This article was first published in the May 25, 2009 edition of the New Hampshire Union Leader.
COLEBROOK – On the somber observance of Memorial Day, back in the days when people could remember the nation’s struggle and strife in the Civil War, ranks of soldiers would march through town.
Since Colebrook is as far north as one can get before touching Canada, most of these soldiers had fought for the Union, including a man named Cummings Marshall.
His brother, William Henry Marshall, however, had been a Confederate soldier and, according to local history, had his own way of marking a day that was originally intended to honor fallen Union soldiers.
“As the parade went through town, he took delight in charging through their ranks on his gray mare,” said George Martin, a descendent of the two brothers who once served on opposite sides of the War Between the States, and who are now buried, side by side, in the Colebrook Village Cemetery.
And each year, Martin honors his kin by providing the stars and bars flag of the Confederacy and an American flag, bearing the stars and stripes of the Civil War era, for placement on their graves.
The familial story of how Martin, who hails from Hendersonville, N.C. by way of family in Lancaster, is one that began with a curious fascination Martin had with the Civil War that led to the discovery of the Marshall brothers and their roles in it.
“I had always had an interest in the Civil War,” Martin said. “I had toys – those plastic soldiers – and I would spend hours fighting battles. I collected books about it, I was quite infatuated with it and I can’t say why I had such an interest.”
Martin’s parents were from Lancaster and moved to Florida when he was 11, but the family kept in touch with their relatives, including his aunt, Cecile Costine, who, it turns out, was the keeper of the family history, tracing its roots back to the 1500s.
“We visited frequently and one time I asked her if there were any Civil War ancestors,” he said. “She wrote back and told me of the two brothers.”
That set off a research project for him, digging out the roots of the Marshall brothers and he has spent years digging through archives and census records, old books and other documents that would shed light on them.
Along the way, he amassed so much information, he has written a book, ‘I Will Give Them One More Shot: A History of the First Regiment of the Georgia Volunteers.’ He is awaiting word from a publisher that has expressed interest in putting out the book.
The Marshall’s father, Abel, is a great-great uncle of Martin, who set off from Lancaster to Dahlonega, Ga., sometime in the 1830s, the time of a gold rush there. He married a Southern woman, Lucinda, and they had two sons – William Henry, born in 1839, and Cummings, born in 1841- and two daughters, Martha and Malinda.
As a young man, Cummings headed north to Lancaster, where his father had family, while his big brother remained in Georgia, which, Martin surmises, is how the two brothers ended up on opposing sides of a war that was also known as the Brothers’ War.
William Henry joined up with the Dahlonega Volunteers, which became a part of the First Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Cummings enlisted in the 1st New Hampshire Heavy Artillery, ending up at Fort Reno.
Martin’s research turned up pension applications from Cummings that detailed an injury he received – “a rupture” – that ended up causing him pain for the rest of his life.
“It was debilitating,” Martin said. “In later years, on his pension application, he couldn’t sign his own name, he had to make an X.”
His research shows that both brothers went north to Colebrook following the war, where they lived out their lives. Cummings ended up owning a candy store in town and William Henry mined for gold on Monadnock Mountain across the river in Vermont. He never married.
Martin has found, as every genealogist does, that the more information he uncovers, the more questions it can lead to.
“I’d love to know whatever happened to Abel – he seems to have just disappeared in the 1850s,” at about the time of the California Gold Rush, “which makes me suspect he went out there,” Martin said. “There are no records about the youngest daughter, Martha, so she may have died in childhood.”
Lucinda, the mother of William Henry and Cummings, ended up remarrying a man named Michael Tobin. They are both buried in the Colebrook Village Cemetery.
“They aren’t buried together and I wonder why,” he said.
When Martin first found the graves of the two brothers, he was able to correct a situation that may have continued into perpetuity. Soldiers’ graves have special markers designating their branch of service and what wars they may have fought.
“When I saw the markers on the graves, they were on the wrong ones,” he said. “They’ve been rolling around in their graves for 150 years.”
Martin makes a visit to the graves each summer, when he spends time at the family camp on Akers Pond in Errol and makes sure an appropriate flag flies at the place where two brothers, divided once by war, now rest in peace.