Posts Tagged ‘savannah’

I had a fabulous tour guide when I went to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. (Unfortunately, all the photographs from this trip are currently lost. If I ever find the CD, I’ll use them for blog posts.) I cannot remember this man’s name. As he lead us around a small section of that massive Victorian garden cemetery, he stopped periodically at the monuments and asked “What was the family trying to tell you?” He would proceed to describe in loving detail the symbolism of every carving, the choice of every word, the grief and affection etched in stone. He articulated the families’ love and sorrow with such passion that he nearly brought me to tears more than once. He taught me that cemeteries honor the dead, but are also there for the living. The monuments chosen for the then-recently deceased reach out across time, beyond the lifetimes of their patrons and makers, and speak to those who will listen to what they have to say about the person (usually) buried nearby. Most of the messages are simple, some more detailed or unusual, but all contain a plea for remembrance. This guide honored that request and cherished it. By the time we met him, he had devoted years of his life to remembering those who had gone before him. He spoke of them like old friends, and he inspired me.

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Woodland Cemetery contains what is allegedly the only Confederate grave in Cuyahoga County. Henry Ebenezer Handerson, who lies sedately in a cemetery with well over a hundred Union veterans, served in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier and officer.

The Yankee in Grey

Henry Handerson was born in Orange Township in Cuyahoga County in 1837, to Thomas and Catherine Handerson, natives of New York state. Within two years, a tragic accident killed Thomas, leaving Catharine with 5 children. Henry and one of his sisters (whose name is never mentioned in accounts I have found) were adopted by his uncle Lewis Handerson. The uncle moved his family to Beersheba Springs, Tennessee. In 1854, he entered college at Geneva College in New York and returned to his adopted family after completing his course of study. In Tennessee, he worked as a surveyor before finding work as a private tutor to plantation-owning families in Louisiana. He embarked on medical studies at the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University) in the fall of 1860. He had joined a company of local militia, or home guards, and volunteered for the Confederate army in June of 1861.

He was part of the Stafford Guards, Company of the 9th Regiment, Louisiana Volunteers. He rose through the ranks to eventually reach the rank of Adjutant General of the 2nd Louisiana Brigade of the Army of Northern Virginia. Handerson was captured at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864 and became a prisoner of war. He became part of the Immortal Six Hundred, a group of Confederate officers explicitly placed into the line of fire of Confederate guns on Morris Island in Charleston Harbor and later moved to Fort Pulaski in the mouth of the Savannah River. Handerson finally signed an oath of allegiance on June 17, 1865, four years to the day from when he first volunteered for the Confederacy. Handerson wrote a memoir called A Yankee in Gray that I have not yet been able to locate.

Handerson completed his long-delayed medical studies at Columbia University in New York and earned the degree of M.D. in 1867. He married a woman named Juliet Alice Root in 1872, but she did not survive long and left him a widower with a young daughter. He practiced medicine and researched the history of the field in New York before finally returning to his birthplace in 1885.

In Cleveland, he married a significantly younger woman named Clara Corlett in 1888, and she can be seen resting beside him in Woodland Cemetery. They had two more sons together.


His work in Cleveland afforded him great acclaim in the medical community. In addition to being a practicing physician, he published books and articles on the history of medicine as well as the state of health in Cleveland. He became a professor of Hygiene and Sanitary Science first at University of Wooster and then the Cleveland College of Physicians and Surgeons (now Ohio Wesleyan University). He founded the Cleveland Medical Library Association and served as its president for six year. He was also president of the Cuyahoga County Medical Society and a member of professional organizations: the Cleveland Academy of Medicine, the Ohio State Medical Society, and the American Medical Association. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 80 in 1918.

A detailed biography of Handerson is contained in this link, as a foreward to one of his books published posthumously. During his life, most accounts state that Handerson often downplayed his Civil War service, but it is now probably what is most often remembered about him.

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In today’s explorations of memorials outside of cemeteries, I have a personal story for you. My maternal grandfather knew he was dying, and he had time to make plans. In June of 2007, his health began to rapidly decline, and his heart, it seemed, was finally going to kill him – about sixty-five years after the doctors first said it would. Grandpa had rheumatic fever as a teenager, and it damaged his heart sufficiently to warrant a medical discharge from the Navy with a poor prognosis – I think he was given less than a year to live. Grandpa, stubborn as he was, took advantage of those GI benefits to go to veterinary school (an accelerated program because anyone with medical expertise was an asset during World War II). He married, raised three daughters, ran a successful veterinary practice, and had been retired for almost two decades when he went into hospice the next-to-last time, about two weeks before the scheduled family reunion. My aunt went to see him and reminded him that most of us would be there soon. He decided he didn’t want us all standing around him in hospice waiting for him to die, and he set his mind to being at my aunt’s house for the family reunion. He recovered temporarily so that hospice set him up with the necessary equipment in her home and sent nurses to check on him. My grandmother, two aunts, mother and her boyfriend, and two cousins spent that 4th of July in Savannah with Grandpa savoring what we knew were his last days.

Of course, that gave us the opportunity to discuss what exactly Grandpa would like us to do with his earthly remains after he died. It seemed to be something that he and Grandma hadn’t talked about much in many years. One of the most amusing exchanges I heard was when my grandmother mentioned that the family still owned three more plots in Parsippany, New Jersey, where her parents are interred. “I don’t want to go back to New Jersey, even if I am dead,” Grandpa growled back with his customary dry humor. Eventually, we learned that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread somewhere, although the where of that statement was ambiguous. He just didn’t seem particularly invested in what happened to his remains.

This past summer, we gathered at my other aunt’s house to plant a garden for Grandpa. She has a flagpole in her backyard, and we buried the box with his ashes in a garden around the flagpole, marked with a large golden golf tee with a dogtag-like charm hanging off of it with his name, birthdate, and death date. I wonder what if anyone will ever come across this marker, after all of us are gone.

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