Roman Norris was a typical patriotic young man living and working in the village of Matteawan who was eager to answer the call of his country at the outbreak of the Civil War. His determination to serve proved to be beyond the call of duty …
At the age of 19, in the fall of 1861, he enlisted in New York’s 57th Regiment for a term of three years. Due to poor health, Norris was discharged from the military in 1863. In January of 1864, when his younger brother Theodore joined the Union ranks, Roman re-enlisted too, this time in the 16th New York Heavy Artillery. Soldiering again got the better of his health and Roman Norris died on June 26, 1865. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Methodist Cemetery on Beacon’s North Walnut Street. His brother survived the war and returned to Matteawan, where he worked as a hatter in a local factory. Theodore Norris died of unknown causes on November 16, 1867, and, like his brother, was buried in the Methodist Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
Robert Pickles was a 43-year-old emigrant from England living in Matteawan with a wife and family when, on August 8, 1862, he enlisted in the 128th New York Infantry. He was stationed in New Orleans, when like so many other soldiers in the Civil War, he fell ill to sickness. In the summer of 1864, Pickles was sent home on furlough to recover. He died in Matteawan on September 5, 1874, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the Episcopal Cemetery, then known as “St. Anna’s.”
Spencer DeFreese was born in Orange County and grew up in Chester, New York. On September 23, 1863, he enlisted in Co. H of the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry. DeFreese fought in the Battle of Olustee in Florida. After the war, he settled in Fishkill. He died on July 18, 1875, and was buried in the “Colored” Cemetery on North Walnut Street in an unmarked grave.
… These are only four soldiers of the more than 150 Civil War Veterans who are buried in Beacon’s cemeteries. Many of this number, whose families could not afford headstones, had no marker on their graves. In 1879, Congress authorized government-issued stones for the unmarked graves of Civil War veterans buried in private cemeteries. Our community’s Howland Post #48 of the Grand Army of the Republic took charge of this project, identifying unmarked graves and applying for headstones.
The first group of 21 headstones—including those for the Norris brothers, Robert Pickles, and Spencer DeFreese—arrived here early in 1880 and set in place in local cemeteries that spring. The stones were of white marble, with a sunken shield in which the soldier’s name and unit appeared in bas relief.
The headstones applied for by me, also a couple I think applied for by Mrs. C. A. Norris have been set by the graves and give good satisfaction to the friends of the deceased soldiers.”
Over the years these stones have deteriorated, or were damaged or stolen by vandals. Today, most of the original government headstones of 1880 are in poor condition, many are missing. The Beacon Cemetery Committee with the help of our community plans to replace these veterans’ headstones. First on the list are those of the soldiers mentioned: the Norris brothers, Pickles and DeFreese. The Veterans Administration will provide the stones free of charge, with either the soldiers’ families or the community paying the cost of installation.
The Beacon Cemetery Committee, thanks to generous donations, has raised the money to install the first four headstones.
We need additional support not only in raising funds to replace more stones help in identifying and learning any local Civil War veteran who lies in an unmarked grave. We also would like to hear from anyone with an ancestor who was a Civil War veteran and is buried in a Beacon cemetery. Please join us in this worthy project.