Civil war veteran James Powers will get a proper burial
It’s the kind of oversight that’s hard to imagine.
Maybe the relatives of James and Irene Powers were just too busy to take care of the final arrangements for their loved ones, who died in 1921 and 1928, respectively.
After all, the couple’s son, the Rev. Jesse D.O. Powers, was a leading progressive clergyman in bustling Seattle back in the day, supporting the women’s suffrage movement, among other causes, with prayer and speeches.
“In Seattle, no one spoke more frequently or convincingly than the Rev. J.D.O. Powers of the First Unitarian Church and Rev. Sidney Strong of Queen Anne Congregational Church,” according the book, “The Concise History of Women’s Suffrage,” which was published in 1978.
Whatever the reason, urns containing the cremated remains of James and Irene Powers sat in “community storage” at a Seattle cemetery for decades until a Kent couple with a passion for the Civil War came across them this year.
Seeing what they considered a wrong, Loretta and James Dimond decided to try to make it right.
Now, James Powers, who served in the Union Army during that long-ago conflict, will get the military burial he rightfully deserves. His wife will be buried with him during a Dec. 10 memorial service at Tahoma National Cemetery near Kent.
“It is a significant event,” James Dimond told The News Tribune recently.
The Dimonds are teaming with Robert Patrick of the Washington chapter of the Missing in America Project, which works to find, identify and inter the unburied remains of veterans.
The three are planning a service with full military honors for James Powers, replete with gun salute, the playing of taps and other accoutrements. Members of local Civil War re-enactment groups plan to be on hand.
“We’re going to support this the best we can,” said Tom Yokes, director of Tahoma National Cemetery. “It’s important.”
Powers will become the second Civil War veteran buried at the cemetery, joining Medal of Honor winner 2nd Lt. Jesse T. Barrick, who lies at rest in Section 8 of the picturesque graveyard. Barrick also served in the Union Army.
Originally buried in Pasco Cemetery, Barrick’s remains were exhumed and then reburied with full military honors at Tahoma in 2000.
That Powers will join him is due in large part to the curiosity of the Dimonds, who both have master’s degrees in history and come from families with military backgrounds.
For the past 22 years or so, they’ve dabbled in American history for fun, James Dimond said. The Civil War has been of special interest, he said. Their hobby has included searching for the remains of veterans lying in unmarked graves and obtaining proper headstones for them.
“We’ve worked from one end of the state to the other,” James Dimond said. “If we find veterans, we try to take care of them.”
But even they were surprised by their discovery at Lake View Cemetery, a picturesque graveyard on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
George Nemeth, manager of Lake View, said that decades ago the cemetery became a repository for the city’s unclaimed cremated remains.
“We have a number of cremated remains that over the years were stored here from various funeral homes,” Nemeth said last week.
The cemetery eventually accumulated nearly 1,700 such remains. Until recently, they were stored in a maintenance shop, but when the shop was renovated, Lake View workers cataloged the remains and moved them into empty crypts throughout the cemetery.
“It happens periodically that people will come claim them,” Nemeth said.
Last summer, Loretta Dimond paid a call to Lake View, looking for the remains of possible veterans. Two names on the cemetery’s list of unclaimed remains, those of James and Irene Powers, caught her eye.
The dates of their deaths, during the Roaring Twenties, coincided with a period of time that saw many Civil War veterans die.
“It seemed possible that Mr. Powers was a Civil War veteran,” Jim Dimond said.
The Dimonds’ curiosities began to buzz, but there was work to do to establish whether Powers was a Civil War veteran and whether he qualified for a military burial.
“We had to make sure we had the right person,” James Dimond said.
A process of “detective work” ensued, he said, including trips to the National Archives offices in Seattle for copies of military pension payment receipts, the scouring of newspaper microfiche for obituaries and internet searches for information about Powers.
Their conclusion: Powers was in fact a Civil War veteran and deserved a military funeral that recognized his service.
The Dimonds then worked with Patrick to complete the bureaucratic process to have Powers verified as a veteran and win authorization to hold a military funeral for him at Tahoma.
Powers, it turns out, was born in Michigan and worked as a farmer near Kalamazoo before enlisting in the Union Army in 1864 along with his future father-in-law, the Rev. Orlando Keyes.
Keyes officiated at the wedding of his daughter, Irene, and Powers the day after their enlistment. The two men left Michigan a few days later with their unit, Company D of the 12th Michigan Infantry Regiment, according to online records and research by the Dimonds.
Powers spent most of his enlistment in Arkansas, where he worked as a company clerk and medical assistant, James Dimond said.
The 12th Michigan, which fought at Shiloh and Vicksburg in preceding years, mostly served more mundane duties in 1864-’65, including guarding railroads and other public property after the taking of Little Rock, according to Nation Park Service records.
After the war, Powers returned to Michigan, where he embarked on a career in public service that included working as a teacher, school inspector, highway commissioner and state representative, records show.
“He was a literate and smart person,” said James Dimond, adding that Powers went on to become an attorney.
In 1920, James and Irene Powers moved to Seattle to be near their eldest son, the Rev. Powers, according to a July 1, 1921, obituary published in The Seattle Times.
James Dimond said Powers, who then was in his late 70s, was not well when he moved west and died about a year after arriving. He was 78.
James Dimond said he and his wife are thrilled to have played a role in identifying Powers as a Civil War veteran and in helping him receive an honorable burial after all these years.
He admitted becoming emotional when he and Loretta Dimond got to hold the urns of Powers and his wife this summer.
“This guy fought to save the Union and end slavery,” James Dimond said. “It was highly moving.”