Monday, September 15, 2014

Marcus Edwards & Mexico City National Cemetery

This photo of the Mexico City National Cemetery is taken from the American Battle Monuments Commission Web site.

Marcus Edwards is an obscure, but interesting, ex-Lucas Countyan who upon his death in 1893 landed in what must be among the most obscure of U.S. National Cemeteries --- in Mexico City. It's the sort of combination that keeps me amused when I should be doing more productive things --- folks who follow different drummers sometimes are the most interesting.

Born about 1841 in Indiana, Marcus was about 13 when his father, "Honest John" Edwards (left) brought the family west to Chariton in 1853. John, an attorney, was a very big fish indeed in early Lucas County's small pond. 

In 1856, John was named Lucas County delegate to the convention that framed Iowa's Constitution of 1857. He was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives during 1856 and 1858 and upon re-electtion in 1860 was named speaker of the House. When the Civil War broke out, John parlayed his political connections into a commission as lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to Iowa Gov. Samuel J. Kirkwood. Promoted later to full colonel, he was given command of the Eighteenth Iowa Volunteer Infantry, ultimately brevetted brigadier general.

Rather than return to Chariton after the war, John accepted an appointment from President Andrew Johnson as U.S. assessor of internal revenue in Arkansas and held that position from 1866 until 1869. In 1870, John was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas --- kind of. Although declared the winner, Edwards actually had come up some 3,000 votes short. He served two years, but was under challenge during the entire term and yielded to the actual winner during 1872. After that, John established a law practice in Washington, D.C., where he remained until his death during 1894. He was buried with considerable splendor in Arlington National Cemetery.

Honest John's principal claim to fame in Lucas County, however, may be The Chariton Patriot (currently half of The Herald-Patriot), which he established in 1857 as Lucas County's first permanent newspaper.

Young Marcus went to work in his father's newspaper office and was enumerated at age 19 as "printer" when the 1860 federal census of Chariton was taken. During early 1861, he enlisted in the Lucas County Guards, the first unit of volunteers raised for Civil War Service in Lucas County, and marched off with more than 80 companions on July 8, 1861, to be mustered in Burlington on the 17th into federal service as Co. B, Sixth Iowa Volunteer Infantry.

He served honorably during the war, surviving Shiloh and a variety of other battles --- but never quite managed to settle down after that. He was living in Tennessee in 1870 and, later that decade, prospecting for gold. The Patriot of Jan 17, 1877, reported that Marcus had passed through Chariton after leaving the Black Hills and planned to spend the winter in St. Louis. By 1880, both he and his brother, Billy, also a printer, had relocated in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The Patriot of March 22, 1882, reported that Marcus was then running a daily newspaper in Socorro, New Mexico, and that Billy was on his way southwest to join him.

At some point during the late 1880s, Marcus resettled in Mexico City and became a member of the American expatriate community living there.

Life failed to settle Marcus down, but death did --- on Feb. 24, 1893, when he died at age 53 in the American Hospital in Mexico City after a bout with typhus. Here's his obituary, as it appeared in The Chariton Patriot of March 15, 1893:

Mr. Marcus Edwards, printer, journalist, soldier, prospector and contractor in his short life of 53 years, died in the American Hospital in (Mexico City) at 1 o'clock on Friday afternoon after an illness of 24 days. The deceased was born at Bradford, Indiana, and after liberal education entered the Sixth Iowa regiment of the Union army on January (actually July) 17th, 1861, and was honorably discharged from the service on July 17th, 1864.

From the East he drifted west to New Mexico where he edited and printed a daily paper; later he became a prospector and at the time of his death was a member of the well-known firm of railroad contractors of Edwards, Dowling and Buckner, of (Mexico City). The demise of Mr. Edwards was very sudden, he not having fully recovered from typhus fever which caused him to be taken to the hospital, and his death alone is attributable to the weak state in which he was left after the fever had left him, his stomach failing to retain the food given to him, and in consequence day by day he became weaker until at last life departed.

The deceased received every attention that could either be purchased or extended to him by his partner, Mr. John W. Dowling, and his numerous friends, and it will be a consolation to his aged father, Mr. John Edwards, who resides in Washington, D.C., to learn that his son who died in a strange land was given the best medical treatment and the closest attention during his entire period of sickness.

The remains of Mr. Edwards were bured in the American cemetery on Saturday under the auspices of the E.C.C. Crd. Post of the G.A.R. of (Mexico City), of which he was a member. There was a numerous concourse at the grave during the services. Peace be to the ashes of one of the best of friends and one of the most honorable men that ever came to Mexico from the United States.

The subject of the above sketch was a former resident of Chariton, and at one time worked in this (Chariton Patriot) office. The Patriot deeply sympathizes with the aged father in the loss of his estimable son.

The "American Cemetery," now Mexico City National Cemetery, was established by the U.S. Congress in 1851 to house the remains of some 750 American soldiers who had died in Mexican War battles in or near Mexico City, most during August and September of 1847. It originally consisted of two acres and by 1853, soldier remains previously buried in scattered temporary graves had been reinterred there as "unknowns."

Between 1851 and 1923, when it was closed to further burials, the remains of 813 American civilians who died in Mexico City --- including Marcus --- were buried there as well. It was declared a national cemetery in 1873 and placed under the supervision of the U.S. War Department, then transferred in 1947 to the care of the American Battle Monuments Commission. 

Until 1976, the cemetery looked much like any other national cemetery --- regimented rows of graves in a setting of manicured lawn. But in that year, construction of a highway resulted in reduction of the cemetery to one acre. All remains were disinterred and those of unidentified Mexican War fatalities buried in two underground crypts beneath of a simple monument dedicated "To the honored memory of 750 Americans known but to God whose bones collected by their country's order are here buried."

New wall crypts were constructed to house the remains of the civilians buried in the cemetery, including those of Marcus. Today, according to various online reports, the cemetery resembles a garden, a quiet oasis in busy Mexico City.

So that's how Marcus came to be buried in Mexico, a considerable distance from The Patriot office and the rough-and-tumble streets of pioneer Chariton.

You can read a little more about the Mexico City National Cemetery here.


Charles M. Wright said...

paragraph 6: I think that date surely was July 8, 1861 -- not 1871.

Frank D. Myers said...

Right you are. Thanks!