Our National Cemeteries: New Bern National Cemetery and Searching for Charles Plummer Tidd, a John Brown Raider and U.S. Soldier

Back in 2018, my wife and I decided to take a vacation to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. Before setting out on the trip, and as I often do, I searched for some historic sites to potentially visit either on the way down or the way back.

Noticing that our route led through New Bern, I recalled reading that one of the men who participated in John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid was buried there. Doing a quick internet search I found that Charles Plummer Tidd was indeed in the New Bern National Cemetery in Section 8, Plot 40. That seemed easy. I had been to enough national cemeteries to know that finding a specific grave with that information in hand should be no problem at all. Well . . . .

New Bern National Cemetery, in New Bern, North Carolina covers almost eight acres and contains over 7,500 graves. (Tim Talbott)

First though, some background information on Tidd is in order. Born in Palermo, Maine, in 1834, as a young man, Tidd migrated to Kansas in a party of free state settlers with Dr. Calvin Cutter of Worchester, Massachusetts in 1856. While in Kansas Tidd met John Brown, and due to both men being stalwart abolitionists, they became fast friends. Tidd demonstrated his commitment to abolitionism by participating in a raid Brown conducted into Missouri in December 1858. Their efforts eventually resulted in helping eleven enslaved individuals reach Canada and freedom.

Charles Plummer Tidd, a native of Maine, was 25 years old at the time of John Brown’s Harpers Ferry raid. (Kansas Historical Society)

Eager to involve himself in Brown’s grand plan to raid Virginia, but apparently unaware that Harpers Ferry was the ultimate target, Tidd traveled with Brown through various northern states and Canada in preparation for more expected emancipation success in the Old Dominion. During summer 1859, Tidd joined Brown’s tiny army gathering at the Kennedy farmhouse in rural southern Maryland.

Once Tidd found out that Harpers Ferry was Brown’s intended target, he flew into a rage and left the Kennedy farmhouse to visit his friend and co-conspirator John E. Cook for a week in Harpers Ferry. Brown had previously sent Cook ahead to covertly study the town and gather any intelligence possible. Eventually, Tidd returned to the Kennedy farmhouse, and like the others who doubted Brown’s target selection, recommitted themselves to the dangerous task at hand.

Shortly before the raid, and knowing the likelihood of not surviving, Tidd wrote to his family: “This is perhaps the last letter you will ever receive from your son. The next time you hear from me, will probably be through the public prints, If we succeed the world will call us heroes; if we fail, we shall hang between the Heavens and the earth.” Although committed to doing his part, Tidd also exhibited a sort of nonchalance about the raid. He often wrote to female friends across the North telling them about the mission’s preparations, feeling he could trust them to keep it secret.

The plan for the raid called for Tidd and Cook to go in advance of Brown and eighteen other raiders and cut telegraph wires. Three men, (Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, and Francis Jackson Merriam), all of whom were the least psychically fit of the raiders, were to stay in Maryland at the Kennedy farm.

Tidd, Cook, Aaron Stevens, and three African American raiders (Lewis Leary, Shields Green, and Osborne Perry Anderson) received orders to take Lewis Washington, George Washington’s great grandnephew, who lived nearby, as a hostage. They did so, bringing with them a Washington sword. They then stopped at John Allstadt’s Ordinary, taking more hostages and liberating six additional individuals.

Early on the morning of October 17, Brown detailed Tidd to go back into Maryland, capture another enslaver named Terence Byrne and his brother, and then take Byrne’s slaves and go to the Kennedy farmhouse and move forward firearms to an old log schoolhouse closer to Harpers Ferry. He did so, leaving the now freedmen guarding the weapons, Tidd returned to the Kennedy farmhouse.  There Tidd learned from Cook that the situation in Harpers Ferry was now desperate.

Tidd, Cook, Owen Brown, Barclay Coppoc, and Merriam decided to make their escape from the Kennedy farm rather than risk capture, or worse, in attempting to return to Harpers Ferry and rescue the other raiders. They made their way north through Maryland into southern Pennsylvania. Some citizens captured Cook near Chambersburg while he was searching for food. The frail Merriam disguised himself and took a train north, while the others, including Tidd, continued the trek by foot. By November 24, they reached Centre County, Pennsylvania, and each went their separate ways. Tidd headed off to Chatham, Canada.

Remaining in Canada for an undetermined period, Tidd eventually found his way to Massachusetts. On July 19, 1861, he enlisted in Co. K of the 21st Massachusetts Infantry in Worcester, just west of Boston. Apparently in order to maintain his true identity, but to reduce the likelihood of someone associating him with Brown’s raid, he dropped his last name and enlisted as Charles Plummer. Tidd received a promotion to first sergeant of Co. K on November 1, 1861.

