Can you help trace final resting place of Great Yarmouth war heroes?
07:33 31 August 2012
HE risked life and limb on some of the deadliest and bloodiest battlefields in history to save the lives of others and his bravery and valour led to him being awarded one of the world’s highest military accolades.
Despite his courage and decorated history however, the final resting place of American Civil War hero James Harry Thompson is not known - but Great Yarmouth could hold vital clues to where he is buried.
And one man is now appealing for help to find the sacred spot.
Historian Michael Hammerson is searching for the graves of more than 1,000 veterans, who fought in the conflict that proved a pivotal period in America’s modern history, and were buried in Britain.
Among those on his list is Thompson - who served as a regimental surgeon during the war and received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallantry - and died in Great Yarmouth in 1896, where he is believed to have been buried.
Mr Hammerson, from London, has pieced together Thompson’s military career but is now trying to fill in the last missing chapter.
He explained: “It’s a period of history I have always been interested in and in recent years I’ve realised more and more the role England played in the outcome of the war.
“I’m interested in the whole subject, but cemeteries are always fascinating places anyway and I started discovering that a few of them (English men who served) were buried here.
“It’s a major period of history and I think finding the graves would alert people to the fact they have got these people who lived in their towns and are buried in them, and that could perhaps add a little more historical interest and be an educational resource.”
Through his research, Mr Hammerson has discovered Thompson was born in England in 1824 but was living in New York when war broke out in 1861.
He enlisted as a surgeon and was commissioned to the 43rd New York Infantry, a volunteer unit like almost all regiments in the war.
On March 14, 1862 - during the campaign to capture key points and establish a Union army base on the North Carolina Coast - he volunteered to go “above and beyond” his role and make a reconnoissance of the enemy’s position at New Berne, and to carry orders to soldiers under heavy enemy fire.
Mr Hammerson said it is not known why he volunteered to do this but for his bravery he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which is regarded as the US equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Thompson was mustered out in April 1862 but re-enlisted as surgeon of the 139th New York Infantry in August the same year, and probably saw fighting in terrible Virginia campaigns of 1864 and 1865.
In December 1863 he was discharged for disability - the reason for which is unknown.
Mr Hammerson is now trying to establish if Thompson has a gravestone in the Yarmouth area. Other returned Englishmen have been found to have been buried in unmarked pauper’s graves.
“He sounds like the sort of person that should have a gravestone of some sort,” Mr Hammerson added. “If not, the Veteran’s Administration in the US might be persuaded to provide a Civil War marker.”
And Thompson is not the only hero he is trying to trace with a Yarmouth connection.
He is also keen to track down details of a William Smith, who served in the US Navy on the ships USS Princeton, New Ironsides, Vermont and Bermuda and lived at Number six, Row 137, Great Yarmouth.
He was born in 1837 at Theberton, Suffolk, and served from August 1862 to 1864, and again from August 1864 to July 1865, after which he appears to have returned to Norfolk.
He married Eliza Hatcher at St Nicholas’ Church in Yarmouth on December 4, 1872 and by 1905 had a son, William James Smith, and was working at a local factory with Johnson in the name.
Anyone who maybe able to help Mr Hammerson with more detail about Thompson or Smith, can email him via firstname.lastname@example.org