Photos courtesy of Gaz de Vere
At the beginning of July, I first found out about a dedication ceremony to honour an American Civil War veteran. Any service honouring a veteran is special, but this was a dedication service with a difference because this American Civil War veteran was actually British, and the service was taking place in London England. Being a Civil War reenactor, historian, and all-round civil war buff, I knew I could not miss this opportunity to pay my respects.
George W. Denham was born on April 23, 1835, in Grantham, Lincolnshire. In 1856, he left Liverpool, England, to travel to New York where, on arrival, he signed up with the U.S navy at the Brooklyn Naval Yard. He served on the USS St Lawrence until 1859 when the ship was decommissioned.
In 1863, in Norristown, Pennsylvania, George enlisted as a substitute for a master butcher by the name of Martin van Bueren Dager for the sum of two hundred dollars. However, George didn’t use his real name; he instead signed up as William Wright Denham, which made things difficult for him in later life. Four days later, he joined the ranks of the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteers where he fought in the battle of Wauhachie and then later on in the battle of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. The regiment’s three-year term of service expired in December 1863, and while nearly the entire regiment reenlisted, George sought his fortunes elsewhere. In May 1864, he re-joined the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Choctaw. His war ended in Mobile Alabama.
In 1870, George returned to England where he married Jane Holskamp and settled in north London. He became the eighth member of the U.S. Civil War veterans’ London branch and applied for a veteran’s pension—but because he had enlisted under a different name, he would not receive this until June 1913. George was awarded $30 dollars a month. However, on January 19, 1914, he died. He was buried in Islington and St. Pancras Cemetery in London.
George’s grave was unmarked and almost lost over the years under overgrown greenery. The work of his great-great-granddaughter led to the grave finally being marked, and George received the recognition he deserves. The dedication was held July 30, 2021, and George’s Federal head stone was unveiled.
The dedication started with reenactors, which included myself, from the Southern Skirmish Association marching to the grave side. This was followed by an introduction about George given by his great-great-granddaughter, Gina Costin. Despite being very grey outside, the weather was just about holding out at this point. The mayor of Camden, Sabrina Francis, gave a short but nice speech. We were also joined by Sgt 1st Class Bryon Davidson, a serving member of the U.S. Army and representative of the U.S. Defence Attaché Office. Bryon gave a great speech then, along with the mayor, had the honour and privilege of unveiling George’s headstone.
This was then followed by the playing of the bugle and Taps by a member of the Sons of Union Veteran, which was a very emotional moment. We were all informed that the bugle used was the same one that was present not only at Fort Wagner but also at Cold Harbor.
Matthew O’Neill gave the next speech. Matthew is the camp commander of Ensign John Davis camp, No. 10, which is the U.K. branch of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. No. 10 has the honour of being the first and only SUVCW to exist outside of the U.S., inaugurated in 2016.
Father Graeme Rowlands gave a eulogy and prayer. Father Rowlands has been the parish priest for more than 30 years at St. Silas church, Kentish town—a church attended by the Denham family.
A short prayer was given by Martin Cross, a Civil War living historian and a member of the American Civil War Society, another Civil War re-enacting society here in the U.K. It had also stopped raining at this point.
Michael Hammerson finished the speeches. Michael is a historian, author, member of SUVCW and member of the American Civil War Roundtable U.K.
The dedication was brought to a close by Gina, and we all retired to the pub to raise a glass to George W. Denham, the brave young British American Civil War soldier.
I felt so honoured and privileged for the chance to attend this dedication. I never thought I would ever have the chance to be part of something so important as this, something that directly links Britain and the American Civil War. I have been informed that there are six more veterans in this cemetery without headstones, so watch this space. Hopefully we can get stones for each of them.