More than a century and a half after the death of William F. Barton in a Confederate prison, his memory is finally preserved.
The Gratiot County native served with the 26th Michigan Volunteer Regiment, part of the Union Army, from 1862 to 1865 during the Civil War.
In 2018, Gail Goodwin Graham, part of the Barton family tree, published a book containing more than 50 letters Barton had written and sent to her parents, William T. and Catherine Barton, and other relatives.
Graham, who grew up in Ithaca but graduated from Mt. Pleasant High School, now resides in Arizona.
“This book has been a journey of love to discover what happened 158 years ago and how much we have changed as people and as a nation,” Graham said. “The book archives the personal letters, grammar and spelling as William wrote them. They bring home the life struggles of a soldier and his family.
Barton, who enlisted at age 20 in Hamilton Township, fought in a number of Civil War battles before being captured at Deep Bottom on the James River in Virginia, according to Graham.
But after being sent to Andersonville prison in Georgia, little is known. Barton is believed to have died of disease or starvation in the spring of 1865.
Graham and her husband Gordon traveled to the southern battlefields “to try to learn the truth”, she said.
“We believe he is buried in Salisbury National Cemetery in South Carolina, where mass graves and sweeping green lawns honor the Civil War dead in the South,” she said.
Currently, Barton’s only remembrance is his name engraved on the back of his father’s headstone at North Star Township Cemetery in Gratiot County.
But that is about to change.
Information about the book and Barton’s death was recently shared with the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, an organization that helps commemorate those who fought for the North but have no burial place and have been forgotten.
The band and family members are holding a service at North Star Cemetery at 2 p.m. Monday to honor Barton. The public is invited to attend.
According to another parent, Jeff Godley, who grew up in Ithaca, graduated from Central Michigan University in 1978 and lived in Mt. Pleasant for 35 years before moving to Grand Rapids, Graham’s book was the impetus behind recognition and remembrance of Barton with his own grave.
Graham is his mother Beverly’s cousin. She and her husband Norm Godley lived in Mt. Pleasant for several years where they owned Norm’s Flower Petal.
“Most of the work and credit for this goes to Gail Goodwin Graham,” Godley said.
The letters she transcribed were primarily written to Barton’s mother and father, and several to his sister Cassy, he noted.
“He shares his experience of traveling to different cities on his way to war, and war stories of what happened to him and his friends he left with,” Godley explained. “It tells of the adaptation to military life and the victims of war, and the conditions in which they lived.”
The 121-page book, titled ‘Our Soldier William’, which also contains a full family tree beginning with Barton’s parents to the present day, was published by KENA West Inc. and is available by mail at [email protected] com.