The Death and Burial of Private Charles R. Delano of the 1st Maine Cavalry
When a soldier was killed in action in the Civil War funeral and burial arrangements ranged from the body shipped home and buried in a hometown cemetery, to burial in common graves or cemeteries with other fallen soldiers, to hasty burial in the field. After the war, many of the Union Army dead buried in the field were reinterred in national cemeteries or sent home, but while the fighting was going on, a fallen soldier’s comrades often the ones who saw to his burial.
Such was the case for Private Charles R. Delano of Company G of the 1st Maine Cavalry. The 1st Maine Cavalry was organized in the fall of 1861. Like many cavalry regiments, the 1st Maine was involved in many skirmishes and smaller actions besides taking part in larger battles. On May 10th, 1864, the unit was involved in a small action near Beaver Dam Station in Hanover County, Virginia during the Overland Campaign. The regiment suffered five casualties, including Private Delano, who was killed in action. Though they were actively campaigning in the field, Delano’s fellow soldiers saw to it that he was given as proper a burial as possible under the circumstances. The 1st Maine Cavalry’s regimental historian wrote about the death and burial of Private Delano.
The regiment lost in this little brush Lieut. Col. Boothby, who received a wound from which he died, a serious loss to the regiment, one man of the advance killed and two wounded,–one severely,–and one or two men wounded in the charge, The man killed was Private Charles R. Delano, of Co. G. He was one of the advance, and started out on the right of the road,–one of the two who rode together, with only the single man in their front. When the first shot was fired by the rebel pickets the bullett struck in the road in front of him, a short distance away, seeing which he made the remark: “That was meant for me, but there wasn’t powder enough behind it.” When the advance began firing, his horse became a little nervous and would not keep in place, and he asked his comrade to change sides with him, saying perhaps his horse would go better on that side of the road, as it was all the time working in that direction, So the two changed places, and continued on in their running fight. When the squad under charge of Sergt. Little rode up, this comrade inquired of George M. Delano (a brother of Charles R.) if any one was hurt, and received the reply: “Charley is dead.” This news struck him like a blow, as there flashed before him the remembrance of his dead comrade’s remark at the first fire, and of the fact that they had changed places, by which his own life had been saved, while his comrade had been killed. Poor George! He was too good a soldier to leave his place in the line in time of action, and rode by the body of his dead brother into the fight, nor left until the sergeant ordered him to go look after his brother. After the skirmish was over, the body was buried by a squad under charge of Sergt. John B. Drake, near a house by the side of the road. The burial was one that will never be forgotten by any one of the half dozen who were present. Sergt. Drake had found a large box,–a sort of meal chest,–in the house, and made this into a coffin by kicking out the partitions. The owner of the house protested so strongly against the use of his meal chest that the sergeant was forced to draw his revolver and threaten to put him into the box, also, if he did not keep still. Chaplain Bartlett made a brief prayer, and the comrades reverently placed the body in its last resting place, while all the time the column was marching by and paying no attention to the little funeral. This over, the comrades mounted their horses and followed on with the column, with other things to think of than the comrade they had just buried, who was less than an hour before had started out as well as they were, and like whom they themselves might be, as one of them was, before the morrow night. Alas! that many a soldier’s burial was even less formal than this.
Edward P. Tobie, History of the First Maine Cavalry 1861-1865.
At some point Private Delano’s remains were removed from the hasty roadside grave in Virginia and returned to Maine. He is now buried in Lakeside Cemetery in Livermore, Maine.