The gravestone of Lt. John G. Lewis of Lancaster, located in Wilder Cemetery. Lewis, a Union soldier, was killed in the Battle of Fredericksburg in the Civil War.
Photo by Ella Nilsen. (click for larger version)
July 03, 2012Civil War Veteran remembered this Fourth of July
By Ella Nilsen
LANCASTER – This Fourth of July weekend, one long forgotten solider is finally being honored.
Lt. John Grenville Lewis, originally of Dublin, N.H. was a farmer who lived in Lancaster. Secretary of the North Star Lodge No. 8 of the Free and Accepted Masons and First Lieutenant in the Union Army, Company H of the Ninth Regiment of N.H. Volunteers, Lewis lost his life at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862.
According to historical records, Lewis and his family had a farm on Lost Nation Road in Lancaster.
Historical research on Lewis' life was undertaken by Thomas Ladd, the current secretary of the North Star Lodge. After receiving a request from Lewis' Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Sara (Sally) Johnstun last February for more information on Lewis, Ladd began to look further into the circumstances surrounding his life and death.
Lt. Lewis was born on December 24, 1817 and married Sarah Leaman on August 1, 1843. Initially living in Hallowell Maine, the couple had two children, Charlotte and Frank, and had settled in Lancaster by 1855.
In Lancaster, Lewis joined the branch of Freemasons at the North Star Lodge. He had previously belonged to the Masons in Hallowell, Maine.
"He's a totally forgotten hero," said Ladd, who added that there are no photos or pictures of Lewis.
"Most pictures were taken after the war, and he [Lewis] didn't come back," said Ladd. "He was a farmer. Photography was a brand new thing, and he didn't have a portrait painted." Ladd noted that Lewis was described as a "big" man.
Lewis joined the Union Army in 1862, and was commissioned First Lieutenant of his company on August 14. According to Ladd, the unit fought at the Battle of Antietam and other conflicts during the war, however, it is impossible to determine the exact battles at which Lt. Lewis was present.
Ladd, who is himself a librarian, completed the research using mostly local sources, including the Weeks Memorial Library in Lancaster. Ladd also looked up Masonic records from Lancaster and Maine, and utilized the help of the American Historical Society.
Even with a background in historical research, Ladd said that the Lt. Lewis project was the most research he had ever done on a single individual not in his own family. Ladd was able to discover facts and inaccuracies about Lewis' life, including the fact that Lewis lived in Maine, instead of Massachusetts.
"It's been interesting looking into it," Ladd said about the experience.
When asked what it felt like to uncover pieces Lewis' long-lost past, Ladd responded, "It's a little bit triumphant for me, but then it becomes rather sad." He explained that he felt the story of Lewis' past to be tragic because records showed that Lewis' family moved to California and subsequently had a difficult time living on the West Coast.
Ladd added that given the fact that one of the tenets of being a Mason is helping the family members of a deceased brother, he found the family's move and misfortunes to be an unhappy subject.
Ladd did note, however, "It was nice to see that the lodge and community was very supportive [of the Lewis family] back then."
"He must have been quite a guy," Ladd said of Lewis, expressing his own disappointment to have been born "138 years to late" to meet the First Lieutenant.
During this year's Fourth of July parade in Lancaster, Ladd and the Masons of the North Star Lodge are planning to have a float with locals reenacting Lewis' life for parade-watchers.
"It's all still a little loose," said Ladd. "It's nothing terribly fancy, but we want to respectfully remember him. He was one of our brothers."
Lt. Lewis is buried in the Wilder Cemetery in Lancaster and is remembered on the monument in Veteran's Park.
If anyone has any old family or historical memories involving Lt. John G. Lewis, please share them!