Long-forgotten grave of Civil War soldier gets proper headstone

Long-forgotten grave of Civil War soldier gets proper headstone

This is a picture of the Hospital Guards of Rhode Island when Bernard Burns was serving. He is believed to be part of the picture, but no one has been able to identify him.
May 27 ceremony will honor Bernard Burns

PAWTUCKET – Joann Davis had been actively searching the ancestry of her husband, Robert, for some time when she was able to establish his mother’s side of the family tree. That research uncovered the life and death records of one Bernard Burns, a soldier in the Civil War.

Through intensive research, Davis was able, with the help of Deacon Patrick Sheehy and Secretary Arlene Kennedy of St. Mary Church in Pawtucket, to establish that Burns was buried in a corner plot of the Old St. Mary’s Cemetery, at 103 Pine St., but that his grave was unmarked.

On May 27, at 11 a.m., all are invited to a memorial service acknowledging the military service of Bernard Burns at the newly erected grave site marker in the Pawtucket cemetery. Davis, of Smithfield, said it will be an emotional time for the family, many of whom didn’t even know that they had a relative buried in this cemetery, where 13 other Irish Civil War veterans were also interred.

“They have stones, he didn’t have one,” said Davis.

The Rhode Island Department of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which is marking its 150th year, will present at the May 27 event.

At a previous year’s memorial service, Davis said she and her husband became acquainted with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, which hosted services remembering Civil War veterans and actively flagging veterans’ grave sites.

She said the organization agreed to properly recognize Burns with help from the National Graves Registration Project. She then went through the Department of Veterans Affairs and National Cemetery Administration’s memorial program, which required “irrefutable” proof that Burns was buried here in Pawtucket before agreeing to pay for his gravestone.

Burns is now receiving what’s rightfully due him some 105 years after his death, said Davis, and the work to track down his burial site was gratifying.

Sheehy, caretaker John Garcia and cemetery volunteer Tom Rogers, of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, all helped get the appropriate stone in place and make the May 27 ceremony possible, said Davis.

Burns, according to research by Davis, was a longtime and respected resident of Pawtucket, and a proud Civil War veteran. His obituary states that he died on May 30, 1913, calling him “one of the oldest and best-known of the Pleasant View residents.” It states that he died at his home at 80 Branch St. following an illness. He was a member of the Tower Post No. 17 G.A.R. and he earned prominence as a volunteer and promoter of the first firefighting organization in the Pleasant View part of the city.

A prominent member of the Holy Name Society of the Church of the Sacred Heart, he was survived by four sons and two daughters. He had previously purchased the plot in the St. Mary’s Church yard cemetery for the burial of his wife, Ann Hart, in 1895. He was buried alongside his wife, who has no marker to this day. The bodies of a great niece and her husband also occupied the four-person burial.

Rogers said he knew there had to be four people buried in the lot, which helped him discover where Burns and his wife were laid to rest. He said it was a great discovery being able to find another Civil War soldier’s grave in the cemetery, which he has been caring for for years.

The descendants of Burns would become fire officials in the Pawtucket Fire Department.

Former Pawtucket Fire Chief Joe Burns, who has two sons, Bob and Bruce, who became city fire officials, said he was surprised to hear that he had a relative in the St. Mary’s Cemetery, saying he’s looking forward to the May 27 ceremony to honor him.

The marker for Burns bears the name of his U.S. Army unit, the Hospital Guards of Rhode Island, which served at the former Lovell Hospital of Portsmouth. Davis produced a photo of the unit, but said she hasn’t been able to confirm which of the members pictured is Burns.

Burns was an Ireland native who came to the U.S. as a 21-year-old in 1858. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he volunteered in one of the first U.S. Army regiments that went out from the state, serving throughout the war.

He received an honorable discharge when peace was declared. He was a carder in the local textile industry until illness led to his retirement, according to records provided by Davis.

Graves of other Burns family members who have died can be found in the much larger and newer Mount St. Mary’s Cemetery on the Pawtucket/East Providence line.

Pictured with Bernard Burns’ new headstone at St. Mary’s Cemetery are, from left, Burns descendant Joe Burns, former fire chief of Pawtucket, volunteer Tom Rogers, The Rev. Mark Sauriol, and Robert and Joann Davis.