Monday, May 6, 2013

The Drummer Boy

By the time the Civil War began, the State Street Burying Grounds were little used for new graves.  The Albany Rural Cemetery was already two decades old and, as the city began to bury its fallen soldiers, a special section was set aside for those who were not buried in family plots and those who had no one to claim their bodies (including several unknowns).  But, before it was closed for good, the old Burying Grounds became the temporary resting place of a drummer boy named George H. Barnard.

George was born in Albany in 1844, the son of George A. and Louisa Barnard.  The 1850 census lists his siblings as William, Louisa, and Creswell.  The 1858 city directory lists his father as a clerk at 444 Broadway (an address that included law offices, an insurance agency, and a hat and fur shop).  The family seems to have lived at 20 Quackenbush Street.

Young George served under General Abner Doubleday, a Ballston Spa native.  Still in his teens, he was a drummer boy when he was killed on September 17, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam.  His body was returned to Albany and he was buried in the Dutch Reformed section of the State Street Burying Grounds.  When the city's Common Council closed the Burying Grounds a few years after the war's end and removed the graves to the Church Grounds, George H. Barnard's remains was transferred to a family plot on the North Ridge of the Rural Cemetery.

His final resting place is marked with a small white marble headstone.  The top is carved with roses and the front reads "Killed At Antietam."  There is some additional text near the base, but it has eroded.  The word "soldier" remains visible, though. 

The Washington Post has a brief, but good overview of the role that young men like George H. Barnard played in the Civil War.  Drummer boys were often sentimentalized in poems (including one by Alfred Billings Street), ballads, and inexpensive engravings of the era.  

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