Feature Story

Mark Your Veterans Gravesites!

Are you confident that all of military graves in your local cemetery are properly marked? You might be surprised.

For nearly 117 years, Charles Henry Smith's final resting place in the Concord Village Cemetery lay unmarked, except for a G.A.R. flagholder and flag. Except for a few folks in town, most visitors would not have recognized he was, in fact, the recipient of a fairly rare version of the Medal of Honor.

The Navy Medal of Honor was authorized by Congress and the President on 21 December 1861, and the Army Medal of Honor on 12 July 1862. The Navy medal could be awarded for both combat and non-combat heroism, and only for enlisted men, while the Army medal was only authorized for heroism in combat, and could be awarded to both enlisted men and officers. Smith's act was one of those awarded for non-combat heroism.

After several years sailing the seven seas as a merchant sailor, Smith enlisted in the U.S. Navy in September, 1861. By that time he had already been a prisoner of war, and has written a valuable intelligence report for the Navy on the defensive facilities in and around New Hatteras Inlet, in North Carolina.

After spending two months on USS Rhode Island for training, he was assigned to the supply ship, aptly named USS Supply, serving under Vermonter, Commander George Colvocoresses. Supply, in an uncharacteristic role, became involved in operations leading to the capture of a Confederate blockade runner off the coast of Florida.

Returning to Brooklyn, Smith married Lucretia Brown, a native of Concord, and was assigned once again to USS Rhode Island. In late December 1862, Rhode Island was assigned the task of towing the crippled USS Monitor (yes, that USS Monitor), to Port Royal, SC for much needed repairs.

On the evening of 30 December, during a severe storm, the tow line parted, and Monitor foundered. Three boats from Rhode Island made two trips each, bringing back sailors from the sinking ship. Smith's boat went out a third time, only to reach the Monitor as it sank, taking 16 souls with it.

Due to the storm, the boat was not able to return to Rhode Island, and drifted further out to sea. She was initially considered lost at sea, but several days later was rescued herself by a passing merchant vessel. Smith, and six other sailors on the boat were awarded the Medal of Honor for their heroism, and Smith and another sailor were also were promoted to Acting Master's Mate (present-day Warrant Officer).

For several years, due to bureaucratic incompetency, Smith and his crew were listed as lost at sea during the rescue attempt, and listed as posthumous recipients of the Medal of Honor. In fact, a memorial to Smith was placed in Wells, Maine to that effect.

Due to a series of fortuitous events, Smith's story was recovered, his final resting place identified, and a Medal of Honor marker placed on his grave in 2012.

For the full story, see Smith's record on Vermont in the Civil War.

Do you have an unsung hero buried in your local cemetery?

Tom Ledoux
Lieutenant, USN, Retired
Vermont in the Civil War