Amazing Graves

Moscow & Sgt. Clark

Amazing Graves: Ghosts of Sand Lake

headstone of Moscow the Civil War Horse (J. Tremont photo)
[click on any image to see a larger version]

Sgt. Clark headstoneOver 70 veterans of the American Civil War reside here at Sand Lake Union Cemetery, but one is unique. Not because he was any more or less heroic than any of the other veterans -- they all deserve equal recognition -- but because this hero had four legs. His name was Moscow, and he was a horse. Moscow was my horse, and he was to become my most valued companion.

My name is First Sergeant James Edward Clark, Jr. of Co. E, 21st New York Cavalry, also known as the Griswold Light Cavalry. I’m buried right over there beyond the iron fence.

The 21st was raised in Troy, NY by Colonel William B. Tibbits during the summer of 1863, just after the Battle of Gettysburg. It included recruits from Albany, Rensselaer, Tioga and Monroe Counties.

Moscow and I were first introduced at Camp Stoneman Cavalry Depot at Giesboro Point just south of Washington, DC. He was the government mount that I was issued from the thousands of horses in the compound.

Sgt. Clark at tent (J. Tremont photo)After several months of drilling, the 21st NY Cavalry was sent south. Over the next several years we saw constant action in the Shenandoah Valley between Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and Winchester, Virginia. It was a grueling campaign, more than man and beast should have to endure.

Together we suffered through the triple-digit summer heat and sub-zero winter of 1864. Punishing weather, the lack of food and water, mud, dust and the never-ending maneuvering around the Confederates made survival tough for Moscow and me. Not to mention the constant skirmishing with Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s Partisan Rangers that haunted the Shenandoah Valley. But we did survive.

James Gill Averill and James Edward Clark, Sr., my father, were friends and fellow merchants here in Sand Lake. Frank Averill, James Gill Averill’s son, and I were also friends and we both had signed up as members of the 21st NY Cavalry, as did my little brother Willard. Moscow and I were in Co. E. Frank and Willard were in Co. H. Willard was their bugler. Unfortunately, Willard died of brain fever in 1863 in a Washington, DC hospital. So young…he was only 16. He never got a chance to see the elephant….that is, to experience combat.

At the end of the war, we cavalrymen were allowed to bring our mounts home. They were tired and worn out, so the government had little use for them. And so Moscow came home to Troy with me.Sgt. Clark and Moscow (A. Mace photo)

 

"So polish his saddle
And braid his wild mane
And hope there's a heaven
To ease all our pain.
.."

--Remembering Moscow,
written and performed
by Eric Washburn

After returning from service, I gave my now-retired Army mount, Moscow, to “Major” James Gill Averill, the father of my friend Franklin Averill, who had served with me during the war. Frank was killed in Cumberland, Maryland in ‘64.

I was living in Troy and felt that Moscow deserved a life on a quiet farm after all the hard times he had been through. Mr. Averill Sr. regarded Moscow as a respected veteran and esteemed friend.

During their lifetime both were seen together around town, Mr. Averill Sr. at the reigns and Moscow prancing at the front of his buggy. When Mr. Averill died in 1881, his son James Knox Averill continued Moscow’s care with the same level of respect for the old veteran.

Considering his veteran status, Moscow was a local celebrity. He became a regular in the annual Memorial Day parades along with the other Civil War veterans from the Sand Lake area. But after many years he became too old to participate.

On Memorial Day 1885, upon hearing the martial music of the parade in the village, he jumped his stable fence and headed in the direction of the music. But before reaching the procession he suffered a heart attack and fell dead by the roadside. The old veterans tried to get him up, but it was too late. He was gone.

Mr. Averill had insisted that his friend, Moscow, be buried at the foot of his grave here in the Sand Lake Union Cemetery. In fact, the size of the plot that the Averill family purchased here in the cemetery included plenty of room for Moscow. And so it was to be. This small memorial was placed on his grave in 2001 by the descendants of the original Averill family.

I outlived Moscow by 15 years, dying on December 30, 1900, just hours short of the new century. I was buried just over the hill there with my brother Willard. Three old veterans of the 21st still together within a stone's throw till the end of time.

[Bob Shuey wrote the above and portrayed Sgt. Clark. "Moscow" was portrayed by Bud; Rebecca Smith was his handler. Photos on this page by Andrew Mace and Jackie Tremont.]

Watch a video of the above: Bob Shuey as Sgt. Clark. Thanks to Jim Powers for making these videos possible!

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