Joseph Peck monument, Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

I note first that the marker has been vandalized in the past and carefully restored. Who vandalizes a grave?

P                          G
M
ERECTED BY HIS COMRADES
THE PRESIDENT’S MOUNTED GUARD
IN MEMORY
OF
ENSIGN JOS. CHAP. PECK
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE
SEPTR 1ST 1857
IN THE 24TH YEAR OF HIS AGE

There doesn’t seem to be anything online about the organization of the President’s Mounted Guard, though we find newspaper articles mentioning them in passing as (wait for it) guarding the president.

For our purposes, let’s have a look at his portrait:

Joseph C. Peck portrait, Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Photo: author.

So: a badly weathered face of a 24-year-old man in a roundel. The face is long, the forehead high, the nose straight, the cheekbone and chin prominent, the jaw square, the ear quite prominent, the lips slightly pursed. The neck is long and thin. No facial hair, The hair is short, though it has been combed up over the forehead in a wave and falls in several locks over his right temple. I see an arrangement not unlike Brendan Fraser’s in The Mummy (1999), though with the part evidently on the opposite side:

The Mummy (1999) Universal Studios. Publicity photo. IMDB.

The treatment, as though the portrait here in bas relief were an image of a bust in the round turned to profile will surprise no one familiar with practices on exactly contemporary postage or coins. Here’s Franklin in 1851, clearly a bust since his arms are cut off at the shoulder, and the goddess Liberty in an Indian headdress on an “Indian Head” cent (1858 design), cut off like Peck’s bust.

U.S. Indian Head cent, obverse, 1888. Photo: Tossedko. Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Postage, one-cent, series 1851. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.

The heraldic crossed weapons are interesting. They are tied together by a ribbon the ends of which trail off toward the P and G. The sword looks to me rather like a model 1840 cavalry saber, which is visually almost identical to the model 1860 below. The stone hilt is simpler than the real sword’s, I think because the tracery in the real sword was too delicate for stone carving.

Model 1860 cavalry saber. Public domain. Wikimedia Commons.

The rifle is a question mark to me. As you see, it is a muzzle loader (see the ramrod protruding under the barrel). The cavalry saber is about three and a half feet long, and no muzzle loader, not even a musketoon, was that short. It has therefore been scaled down to match the sword for the purposes of the heraldic image. Fair enough, but neither does the rifle closely resemble any of the standard issue weapons of the 1850s (or the Civil War, for that matter), even taking into account the damage to the image by the vandalism to the stone. I take it to be a stylized rifle, therefore, which does not conform to the actual shape of any weapon that was actually made.

As for Peck himself, here are two obituaries from contemporary newspapers quoted on Find a grave:

Death
On Tuesday, the 1st instant, at 11 o’clock AM, after a lingering illness of twenty months, which he bore with Christian resignation, Joseph Chapman Peck, in the 26th year of his age.
His funeral will take place this (Thursday) evening, at 3 ½ o’clock, from the resident [sic] of his father, Captain Joseph Peck, on E Street, between 9th and 10th, where his friends and those of the family are respectfully invited to attend.

Daily National Intelligencer Thursday, September 3, 1857

Military Funeral
Yesterday the remains of the late Joseph C. Peck were buried at Glenwood Cemetery. The procession started from the residence of his father, Captain Joseph Peck, on E Street, where the funeral service of the Baptist Church was performed by the Rev. Dr. Teasdale. The funeral was attended by a large number of the acquaintances and friends of the deceased and escorted by the President’s Mounted Guard. Lieut. Flint commanding, of which corps Mr. Peck was a member and his father is the Captain. Mr. Anthony Buchly was the undertaker and in his usual acceptable and businesslike manner superintended the mournful cortege.

The Evening Star Friday, September 4, 1857

Assuming Captain Peck, the father, lived as close to the White House as the four possibilities for E between 9th and 10th allow, this family, involved deeply in guarding the president, might have lived IRONY ALERT in the same city block as Ford’s Theater.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Arlington, VA

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