One occasionally comes across the heartbreaking monument of a man who was killed in the Civil War in the days, even the hours leading up to Lee’s surrender. That, you will recall, was 09 April 1865.
Major F. W. Tremain’s demise is almost as sad, inasmuch as he died on 02 April 1865. His monument in Spring Forest Cemetery in Binghamton, New York commemorates his death at the head of his men in the 89th New York Volunteer Regiment (figure 1).
MAJOR F. W. TREMAIN
OF 89 REGT.
N. Y. S. VOLS.
KILLED WHILE LEADING
THE REGT. AT THE TAKING
OF FORT GREGG, VA.
APR. 2, 1865,
AGED 21 Y’RS.
The assault on Fort Gregg was part of a larger set of battles which were part of the end game in the campaign to capture Petersburg, and with it, the Confederate capital of Richmond. Ft. Gregg was one of a number of strong points constructed in the previous year to defend Petersburg, and its seizure, against a last-ditch defense, marked the end of the Battle of Petersburg and the beginning of Lee’s retreat to Richmond and thence to Appomattox.
Tremain’s commemorators could justly claim that he had lost his life in the final push that led to the war’s end, which was (it seems to me) no poor tribute, and they explicitly claim that he died leading the 89th N.Y. Regiment against the fort.
Those commemorators chose to accompany the inscription pregnant with the significance of the action he died in with a common piece of iconography: his arms, now hung up because he has performed his duty and gone to his rest.
His unsheathed sword—presumably still unsheathed because, having died in battle he had no time to sheath it—is crossed at the top of his monument, and over that is his kepi. The hat bears the bugle insignia of the Union infantry in front, the regiment number of 89 within it, and a twisted braid on top in the shape of a cross (figure 4).
The oak leaf is a common symbol of military distinction, though not as commonly known as laurels. However, Tremain’s commemorators doubtless knew that the insignia for a Major in the Union Army was a (gold) oak leaf (figure 5), which made the choice of an oak wreath (with acorns) draped over the stone but under the sword and kepi (figure 3) irresistible.
The draped accoutrements of war is common enough that I have already treated one found in Green-Wood Cemetery erected to William Smith, who died of wounds received at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861. Another such iconographic tree-tment has been discussed over at Gravely Speaking: happily, that soldier long outlived the war.
Confederates used the same iconography, adapted locally to different particular configurations. See my treatment of an interesting example with numerous comparanda here.