Civil War veteran finally gets his military marker
Through the determined efforts of a descendant of a Civil War veteran, his Upper Mauch Chunk Cemetery grave in Jim Thorpe finally has a headstone and official military marker.
Melanie Akren-Dickson from Tappahannock, Virginia, is a first cousin, four times removed, of Pvt. William J. Boyd who fought for the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry from 1861 until 1864.
Akren-Dickson, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, found a small book with a red leather cover that had belonged to her grandmother Doris Shaffer, who died in the fall of 2013 at the age of 94. On the cover, printed in gold letters, was the word, “Autographs.”
Inside the front cover were the words “Mary A. Boyd, Buck Mountain, Carbon Co. Penna, in beautiful copperplate handwriting. The album was filled with yellowed pages of poems and autographs from the late 1800s. The book piqued Akren-Dickson’s interest. She had known her grandmother was raised in Hazleton and the Boyd family had come from Buck Mountain at a village that no longer exists and that Andrew Boyd had built his first house in Freeland.
Upon a detailed review, Akren-Dickson discovered that her grandmother’s autograph album was signed by more than 80 people between 1881 and 1896 when Mary was between the ages of 23-37. Signers included coal miners, schoolteachers, Civil War veterans and many others from the Buck Mountain region. Ironically, William J. Boyd’s signature does not appear in the book.
Little is known about William J. Boyd. Akren-Dickson’s research found that he had married Mary E. Boyd and together they had four children.
He was a private in the 4th Pennsylvania Cavalry, 64th Volunteer - Company A from 1861 to 1864. During the war, he was captured by the Confederate army and was imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia. He managed to escape and survived his service and returned to his life in Luzerne County. In 1895, Boyd moved to New Jersey, where he worked as a machinist until he died in 1905.
Twelve Boyds are buried in the Upper Mauch Chunk Cemetery, where several other Civil War veterans have their final resting places. Particular to William are his wife who died in 1919 and two of his children: William Harry, who died in 1937, and John T. Boyd, who died at age 26 in 1895. William J.’s grave has had no headstone and no mention of his service in the Union Army until now.
The quest for his honor
Akren-Dickson’s attention to her grandmother’s autograph album and her research about William J. Boyd sent her on a quest to honor his service to his country. Her mission involved several people who helped her along the way.
“I started the process of attempting to obtain a military marker for him in February 2020, and it is in this month, May 2021, that William Boyd finally has his marker,” she said. “Jack Sterling, president of the Mauch Chunk Cemetery Association advised me to contact the office of Carbon County Veterans Affairs.”
Bonnie Gawlik and Christine LeClair at the office of Carbon County Veterans Affairs helped her with the application for the military marker. Jessica Meder of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, who was in charge of obtaining approval for the application, needed documented evidence that proved Boyd was buried in the cemetery.
“Tom Lager who oversees the Mauch Chunk Cemetery was pivotal in the approval process,” said Akren-Dickson. “He took the time and effort to provide the documentation. He was then kind enough to contact me when the marker arrived, and to text photos of the marker after it was placed.”
A spiritual journey
Akren-Dickson has written a book about the Buck Mountain village titled “This Their Friendship’s Monument” with the subtitle “How finding an 1880s autograph book led to a quest for a lost town and its people in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania.”
“I write about Eckley Miners Village in Weatherly, a place I have visited and learned so much more about the history of the people of the coal towns,” she said.
She is currently writing a second book called, “You Dream Every Night That I Am Home.” The story chronicles the life of Civil War soldier John Williamson, who was killed in battle and never came home to see his 3-month-old son.
When asked why she holds such interest in anthracite region families and Civil War soldiers, she says there is purpose in bringing personal histories back to life.
“I just think that I needed opportunities to learn about the men from the war and share what I have found with their descendants.
“I feel a spiritual purpose to honor a man like William J. Boyd, and in doing so, I am also honoring the memory of my grandmother,” she added.
Akren-Dickson and her husband, Joe, are driving to Jim Thorpe in time for Memorial Day.
“It will be the first time in the 116 years since William Boyd died that he’ll finally be recognized for his service to our country,” she said. “And because of the efforts of all of these people, when I’m in Jim Thorpe on Memorial Day weekend to honor him, I’ll have a military marker where I can place a flag.”
For Melanie Akren-Dickson, her spiritual journey continues. For William J. Boyd, his service to his country has officially been honored, and in doing so, “his truth is marching on.”
“This Their Friendship’s Monument” is available at Amazon Books.