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The Stinson Memorial

Memorials are all around us. Notable personalities, historic events. Things that our predecessors felt important enough to tell us about. Things they wanted us to remember. Forever.

Alas, nothing is eternal in our materialistic world, the sands of time will always rule. Changing cultures, wars, vandalism, and old age are hard on any kind of monument. There are so many that one could never see them all. Some hide in plain sight. An important message that we might never take the time to hear.

I’ve been researching for my upcoming Civil War story, “The Boys in the Box.”

Checking out cemeteries and memorials. Like everything else in life, there’s usually a lot more than meets the eye. Words carved in stone are just the beginning, just the tip of the iceberg. I dug up a few stories.

I’ll try to make a weekly post for a while, and share what I’ve found. The rest of the story, like Paul Harvey used to share over the afternoon radio airwaves.

I had planned on launching with Our Lady of Victories, the namesake of Portland’s Monument Square. Her little back story is nearing 10,000 words and still not finished. She’ll be in the lineup soon.

For today, Memorial Day, I’ll try to keep this one short and sweet. Not always easy.

We’re going uptown in Portland on Congress Street, past the City Hall and the Courthouses to the oldest graveyard in town, the Eastern Cemetery. Established in 1668, there’s quite a few old Souls residing there. Stopping at the corner of Mountfort Street, a quick glance to your right will reveal the large monument shaped like a Soldier’s main burden, his knapsack and bedroll. It’s dedicated to Sergeant Alonzo Palmer Stinson, the first Portland Soldier to die in the Civil War.

A terrible fate with some really long odds, no one ever thinks they’ll be the first to die.

Alonzo was just 19 when he volunteered for the 5th Maine Infantry Regiment. The initial uprisings of the new conflict were very fresh, Fort Sumter had been fired upon just a few months previous. My great great grand uncle Charlie Dean had enlisted with the very same regiment.

The 5th Maine has a fantastic museum on Peaks Island, a monument in itself.

Alonzo’s unit was mustered into service on June 24, 1861. Spirits were high, the Army planned on quickly stomping out the brushfire that was secession. They marched out of Portland headed for our Nation’s Capital, to teach those Rebels a lesson. Whoop them, and then straighten out their priorities.

It shouldn’t take long, after all, they had each signed on for only 90 days of service.

Poor Alonzo wouldn’t live to see day 30.

The 5th Maine had been in DC for about two weeks when they faced their first skirmish, at the battle of Bull Run. It was a harsh slap of reality for the Union Army, not at all what they hoped for. The Rebels were tough. Both armies were green. We hadn’t really planned for an internal war. The Union Army had come in strong, but lost momentum, and ended up retreating in a messy panic. Leaders immediately realized that they were in for a much longer fight than first imagined. There were a lot of firsts for a lot of hometowns on that brutal day in July, nearly 1000 men would die in pretty Manassas Gap, Virginia.

My Uncle Charlie took a musket ball to his wrist that day, but downplayed the seriousness of his injury in letters home. He was angry about clear mistakes made on the battlefield that day, and talked about exactly what they might do differently if given another crack at them. We’ll save that for my big story.

Today we’re talking about 19 year old Sergeant Alonzo Palmer Stinson. He died of wounds from an artillery shell early in the fight, what a horrible shock it must have been. To be that guy defying the odds. First.

Portland had a hard time getting over the War, I’ll tell you more about that later on as well.

The Stinson Monument came to be in 1908, almost 50 years after the fact. These things take time.

I had to know more, I don’t know why, but when I hear about a guy like Alonzo, just a name on a slab of granite, I have to dig deeper. Of course, as almost always, there is more to the story. More stories. Connected to this very monument, but you wouldn’t know from just seeing it, even reading the inscriptions.

Alonzo Stinson was born in Hallowell, Maine in 1842. His family would share in plenty of grief.

His mother died when Alonzo was just 8, long before the big War. She got the “Lung Fever”, most likely Tuberculosis. Dad would have to take care of three young boys. I’m guessing he had military background, or maybe he was a natural badass, because he and his boys would all end up in the fight, and all ended up with stripes. Alonzo went in as a Sergeant, at 19. He was a leader.

Dad enlisted after Alonzo was killed, at 41 years young. The 13th Maine would muster out of Augusta in November of 1861. David Stinson went in as a First Lieutenant and Quartermaster, a good gig if you could get it. Nobody was safe.

The 13th ended up in New Orleans, and something in the Southern water was hard on those Union boys. Papa Stinson fell ill, like so many other Soldiers, and died down there in July of 1862.

So very sad.

Let’s meet Alonzo’s younger brother. Harry Melville Stinson. Harry went in as a Private, just 17 when he and Alonzo had enlisted in the 5th together. It had to be a pretty secure feeling, signing up with your big brother, the Sergeant. They were close, as brothers will be.

Harry was right there with Alonzo when he took the shell. Cannons are vicious weapons, it was instantly clear to both of them that Alonzo wasn’t going home. He wasn’t going anywhere. He was dying, right now, in the horrid blur of their very first battle. His last moments and sights wouldn’t be pretty.

Harry stayed with him. Holding what was left of him. Promising to write to Dad, and take care of their littlest brother. The important stuff. With Hell’s Fire still raging around them.

The terrible tide had turned, the Union was taking a beating, some of these fresh Soldiers were running for their lives, or just running. Away. The 5th Maine was retreating. In a hurry.

Harry stayed with his dying brother until the very end. Precious moments. Even as the enemy advanced. Lucky to be alive, Henry would pay his own price. Captured, he would sit in a Confederate prison camp for the next year, or so. Unpleasant living conditions, to say the least. Not much food, or clean water.

After losing Alonzo in his arms, his father passed while he was in prison. Who knows how long before he got the news of his Dad’s death. Harry pressed on, he was eventually traded out in a prisoner exchange. Back in the fight, he piled up promotion after promotion. Near the end of the war, in 1865, Harry made Lieutenant Colonel. That’s a big deal, and a big pension.

He wouldn’t live to celebrate his accomplishments. When the War ended he was stuck in a Florida hospital, too sick to travel. He died there in February, 1866. That Southern water, again.

What about the baby brother? Nobody was left to take care of the baby.

Little Herbert Clarence, or Clarence Herbert, depending on his mood, would have to fend for himself. Just an infant when their mother had died, H.C. Stinson would have a hard run of his own. Big brother Alonzo was killed the day after Herbert turned 12. Almost 13 when Dad died, 16 when he lost Harry.

By then he was in the Navy. Yes. After all of the losses, he was still ready to fight for his Country.

His first Navy record is for Civil War service, September of 1864. He was 15 years old.

Fate was unkind, a common theme in the 19th century. With no family left after the War, Herbert stayed in the Navy. He died in New York in 1871, at just 22.

The Stinson family gave up everything, everybody. They’re gone. Other siblings had died in early childhood, this branch of their family tree snubs right up at the Civil War.

I guess it’s a good thing Alonzo has this beautiful monument.

I don’t know about you, but I envision pulling up to that stoplight one day, pointing my finger out the window at the Stinson Monument, and giving my kids the spiel. The entire spiel, not just Alonzo’s story. The whole enchilada. I can picture myself taking a lap around the busy city block, only to torture them further, repeating every important detail until I feel like they might retain it. Any of it, enough to spark an interest of their own.

Enough to remember. That’s what Dads do.

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