Silent Witnesses to the Civil War, Part 2: Rockport Pioneer Cemetery

By Dale Thomas
The Cleveland Civil War Roundtable
Copyright © 2005, All Rights Reserved

Part 2 of a 3-part article on cemeteries in in the western suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio that have connections to the Civil War.

Rockport Pioneer Cemetery is located on a small, tree-shaded hill in Fairview Park, Ohio. Earliest burials predate the establishment of Rockport Township in 1814. Four of the interments fought in the American Revolution. Although traffic passes below on Lorain Road, the cemetery still retains some of the original rural environment on its south edge that overlooks the valley of Rocky River Metropolitan Park. Thirty-eight tombstones are inscribed with the names of those who served in the Civil War. Three victims of the war are at rest beneath the cemetery’s sod. Two stones in particular bear witness to the horrors of the war, but the remains of Nathan W. Hawkins and Ansel Jordan are buried in the prison cemetery at Andersonville, Georgia.

Nathan W. Hawkins came from a family of abolitionists. A mile west of the cemetery on Lorain Road, the Hawkins farm was a station for the Underground Railroad between Oberlin and Canada. In 1853, he married Lucy Romp in her father’s tavern and inn at the top of Cedar Point Hill on Columbia Road, now in the city of North Olmsted. After the war started, James Hawkins, a brother, refused to enlist, but Nathan believed someone from his family should defend the Union. Even though he had three young daughters at home, the thirty-year-old Hawkins traveled to Camp Cleveland on August 12, 1862 and enlisted in the 103rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Township neighbors Ansel Jordan, Albert Durham, and Jacob Gessner joined Hawkins during the next week in G Company. Allen Jordan, Ansel’s cousin, John Andrews, James Welch, and William Romp, Hawkins’ brother-in-law, were assigned to other companies in the regiment.

The regiment was still under state control when it marched to Cleveland’s Union Depot and boarded a train for Cincinnati. Mustering into Federal service took place when an officer from the regular army administered an oath of allegiance on September 16, 1862. Two days later, the 103rd OVI pursued a rebel force to Lexington, Kentucky. One of the regiment’s first casualties, John Anderson, died of disease at the age of twenty years in Lexington General Hospital. His body was brought home and buried in the township cemetery.

The 103rd Regiment took part in a number of skirmishes as General Burnside’s army fought its way toward Knoxville. After a battle in October of 1863, Hawkins wrote a letter to his wife that probably gave her nightmarish dreams:

The most horrible sight was one of our men wounded in the neck. He was walking to the rear and the blood was running down in front of him. He was covered all over in blood of his own. These things seem horrible to you, and it is but soldiers think nothing of it.

A month later, Hawkins was almost fatalistic when writing his wife about the experience of being in combat:

You no doubt would like to know how Nate felt…just as cool as he does. No not the least bit nervous but I have to wink…when the shells began to burst. They make the most unearthly noise you ever heard… The worst of all is to see the dead and wounded to hear their cries and groans. God deliver me…

In the middle of January 1864, Union forces were ordered to withdraw from Dandridge, Tennessee, but Hawkins, now a corporal, acting without approval, stayed behind to help Ansel Jordan and Adam Miller, who were in poor health. They were captured on January 18 and taken to the prison at Andersonville where all three perished from disease: Hawkins died of typhoid fever on May 7, 1864; Adam Miller on July 5, 1864; and Jordan on September 19, 1864. Although knowing he was a prisoner, Lucy Hawkins did not hear news of her husband’s death until after the war. Since Hawkins and Jordan were among 13,000 prisoners buried in mass graves, their families could only place stone markers to memorialize them: “DIED AT ANDERSONVILLE.”

John W. Spencer grew up in a house that was a station for the Underground Railroad. (The old homestead still survives today at 4572 West 220 Street in Fairview Park.) On February 1, 1862 at Camp Dennison (Cincinnati), Pvt. Spencer and Pvt. Hoxie K. Landphair were mustered into Federal service in the 15th Independent Battery, Ohio Light Artillery. The men boarded a riverboat at Cincinnati and, while en route to Kansas, stopped at Louisville. Taken ill, Landphair went to a hospital in the city and died at the age of nineteen on April 3, 1862. While his body was being transported home for burial, the 15th Battery had a change in orders, going instead to Mississippi. Spencer took part in the sieges at Corinth, Vicksburg, and Atlanta, then Sherman’s march to the sea and the capture of Columbia, South Carolina. He was discharged in June of 1865 and survived Landphair by 57 years. In late summer of 1919, Spencer was buried near his old comrade.

John Basset was born on his parent’s farm near Puritas Springs and Grayton Road, now a part of Cleveland. When the war came, Bassett expected as others had that it would be over in less than a year. Then reality set in and he volunteered in September of 1862 at Camp Cleveland for the 19th Independent Battery, Ohio Light Artillery. Shields’ Battery, as it was also called, pursued Morgan in May of 1863 from Kentucky into Ohio. Afterwards the unit fought in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina. However, John Basset did not survive the war and his remains were laid to rest in the township cemetery.

