While in Princeton, New Jersey, recently, I stopped by the historic Princeton Cemetery of the Nassau Presbyterian Church. Some famous people are buried there, including the 22nd and 24th presidents of the United States. (They are both Grover Cleveland. He served non-consecutive terms.) Aaron Burr reposes there, too. Burr, of course, was a vice president of the United States and the man who shot Alexander Hamilton. For that act, he has become a character in a famous musical.
I stopped by those two graves, but I was most interested in someone less notable. George Dashiell Bayard was a cavalryman in the Civil War. By the time of the Fredericksburg campaign in December 1862 he had risen to brigadier general and commanded a brigade of cavalry in the VI Corps, part of Maj. Gen. William Franklin’s Left Grand Division. Bayard was killed at Fredericksburg, but not in any grand cavalry charge. He was reclining against a tree at Franklin’s headquarters south of town on December 12 when a Confederate artillery shell hit the ground and ricocheted into him. He died two days later. “His loss is universally regretted,” said General George Gordon Meade.
I had encountered Bayard before while writing Searching for George Gordon Meade: The Forgotten Victor of Gettysburg. Bayard had offered to give Meade’s son a position on his staff, but the elder Meade had declined, saying he thought it best that the young man received some combat experience before becoming a staff officer. In a letter, Meade had reminded his wife about Bayard, telling her she might remember him “from the protuberance on his cheek, produced by an arrow wound.” (Before the war, Bayard had fought Native Americans out west.)
I ran into Bayard again while researching Maine Roads to Gettysburg. Artilleryman Charles O. Hunt of the 5th Maine Battery encountered Bayard riding along the lines near Fredericksburg just days before the general died. “He was a young looking man, no more than twenty-six or twenty-eight, I should think,” Hunt wrote. “I liked his looks very much. He came sauntering along singing ‘Then let the wide world wag as it will, we will be gay and happy still.’ The only mark of any rank whatever about him was his brigadier’s buttons, which were on a very ordinary looking coat, which was anything but military. His pants were like a private’s, and his hat an old black felt. Poor fellow. I did not think then that he would so soon be shot.”
Bayard rests among other members of the Bayard family at the cemetery in Princeton, not far from Burr’s grave. I’m glad there was a cemetery map available at the entrance, because I doubt I would have found him. The crossed sabers on his obelisk would have provided a clue to his location, but the inscription on his tombstone has largely worn away and it’s nearly impossible to decipher his name. Here today, gone tomorrow.
Maine Roads to Gettysburg is available for purchase now! You can find it on Amazon.com, or any fine bookseller near you.