The following winter, the 21st Massachusetts received orders to participate in the coastal operations at Roanoke Island, North Carolina, led by Maj. Gen. Ambrose Burnside. They embarked on the ship Northerner, and soon after landing Tidd died of enteritis, an inflammation of the bowels on February 7, 1862. The 21st Massachusetts regimental history states that Dr. Cutter, the man whom Tidd followed to Kansas and who later became the 21st’s surgeon, attended to Tidd and that the good doctor’s daughter and regimental nurse, Miss Carrie E. Cutter, closed Tidd’s eyes in death.

Carrie Eliza Cutter, the 19-year-old daughter of Dr. Calvin Cutter, surgeon of the 21st Massachusetts, served as a nurse for the regiment and cared for Sgt. Tidd before his death. (US Army’s Heritage & Education Center; MOLLUS Mass Photograph collection)

The regimental history of the 21st Massachusetts also says that Miss Cutter died on March 24 of spotted fever: “Her body was carried to Roanoke Island and buried by the side of her admired friend, Sergeant Charles Plummer Tidd, the heroic companion of John Brown, whose eyes she closed so sadly during the battle of Roanoke Island.” (page 83).

New Bern National Cemetery was established on February 1, 1867, and contains the Union dead reinterred from the coastal wartime battlefield cemeteries like New Bern, Morehead City, and Beaufort, North Carolina, as well as those who died of disease in the area hospitals.

We arrived at the New Bern National Cemetery on a sunny, hot, and humid August day excited to find Tidd’s grave. Near the entrance was an enclosed box containing an alphabetical order listing of the known interments and their plot numbers. I thought it would be best to consult the list although I had the supposed grave section and plot number. First checking for Tidd, and then Plummer, I only came up with a Charles E. Plummer, who had served in an artillery unit and had died in 1864, not 1862. I began to feel a little doubtful.

However, still determined, I went ahead and used the information I found online and located section 8, but there was not a plot number 40. I then went through each and every one of section 8’s graves and did not find a Tidd or Plummer. I finally went to the far back of the cemetery and found plot 40, but it, too, was not a Tidd or Plummer.

The cemetery office appeared to be closed, so I was unable to get additional help. But, despite my disappointment in not locating Tidd’s grave, I was somewhat cheered by several beautiful monuments to the Union dead in the cemetery. One is dedicated to the Massachusetts soldiers buried there, of which there appeared to be hundreds. On the monument’s side, it lists several regiments of Bay State troops, including Tidd’s 21st Massachusetts. So, although I did not find Tidd’s individual grave site, I still felt that the search was worth it, and in some way, it was my way of paying a small tribute to a man who ultimately gave his life in the service of his country and for an honorable goal.

The Massachusetts Monument at New Bern National Cemetery. (Tim Talbott)

Sometime soon after our visit, I learned that apparently Tidd is in a grave next to Carrie Cutter’s grave, and buried under the headstone name of Charles E. Coledge to protect his anonymity and to avoid having his grave desecrated. Looking through the records of soldiers who served from Massachusetts, there is no soldier named Charles E. Coledge. And since Tidd was originally buried beside Miss Cutter on Roanoke Island, it stands to reason that is where Tidd’s remains reside.

Sgt. Tidd is probably buried in this grave under the alias Charles E. Coledge. (Find A Grave)
Carrie Cutter and Sgt. Tidd are buried beside each other, as they originally were on Roanoke Island before being reinterred in New Bern National Cemetery. (Find A Grave)

Sadly, Tidd’s brother William Powell Tidd also rests in peace in a national cemetery. The Portland Press Herald ran a casualty list for the 31st Maine on May 21, 1864. Among those wounded on May 12 in fighting at Spotsylvania is W. P. Tidd. William received a wound in the left leg and apparently died at Harwood Hospital in Washington D.C. His grave is in Arlington National Cemetery.



Bangor Daily Whig and Courier. May 30, 1864, via newspapers.com, accessed May 21, 2024.

Carrie Cutter. Findagrave.com, accessed May 22, 2024.

Compiled Military Service Record for Charles Plummer, Co. K, 21st Massachusetts Infantry via Fold.3, accessed May 21, 2024.

Tony Horwitz. Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2011.

Portland Press Herald. May 21, 1864, via newspapers.com, accessed May 21, 2024

David Reynolds. John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Charles Plummer Tidd. Findagrave.com, re-accessed May 21, 2024.

William Powell Tidd. Findagrave.com, accessed May 21, 2024.

Charles F. Walcott. History of the Twenty-First Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1882.

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