At Camp Cleveland in August of 1862, James Curran enlisted in the 7th OVI, which was fighting at the time in northern Virginia. He may have joined the regiment by mid-September when it took part in the bloodiest day of the war at Antietam. The following year, the 7th fought in the Battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, then went to New York to quell the draft riots. The regiment moved to the southwestern front and saw action at a number of battles, including Chattanooga and Resaca. During the fighting near Dallas, Georgia on May 25, 1864, Curran was among five wounded from G Company. He was convalescing when the 7th returned to Cleveland for mustering out after three years of service. In late October, Curran was transferred to the 5th OVI, then occupying Atlanta. The march to the sea began two weeks later and the siege of Savannah at the end of the year. After campaigning in the Carolinas, the 5th took part in the Grand Review in Washington on May 24, 1865.

Samuel Bates and James Robinson served in the 124th OVI, organized at Camp Cleveland on January 1, 1863. The regiment fought at Chickamauga and Chattanooga besides taking part in the same campaigns as the 103rd OVI starting in Dandridge, Tennessee. Charles C. Dean joined the 92nd OVI in the late summer of 1862. The regiment from southern Ohio took part in many of the same battles as the 124th OVI. Enlisting in December of 1863, William McDowell was a drummer in the 128th OVI guarding prisoners on Johnson’s Island.

In October of 1861, Jacob Burkemer, a bugler, mustered into E Company of the 54th OVI at Camp Denison. His regiment saw action at Shiloh, Corinth, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Resaca, Kennesaw, Atlanta, and in Sherman’s march to the sea. John Rush was a private in D Company of the 129th OVI, organized at Camp Cleveland in August of 1863. The regiment took part in the capture and occupation of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. Albert G. Bentley fought with the 23rd OVI in western Virginia, including Sheridan’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign. He was taken prisoner on May 9, 1864, but survived the war.

Great grandson of a Revolutionary soldier, Addison J. Farrand enlisted in June of 1862 for three months in D Company of the 84th OVI. While Addison was in Maryland, Jared Farrand died at the age of one hundred five in Middleburg, Ohio. In May of 1864, Sgt. James A. Potter and Pvt. Philip Phillips were mustered into the 150th OVI (National Guard Regiment) at Camp Cleveland for garrison duty in the forts protecting Washington. After repulsing Jubal Early’s attack in July of 1864, the troops were discharged the following month.

Son of a veteran of the War of 1812, George Cronk became a sergeant in Field and Staff of the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry. Organized at Cleveland’s Camp Wade in the autumn of 1861, the regiment saw action in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas in 1862 before being ordered to Columbus, Ohio at the end of the year. Operations the following year included the pursuit of Morgan’s raiders, the capture of Cumberland Gap, and the siege of Knoxville. The 2nd was attached in May of 1864 to the Army of the Potomac and fought in the Wilderness and Cold Harbor in addition to a number of other battles. On April 9, 1865, the troopers from the Western Reserve of Ohio camped just outside of Appomattox Court House, where Lee surrendered on Palm Sunday to Grant.

A number of veterans in the cemetery served in the regiments of other northern states: Calvin Pease , 26th Illinois Infantry; A.A. Bagley, 13th New York Cavalry; James Harbeson, 53rd New York Infantry; William E. Crabb, 6th New York Cavalry; Henry Patchen, 9th Michigan Infantry; Webster B. Ewing, 2nd Battalion Veterans Reserve Corps; and Manley Green, 6th Veteran Corps. Thomas Crawford was in the 33rd Illinois Infantry and later the U.S. Navy.

John W. Spencer, Philip Phillips, Jacob Gessner, and William McDowell became members of the Olmsted GAR Post 634 that first met in the Olmsted Falls Town Hall on April 23, 1887:

Comrades, the time has been set to be mustered into the Grand Army of the Republic. The mustering in officers and escorts will be present from Cleveland. Bring your wife and friends. You are also requested to bring your discharge papers.

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Continue with Part 3 >>

Bibliography follows Part 3.

Correction and Addendum:

John Andrews of the 103rd OVI was buried there in 1862, not John Anderson. Jacob Gessner’s name is spelled Gasner or Gastner in military records. (National Park Service Website. Soldiers and Sailors Monument). Nine veterans buried in this cemetery could not be identified with a specific military unit because of contradictory and/or inadequate records: George W. Cooper (Headstone: Cpl., F. Co., 25th OVI. NPSW: Pvt., F. Co., 24th OVI), Hiram B. Landphair (S and S Monument lists a Hoxie E. Lamdphear in the 54th OVI who was really in the 15th Ohio Battery. Was Hiram in the 54th? No record in NPSW.), J.B. Darby (NPSW: Joseph B. Darby, 185th OVI / 191st OVI. S and S Monument: John E. Darby, 125th OVI), Samuel H. Brown, Frank Bentley, Stewart Herbeson, and Gideon Pease.

Quoted letters of Nathan Hawkins are from the archives of the Olmsted Historical Society, North Olmsted, Ohio.