The article in the Portsmouth Times described a man who had served for a cause he believed in. He was one of millions of soldiers who went and fought and for some dying – in that danged Civil war. He was coming back home, he fought a good fight and finished the race. This was a man of integrity, a man of courage and a man of principle. He was loved by his family and admired by his friends. He was a man that had no statues erected in his honor – or to remember him for history’s sake. He was just a kid of 19 or so when the war started – did he feel a duty, a call, or maybe just the feeling of adventure? He enlisted for his own reasons, he learned military life, learned how to take orders, he made new friends and fought an enemy that was just like him, an American. Did he know for sure what cause he was fighting for, or could the reason be what others had shared with him. It has been said that at the start of the Civil War, most Union soldiers believed they were fighting to keep the United States together. On the other hand some historians will argue that the Confederate soldier fought for his home and state. This was the backdrop in which Mr. Edwards grew up in and he was sure to hear the debate of the why and what for to go to war. He went and he served!
He would experience the horror of war first hand and would change from a young man into a hardened soldier. Imagine how he must have felt in his first battle, the sights, the sounds and the unimaginable feeling of seeing his comrades and enemies in the throes of agony and death. He survived that terrible time and came back to settle in Portsmouth. Did he share stories of the savagery of that gruesome period of time; did he have afterthoughts of the carnage and death he witnessed? Would he wake up in the middle of night in a cold sweat, in a panic and be glad that it was just a dream? Maybe there were times he would stare vacantly into space for no apparent reason? War does that to a person!
He overcame that chapter in his life. Shared by reliable sources, he went on to become a productive business man and model citizen. He was someone that added to the success of the city and county he lived in. Finally age would overcome him and he would leave to be with his loved ones in Sandusky. He would live out the remaining 3 years of his life there. Now William was coming back home to Portsmouth in a coffin. He had been one of a dying breed that had served the Union cause in the Civil War – not many were left.
The story announcing his passing in the newspaper didn’t make the headlines. It was just a small article mentioning the passing of a vanishing breed. It read in part … “the fast thinning ranks of veterans of the Civil War came to bear one chilly Saturday afternoon, March 28, 1920. That afternoon taps sounded for William D. Edwards, for many years a citizen of Portsmouth. He died in Sandusky, Ohio where he lived for the last three years. Local relatives were advised of the passing away of Mr. Edwards in a message received last night. He was born in Guernsey County in 1842, and was 78 years of age at the time of his death. He enlisted in the Union army at the outbreak of the Civil War and served throughout the great conflict with bravery and distinction. He participated in several of the important battles of the war. For a number of years Mr. Edwards was associated in the contracting business in Portsmouth with J.H. Gilson. He was a splendid citizen and his demise will be learned of by many friends with sincere regret. In addition to his widow, Mrs. Sarah J. Edwards of Portsmouth, the deceased is survived by his six daughters. The remains will be brought to Portsmouth for burial in Greenlawn Cemetery.”
From a long-forgotten Appalachian ballad – ‘He’s coming to us Dead.’ It tells of a boy in blue coming home for the last time. “Then a whistle pierced their ears, the express train someone cried, the … man rose in a breathless haste, and quickly rushed outside, then a long white casket, was lowered to the ground, the scene was filled with the grief and pain, of those who gathered around…”
Most importantly, remember that, Mr. Edwards was a man that lived and breathed likes all of us; he was a good soldier, a good father and good husband.
Reach Bob Boldman at [email protected]