Marker Mystery Continues at St. Patrick’s Cemetery
John J. Dunphy
(Originally published in the 5/9/20 edition of The Telegraph of Alton, IL)
As readers of my April 25 and May 2 Telegraph columns know, someone placed small American flags on the long-forgotten graves of graves of two Civil War veterans who are buried at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Godfrey. I drove to the cemetery last Sunday to see whether I could find any additional decorated graves. Well, I indeed found one, but it wasn’t the grave of a Civil War veteran. The flag had been stuck in the ground next to the tombstone of a veteran of the Spanish-American War, which occurred in 1898.
The tombstone’s inscription has been badly defaced by the elements. This veteran’s name as well as his outfit were indecipherable to me. The only lettering that can still be read is “SPAN. AM. WAR.” Nonetheless, an American flag now honors the veteran who rests there. I had previously assumed this mystery person seeks out only the graves of Union army Civil War veterans. This discovery would seem to indicate that he or she wants to honor long-forgotten military personnel from other past conflicts.
I took a brief walk through the cemetery to see whether I could find any other newly-placed flags on old graves. Although I found no flags, I chanced upon a grave of another Civil War veteran who came from our community.
Francis McKeon’s tombstone states that he served in Company D of the Second Illinois Cavalry. His company’s roster, which can be accessed on line, revealed that he was a private who served as a “saddler.” In other words, he repaired saddles.
According to Illinois Civil War Muster and Descriptive Rolls, McKeon was born in Ireland “about 1834.” He was a single man who worked on steam boats and lived in Upper Alton before enlisting in the Union army. He was persuaded to enlist by a fellow resident of Upper Alton: Franklin Moore. Born in 1826, Moore was the youngest child of Abel and Mary Moore, who lost two children in the Wood River Massacre of 1814.
Moore raised an independent cavalry unit in Upper Alton on July 4, 1861 that he named the Madison County Rangers in honor of his father’s service with the Territorial Rangers during the War of 1812. Its members assumed responsibility for providing their own horses, weapons and other equipment. Moore formally enlisted in the Union army on July 20. McKeon enlisted on the same day. Moore led his men to Camp Butler, which was located east of Springfield, where the Madison County Rangers were mustered into the Union army on August 12 as Company D of the Second Illinois Cavalry.
An 1882 Madison county history states that Company D had “no abiding place but operated from the northern border of the Confederacy to the Gulf. It first saw action in the Cape Girardeau area, where it battled Rebel forces under the command of Jeff Thompson.” Moore’s men killed over 100 Confederates and took more than 1,200 prisoners during the war. The Madison county history concluded that “None in the service experienced greater hardships or made a better record than Company D. Regarding Moore, this history noted that “Such were the services he rendered his country on the battle-field, that he received the soubriquet of ‘Fighting Frank.’ “
McKeon was mustered out on August 11, 1864 when his term of service expired. I could find no Telegraph obituary for him. The Sacramental Records of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, however, show that a Franciscus (Latin for Francis) McKeon was given a funeral Mass at Alton’s cathedral — Saints Peter and Paul Church — and buried in 1869.
Francis McKeon was one of an estimated 150,000 Irish immigrants who fought for the Union. It’s fitting that he rests in a cemetery named for the patron saint of Ireland. And I hope that an American flag is soon placed on his grave.
John J. Dunphy is the author of Abolitionism and the Civil War in Southwestern Illinois and Unsung Heroes of the Dachau Trials: The Investigative Work of the U.S. Army 7708 War Crimes Group, 1945–1947.