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Early area veterans rest in Bemidji’s Civil War burial plot

As Veterans Day approaches, the Beltrami County Historical Society acknowledges the first veterans' organization in Beltrami County and the Civil War veterans’ burial grounds in Greenwood Cemetery.

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Civil War veteran Freeman Doud and other area veterans worked together to establish the R.H. Carr Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, known as G.A.R. A monument honoring the post was built in Bemidji’s Greenwood Cemetery in November 1912. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Editor’s Note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area . For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.beltramihistory.org .

In April 1898, a Civil War veteran named Robert H. Carr, who had settled just south of Bemidji, died and was buried in an unmarked grave. Freeman Doud, also a Civil War veteran and the first homesteader on Lake Bemidji, attended the funeral for Carr and was saddened that his fellow veteran would be laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

Doud decided to donate a portion of his land for a veterans’ cemetery and worked to form the first veterans’ organization in Beltrami County.

A number of Civil War posts had been formed across the country and, to honor Carr, Doud and other veterans established the R.H. Carr Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, known as G.A.R. About 500 Civil War veterans from Beltrami County and surrounding counties -- Hubbard, Cass, Clearwater, Lake of the Woods, and Koochiching -- joined the organization.

After Doud donated a portion of his property as a Civil War burial ground, he eventually sold off another portion of his property to the city -- now Greenwood Cemetery. Today Greenwood covers about 40 acres, stretching from Irvine Avenue on its west-most border to Bemidji Avenue N on the east, and from Paul Bunyan Drive on the north edge to a residential area and Slumberland Furniture on the south.

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Civil War veteran Freeman Doud died in February 1909 at the age of 72 and was laid to rest among fellow veterans in Greenwood Cemetery. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

The Civil War portion of Greenwood, easily identified by a granite obelisk and a bronze statue of a soldier, is just off Irvine Avenue in the southwest corner of the cemetery. The bodies of 43 Civil War veterans from 10 different Union states rest in plots around the monument.

Doud had served in Company F in the Eighth Wisconsin Infantry. He fought in the Battle of Shiloh and several other battles before his discharge in March 1865. He returned to Wisconsin but then headed west in search of homestead land.

Eventually, he and his wife Betsy settled on the shores of Lake Bemidji where Diamond Point Park and part of the BSU campus now stand. Doud died in February 1909 at the age of 72 and was laid to rest among fellow veterans in Greenwood Cemetery. Betsy was buried next to him following her death in 1916.

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Civil War veteran Freeman Doud died at the age of 72 in February 1909 and was laid to rest among fellow veterans in Greenwood Cemetery. His wife, Betsy, was buried next to him after her death in 1916. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Establishing a monument

On Nov. 6, 1909, The Bemidji Pioneer reported on a fundraising dinner, sponsored by the G.A.R. Women’s Relief Corps. The “old-fashioned New England supper” was served at the local Odd Fellows Hall, and “aprons and other useful articles” were sold. Proceeds were to be used for a G.A.R. monument in Greenwood Cemetery. Additional money was raised or donated by the city of Bemidji, Beltrami County, Bemidji’s Commercial Club and “school children of the county.”

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Three years and $1,500 later, in November 1912, the cornerstone of the monument, inscribed with “In Memory of the Veterans of the Civil War – 1912,” was erected.

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In November 1912, the cornerstone of the G.A.R. monument, inscribed with “In Memory of the Veterans of the Civil War – 1912,” was erected in Greenwood Cemetery in Bemidji. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

The Nov. 12, 1912, edition of the Pioneer reported: “In the presence of fifty or sixty people, the cornerstone of the G.A.R. monument being built in Greenwood Cemetery was laid Wednesday afternoon. The stone was a cube of St. Cloud granite, of which the monument is being constructed, each dimension being six feet and weighing six tons. It was laid on a base of concrete and will be covered by a smaller stone above which a column will rise.”

A copper casket was placed beneath the monument. In it were copies of local newspapers (The Bemidji Pioneer and The Bemidji Sentinel), a small American flag, a Lincoln bronze medal and a stump of pine from Andersonville Prison. Camp Sumter in Andersonville, Ga., was a confederate facility where thousands of captured Union soldiers were confined and many died. The pine piece had been gifted to L.G. Pendergast, another Civil War veteran buried in Greenwood.

The casket also held a list of the men and women who were members of G.A.R. orders along with and the names of county and city officials as well as and a G.A.R. badge and button that had been fashioned from a captured Confederate cannon. City council members, county officials and members of the G.A.R. Women’s Relief Corps attended the event, and an official dedication ceremony was scheduled for Memorial Day, 1913.

In their memory

Early records of the Civil War section of the cemetery have been lost, but a list of the veterans buried there survives. Flat gravestones bear the veterans’ names (first names, usually abbreviated) and regiments in which they served, including the company, state and military unit (infantry, cavalry, etc.)

Among the veterans interred there, in addition to Carr, Doud and Pendergast, are Tracy Bardwell, who had enlisted in the Fifth Minnesota infantry when he was just 16 years old, and Harrison Bailey, who served as G.A.R. Post commander for nine years. Bailey had served with the Second Iowa Infantry and was reportedly with General Sherman on his famous “march to the sea.” Relatives of the Civil War veterans are also buried near the obelisk.

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A bronze statue of a soldier stands in the Civil War portion of Greenwood Cemetery just off Irvine Avenue in the southwest corner of the cemetery. The bodies of 43 Civil War veterans from 10 different Union states rest in plots around the G.A.R. monument. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

The R.H. Carr G.A.R. Post remained active until the mid-1930s. Its last known commander was William Hilliard, originally from Wisconsin. Like Bardwell, he had joined the service at age 16 and later served with Company L of the First Wisconsin Cavalry. He moved to Minnesota in 1881 and died in 1937, the last of the Beltrami County G.A.R. members.

In 1954, part of the second addition to Greenwood was designated for veterans and their families. A flagpole near the office marks the western edge of the section which stretches eastward to Bemidji Avenue N.

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A flagpole near the office marks the western edge of a section in Greenwood Cemetery designated for veterans and their families, which stretches eastward to Bemidji Avenue N. (Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Memorial Day services at Greenwood date back to at least 1904, and the American Legion still holds services at the cemetery every year. Although not every veteran buried at Greenwood is identified as such, an estimated 1,141 veterans are interred in the cemetery. Many veterans’ graves bear government headstones or markers made available for free by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

The city of Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department is partnering with the Beltrami County Historical Society to offer a bike tour of Greenwood Cemetery's history from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 9.

The bike ride will start at the history center and ride to Greenwood Cemetery, where riders will learn about the history of the cemetery with the Civil War section as a focal point. Registration also includes admission to the Beltrami County Historical Society.

The cost to participate is $10 per person. To register, visit www.ci.bemidji.mn.us . For more information, call (218) 333-1859 .

Related Topics: HISTORYVETERANS
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