After 104 years, a civil war Zouave gets his gravestone in Gig Harbor

After lying in an unmarked grave for 104 years, Private Jeremiah P. Griffin is finally getting a gravestone honoring his service during the Civil War.

A ceremony follows months of effort by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization dedicated to promoting patriotism and preserving American history.

A bugler and a veterans’ honor guard will assist in the gravestone dedication at 1 p.m. on Oct. 5 in Old Gig Harbor Cemetery, 10317 Gig Harbor Dr. NW.

Griffin appears to have been a “Zouave,” a member of a Union Army regiment that wore a colorful, baggy-pants uniform styled after fabled Algerian warriors.

He served with the 146th New York Volunteers, a regiment that participated in the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, both bloody union defeats.

Tracing a soldier

Griffin’s record was uncovered after months of research by Kathy Veasey, a retired nursing home dietitian who is a genealogy buff. Veasey, 73, has researched each of the 300 persons buried in the old cemetery. She and her fellow DAR volunteers believe the have found five unheralded Civil War veterans, Griffin among them.

The 146th was one of the union regiments who styled themselves “Zouaves,” after the Algerian auxiliaries in the French army. They wore colorful uniforms that included baggy red pantaloons, sky-blue jackets and red fezzes.

Details of Griffin’s service are a little unclear. His grave marker lists his regiment as the 5th New York Infantry, which was melded into the 146th on May 4 of 1863. But Veasey found records that say Griffin’s service ended on that date — which also happened to be at the height of the battle of Chancellorsville.

The 5th New York were also known as “Duryea’s Zouaves.” They were dissolved at Chancellorsville because many of its members’ two-year enlistments had expired. The 146th adopted the colorful Zouave uniform after the remnants of the 5th joined them.

Griffin may have been wounded, or he may have simply been mustered out as his enlistment expired.

“We assume he became ill or injured but we don’t know that for certain,” said DAR member Muriel Parrish.

“It was often the case for a soldier to sign up for short periods,” said Veasey. “Perhaps fighting in a battle, then returning home, then re-enlisting. So many served in different regiments, companies, et cetera.”

Chancellorsville was a humiliating defeat for the Army of the Potomac, then led by Gen. Joseph Hooker. Confederate General Robert E. Lee, leading an army half the size of Hooker’s, divided his forces and defeated the union army piecemeal, forcing Hooker to retreat.

“At Chancellorsville the regiment suffered heavily on the first day of the fight and acquitted itself with honor,” a federal history of the 146th New York recounts, “losing 50 killed, wounded and missing.”

Gig Harbor hat maker

Wounded or not, Griffin lived to be 90, moving west from New York, presumably during the Western expansion that followed the war.

Griffin was married to Ellen Woodard and had five children. He worked as a hat maker.

Griffin is one of five civil war veterans believed buried at Old Gig Harbor Cemetery in unmarked graves. Within the past two years the DAR has marked two of the five gravestones, both soldiers from Minnesota. After marking Griffin, Parrish said she hopes to mark the other two within the next two years.

The Gig Harbor researchers used sexton’s plats of the cemetery, census records, military records and newspaper clippings to document the five soldiers’ pasts.

Once Griffin’s service had been verified, he was eligible for a gravestone provided by the Veteran’s Administration. The process took about six months, Parrish said.

At the ceremony Saturday, bugler Bernie Moskowitz will sound “Church Call,” followed by posting of the colors by members of Gig Harbor American Legion Post 236. Veasey will give a short address, wreaths will be placed, and military honors presented by the Peninsua Veterans Honor Guard.

To end the event, the bugler will sound the traditional “Taps.”

“It’s part of America’s heritage and part of honoring veterans,” Parrish said. “Every time I do one of these I learn more about the Civil War and appreciate the efforts and sacrifices they made to keep our country together.”