The long search to honor Civil War veteran Abraham Jenkins
By STEVEN M. GRAZIER | The Repository, Canton, Ohio | Published: January 17, 2020
TUSCARAWAS TWP., Ohio (Tribune News Service) — An idea sprouted between Joe Herrick and Mike Bardin about seven years ago, not long after a Massillon Museum brown bag luncheon.
Herrick was a captain in the city police force, giving a speech related to local military legend Mary Owens Jenkins. Bardin was assistant curator of the Ohio Military Museum — then located in Massillon — who took part in the 2013 event.
Both concluded an overlooked Civil War veteran needed to be recognized. So a mission was launched to confirm the service and honor Abraham "Abie" Jenkins, who entered the war in 1861. He was the post-military husband of Owens Jenkins.
"This was all about giving a military veteran the recognition he deserves," said Herrick, who plans on acquiring a military gravestone for Jenkins.
Mary Owens, who at 20 years old and single in 1861, joined the Union Army as a man to serve in the Civil War so she could remain alongside her then-sweetheart, William Evans. She posed as his brother, "Johnny Evans," when they enlisted at a Pennsylvania recruiting facility.
"As we researched things, we found out her husband (Abraham) did serve in the military," said Herrick. "He didn't have a headstone and deserved one."
Confirmation of Jenkins' burial came Thursday morning as a radar technician verified the remains of two bodies at the grave site of Owens Jenkins at Brookfield Cemetery. A device — referred to as a ground penetrating radar system — confirmed the digital images below.
"We researched it and looked for the truth," Bardin recalled about the seven years of looking into Jenkins' history. "I didn't think this day would ever happen."
The Massillon Memorial Day Committee funded the service on Thursday to find Abraham Jenkins' remains underground, Herrick said. He and Bardin were on hand for the news.
Cemetery Sexton Dianne Bates said her office assumes the remains found are those of Jenkins. There is no written cemetery record of his burial, she said. Family members had verified the account.
The next step is to get a headstone for Abraham Jenkins to be placed adjacent to his wife's gravestone at Brookfield Cemetery, Herrick said.
A grave marker will be sought via the U.S. Veterans Administration, Herrick said, adding that he and Bates will work together on the paperwork.
"We'll send it all out to the VA and try to get him a stone," he said. "With any luck, we'll have a Memorial Day ceremony here (in May)."
A military headstone can take between a month and three months to receive from the U.S. government, said Bates. The marker sought for Jenkins will be a "pre-World War I variety," often seen at Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia.
Tuscarawas Township has agreed to waive the fee to construct a foundation for Jenkins' marker. Labor, including the mounting of the headstone, is being donated by a local businessman.
Abraham Jenkins died in November 1903 at the age of roughly 65. A Nov. 24, 1903, article in the Evening Independent indicates he was killed after falling out of a railroad car as it rounded a bend along the West Tremont Street bridge.
According to Bardin, Jenkins was known as an occasional heavy drinker.
"He was often drunk. He fell off the wagon after his wife died (in 1884)," he said. "But no matter what his position was in life, he's a veteran."
About 'Abie' Jenkins
Specifics related to Abraham "Abie" Jenkins' life are limited. He was born in 1841 and enlisted in the 38th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on May 1, 1861, and was discharged on May 15, 1863, by order of a surgeon's certificate. That indicates he was either wounded or ill.
The military unit was organized in Pittsburgh. He and Owens Jenkins apparently met while serving as Union soldiers in the war.
He and Owens Jenkins were married after the war. The couple had four children; three lived to reach adulthood.
The couple moved to the Massillon area, referenced as North Lawrence in the Evening Independent, after 1880. They resided in Wadsworth prior to relocating to western Stark County.
She died in 1884 at age 43.
Bates said Owens Jenkins is a well-known resident of Brookfield Cemetery, an older burial place on Shaefer Street NW. Visitors to the grounds oftentimes specifically look for her plot. A file on Jenkins in the cemetery records includes a 1937 Evening Independent article detailing much of her life.
"Sometimes people pop in and ask where she's at," Bates said. "I think a lot of them like that sort of stuff (history)."
Multiple tidbits of misinformation surfaced over the years during the search for accurate details about Jenkins, Herrick said, such as verifying his real name. He is listed as "William Abraham Jenkins" in some newspaper articles in the early-to-mid 1900s, mainly detailing the life of his wife and her unique wartime service. His age was also printed incorrectly at times.
"She got much of the attention," Herrick said. "It was his turn today."
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David Abdul (center) shares a digital image Thursday confirming that two human remains are underground at a grave site at Brookfield Cemetery, where local Civil War veteran Mary Owens Jenkins is buried. The second body is believed to be her husband, Abraham Jenkins, also a war veteran. Abdul is pictured with Cemetery Sexton Dianne Bates (left) and Joe Herrick (right), who are going to apply for a military gravestone for Abraham Jenkins via the VA.