June 2, 2005

Corporal Byrne Finally Brought Home To Rest

More than 85 years ago a relatively obscure veteran of the Civil War passed away in California without much fanfare. In 1920, John Peyton Byrne was just one of many former soldiers from the conflict whose days had drawn to an end.

But unlike John Hutchinson, the last living Missouri Civil War Veteran who passed away March 18, 1951 and was laid to rest in Isabella Cemetery, Byrne never received a burial. That was until Saturday, May 28, 2005 when the former Missourian returned to his roots, to be buried next to his two brothers in the Memphis City Cemetery.

Byrne’s cremains were discovered by his niece, Margaret Gordon, who was doing genealogical research. The word of her discovery quickly spread and the idea was born to “Bring John Home” to Memphis so he could be buried alongside his two brothers who also fought for the Union. Civil War enthusiasts began describing the event as the final burial of a Civil War veteran and re-enactors, history buffs and curious tourists alike gathered in the small northeast Missouri town for this piece of history.

The special weekend started at noon on Friday, when a 24-hour visitation began for Corporal Byrne at the Payne Funeral Chapel. An estimated 1,600 guests viewed the canister holding Byrne’s cremains as they rested inside a hand-made wooden coffin watched over by a pair of Union sentries. Similar guards were posted at the front and rear entrance of the chapel to honor the fallen soldier.

The re-enactors presented a number of informational booths through out the afternoon on Friday as guests were entertained on the Scotland County Courthouse. Visitors saw President Abraham Lincoln (re-enactor Max Daniels of Wheaton, IL) give the Gettysburg Address. They learned about the medical conditions in the Civil War and were entertained with period music as well as other informational speeches and programs.

While re-enactors performed many of the duties throughout the weekend, organizers stressed that this was not make believe.

“What you will witness on Saturday is no reenactment,” said Judge Karl DeMarce as he welcomed the crowd at the courthouse on Friday. “This is the real thing. We are burying a Civil War veteran. This is something you will not see again. So I encourage you to take in as many of the presentations as possible and learn all you can about our history.”

It was the unique situation that brought spectators from across the United States to Memphis. Organizer Patricia Mullinix welcomed a number of guests from as far away as California and New York.

“This is very unique, something I never dreamed of being part of,” said Vern Stottlemyre, one of the area dignitaries in attendance for the funeral.

“I’ve been interested in the Civil War since I was a kid, but I really became active in my hobby in 1993,” said the retired teacher from Milan. Stottlemyre, whose vocational class constructed the wooden coffin used to bury Byrne’s cremains, presided over the funeral service as chaplain for the Grand Army of the Republic.

Roger and Carol Shannon were also among the re-enactors drawn to Memphis for the services. Roger Shannon, a past Iowa State Commander for the Sons of Union Veterans, performed a vocal solo, “Going Home” at the service.

“I’ve been involved with funerals for Civil War veterans before, but they were simply reinterments when remains were moved,” said the Iowa re-enactor. “This is so unique. Corporal Byrne was never buried. I was very honored to be asked to be a part of this historic event.”

It was the history that brought dozens of area residents together Saturday morning before the funeral procession. Descendants from veterans of the MO 21st Infantry, which fought in northeast Missouri during the Civil War, gathered at the Rotary building to display artifacts and share information.

But it was the funeral procession that ultimately filled the sidewalks on Market Street as roughly one hundred family members and re-enactors marched behind the horse drawn hearse that carried Corporal Byrne from the funeral chapel to his final resting place at the cemetery.

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