A Monumental Project: An Adventurous Career on Land and Sea, Remembered by Dignitaries and Descendants

John Heath in his navy uniform

One hundred and twenty-four years after his passing, an American Civil War veteran and former police officer in Brighton, East Sussex, England, has been remembered. Dignitaries and descendants gathered to observe the unveiling of an official burial marker at Brighton and Preston Cemetery. The marker was provided by the Department of Veteran Affairs’ division of Memorial Services.

John Heath was born in Deptford, South London, in 1840, but his family relocated to Brighton. Keen to see the world, by 1861 John was in the United States at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He enlisted in the United States navy, initially serving for about a year on the USS Santee, patrolling the waters of the Gulf coast to disrupt blockade runners.

Darren Rawlings at the John Heath dedication. (Photo credit: Gina Denham and Craig Semplis.)

The dedication ceremony had been months in the planning and was an outcome of research by Gina Denham, co-founder of Monuments for U.K. Veterans of the American Civil War Association. Gina is the 2x Great Granddaughter of George Denham (1835-1914), who served in the 111th Pennsylvania Volunteers, then later under Admiral Farragut on the USS Chickasaw.  At the dedication, Gina was joined by the association’s co-founder, Darren Rawlings. Followers of Emerging Civil War (ECW) will recognize Darren’s name as ECW’s social media manager. Darren has been a driving force behind “The Monumental Project,” and John Heath represents the fifth veteran honored since the pair formed the Association in 2022.

In November 1862, whilst serving on the USS Owasco, John went ashore at Bolivar Point, Galveston, on a trip to forage for fresh supplies. The union sailors were attacked by a large group of Confederate Cavalry. John was shot thirteen times and left for dead. He survived his wounds, although doctors were not able to remove all the bullets. John was eventually medically discharged and received a small pension of $2 dollars a month.

However, as an incredible illustration of his resilience and guts, he reenlisted in the navy–again under an alias–and served until the closing of the war. Afterwards, he returned to England and promptly joined the Brighton Borough Police, where he served the community for twenty-five years. He retired in 1894 and passed away in February 1900. Five generations of John’s family also followed in his footsteps and joined the police, too.

Stephen Lockwood (photo by Craig Semplis)

At the dedication ceremony, several of John’s descendants were present to honor their forebear. They included his 2x great grandson, Stephen Lockwood. “Until two years ago, the only other vague recollection I had was of my grandfather’s sister, Daisy Mary Heath, telling me that her grandfather, John Heath, had served in the U.S. Civil War,” Lockwood said. “The story must have included the detail that he served twice in different circumstances, a fact that over time I came to assume meant that he had started with the Confederates and then crossed for some reason to the Union cause. How wrong I was to doubt his singularity of purpose or integrity….

“On behalf of my sister, our children, and grandchildren, I offer our sincere thanks and gratitude to Gina Denham for her dedication to the cause of commemorating UK veterans of the U.S. Civil War, not least our ancestor, John Heath. We also acknowledge with thanks the U.S. Department of Defense who support the work of the Monuments for U.K. Veterans of the American Civil War Association by providing the memorial stones….”

Joining Stephen were more than thirty people including living historians, Commander Michael Sturm, United States Deputy Naval Attaché, and Robert Cummings of American Legion London Post EG01. The post was granted its charter in December 1920, making it one of the oldest American Legion posts in existence. Chief Inspector Karen Osborn of Brighton Police, represented the Police family that John Heath was once part of. The Police officer joined Commander Sturm in unveiling the marker.

Reflecting on the day, Darren Rawlings said he was proud to play his part in speaking during the service. “John had a very interesting Civil War experience,” Darren remarked. “He served on the USS Santee, Owasco, and later on the USS Mahaska.”

Darren mentioned that, at the last two dedications, he had “the privilege to read a little bit about the veteran’s Civil War experiences.” ‘This has become my role at every dedication, which I will admit is a real honor and a privilege,” he added. “I am looking forward to the next one which we are already planning for the fall, although I’m not sure the weather will be as nice!”

In her comments, Gina likewise noted the weather. “We were blessed with wonderful weather,” she said. “It really was a great day in so many ways. All the effort to track down John’s family and applying for the marker proved worthwhile. To finally see another American Civil War Veteran honored by his family, and representatives from a diverse range of organizations was wonderful. John Heath’s story is quite incredible, but his role in the American Civil War had been lost to history. Through research, we have identified over six hundred veterans of the Civil War buried across the United Kingdom, most of whom served the Union side. Darren and I have always felt it was a travesty that the involvement of British people in a conflict that led to the end of enslavement has been lost from the narrative of the Civil War. Our mantra has not just been to raise monuments, but awareness, too, and more dedications are planned.”

Heath is not the only American Civil War Veteran buried at Brighton and Preston Cemetery. Henry Holden served in Massachusetts regiments and, after the conflict, re-enlisted. For his extraordinary heroism in 1876, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Whilst serving with the 7th U.S. Cavalry in action at Little Big Horn, Montana, Henry brought up ammunition under “galling fire from the enemy.” Like Heath, he eventually returned to England after being medically discharged.

Andrea Mabbot of Downs Crematorium & Brighton and Preston Cemetery was delighted with the successful event. Reflecting on the day, Andrea, who helped with the application for the veteran’s official burial marker, said “John Heath had a truly remarkable life. It has been a pleasure helping to arrange this official marker for him and to have witnessed his dedication ceremony. For us, this one amazing story makes us think about all of the souls we take care of each day and what other stories there are to be told.”

To find out more about Monuments for UK Veterans of the American Civil War, visit their Facebook page or contact civilwarukmonumentalproject@gmail.com

photo by Gina Denham
Photo by Craig Semplis

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