th was in the fight of Shepherdstown Ford and lost three men wounded.

During the month of October the regt. did picket duty near Antietam Creek. On the 30th broke camp and marched to Harpers Ferry.”

No casualties were cited for September 17.

Then there’s the Soldier’s File for Brewer, kept at the Maine State Archives. A 5-10½ brickmaker, he had blue eyes, dark hair, and a light complexion.

And he “Died of Measles” an Antietam Ford, Maryland on October 20, 1862.

So we encounter more Brewer-related fog. Did he die on October 20 or 28? Did he die of dysentery or measles?

You can see how errors slip into history.

The soldiers closest to Brewer, including his company commander, knew how he died. A measles diagnosis would have likely required a 20th Maine quarantine, and no historical source mentions such an event occurring at Antietam Ford.

So we turn next to a rare book. After the Antietam National Cemetery opened on September 17, 1867, its board of trustees published a detailed book about the cemetery’s history and the official dedication ceremony. Among the trustees was James G. Blaine from Maine.

Published in Baltimore in 1869 by printer J.W. Woods, the book had a lengthy title: History of Antietam National Cemetery, including a descriptive list of all the loyal soldiers buried therein; together with the ceremonies and address on the occasion of the dedication of the grounds, September 17th, 1867.

The book lists every soldier buried in the cemetery, grouped by state. The Maine section starts at page 69 and runs to page 73. The names run alphabetically, and eight are identified as “Unknown.—Maine”.

Not all the Mainers died at Antietam, but those who did are described as “removed from Antietam battle-field.” Cited on Brewer’s solitary line of type, this phrase suggests that Anderson was buried in a battlefield grave.

He probably was, in the sense that the War Department applied the term “battle-field” to the greater Antietam/Sharpsburg area, including Antietam Ford.

However, the book identifies October 28, 1862 as the day that Anderson Brewer Jr. died. Thus his soldier’s file is factually incorrect.

Back in Freeport, his survivors put his name on the family monument in Woodlawn Cemetery. He is not there, for Anderson Brewer Jr. lies forever among the Maine heroes buried at Antietam.

Sources: Steve Garrett, Joshua L. Chamberlain Civil War Round Table, Brunswick, Maine; History of Antietam National Cemetery, Baltimore, Maryland, 1869, pp. 69-73; Anderson Brewer Jr. Soldier’s File, Maine State Archives; Twentieth Regiment Infantry, Maine Vols. 1861-1865, Miscellaneous Returns, 1862, pp. 5321-5323, MSA

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 visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

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.