MONTPELIER — It is at least a bit ironic that the marble stone marking the grave of a man who was injured six times in two wars and lived to talk about it while painting houses in Montpelier more than 150 years ago was badly broken since he was buried back in 1907.
Ironic? Yes. Respectful? No.
At least not in the eyes of a Civil War historian who spotted Richard S. Dodge’s shattered stone — the one with the words “Hero of two wars” etched on it — while strolling through Green Mount Cemetery more than 15 years ago.
Paul Zeller, who has since moved to Vermont, was living in Virginia at the time and was in Montpelier doing research for the book — “The Second Vermont Volunteer Infantry Regiment: 1861-1865” — that he published several years later.
“I was walking through the cemetery … trying to find Second Vermont soldiers just for fun one afternoon and saw this guy’s grave(stone) in … pieces and thought: ‘That’s a hell of a thing for a guy who had gone through so much,’” Zeller recalled late last week.
Zeller, who now lives in Williamstown, was standing a few yards from Dodge’s grave at the time, and while there was no sign of the broken stone that part wasn’t his doing.
It was Whitney Maxfield’s.
Due to their shared interest in Civil War history and the fact that he knew there were more than a few Dodges in Maxfield’s family tree, Zeller remembers telling his friend about the damaged monument at the time.
“He (Maxfield) did something about it,” Zeller said before a brief ceremony that included a prayer, a three-musket salute, the playing of “Taps” and the dedication of one of two new granite monuments that Maxfield recently had made for Dodge and his wife, Alvira, who died in 1892.
Maxfield, who described Dodge as a very distant relative, said it was the least he could do given Dodge’s service during the Mexican War and later the Civil War and an extensive record of war wounds that would entitle him to a half-dozen Purple Hearts today.
“I really thought he (Dodge) should be remembered,” explained Maxfield, who arrived for Friday’s ceremony dressed in the Civil War uniform he wears when as re-enactor.
“Two wars? That’s unusual,” Maxfield said. “Getting injured several times in two wars? That’s really unusual.”
Make that “unbelievable,” according to Zeller, whose wife came across a document listing Dodge’s war wounds while they were conducting research for his book in Washington D.C.
“Literally my wife and I were sitting at the National Archives and she was working on that (Dodge’s) pension record and I was working on another and she said: ‘Look at this, look at this, this guy looks like a pin cushion!”
Dodge did, according to Zeller.
“It was the darndest thing you’ve ever seen,” he recalled. “I thought it was a mistake, but it wasn’t.”
Dodge was shot twice, slashed in the left wrist with a saber, and stabbed in the face and foot with bayonet in during the 17 months he served during the Mexican War.
None of the wounds were fatal, though Maxfield said Dodge – nicknamed “Shack” – left blood and teeth on the battlefield in Chapultepec after he was stabbed with a bayonet while scaling a castle wall in 1847.
According to Maxfield’s research, Dodge, then 23, was discharged on Aug. 2, 1848, and returned to Montpelier where he took up house painting with an uncle, William Storrs.
However, on May 7, 1861, weeks after the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, Dodge enlisted in Company D of the Second Vermont Infantry — the one with men from Barre and Waterbury — because he’d served previously with someone who’d already enlisted in Montpelier’s Company F who, Maxfield said, he disliked intensely.
Company D had plenty of Dodges, according to Maxfield, who is a direct descendent of one of them — his great-grandfather Albert Francis Dodge.
“It should have been called the ‘Dodge Company’ because, at the time there were four Dodges in it,” said Maxfield, who said Richard Dodge made five.
Only two made it through the war in what Maxfield describes as a “choke-point” in his family history. One was his great-grandfather, and the other was the Montpelier housepainter, who now has a new granite monument designed by Gino Tosi marking his grave.
Brothers Nelson, Lewis and Luther Dodge – all second cousins of Maxfield’s were killed during the war.
Although Richard Dodge was shot in the right shoulder during the Battle of Fredericksburg and subsequently “discharged disabled” on March 29, 1863, Maxfield said, he re-enlisted later that year and after being discharged at his request, enlisted yet again on Aug. 1864 and was sent back to battle at the age of 39.
“It’s quite a story,” he said.
Maxfield arranged last week’s tribute to Dodge — a battle-scarred “citizen soldier” who he said deserved better than a marble monument that was smashed into three pieces.
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