SCHENECTADY – A soft, misty rain fell throughout the morning Friday at St. John the Baptist Cemetery, gently washing away 128 years of unfinished family business for Julie and Jennifer Mountain.
The two sisters, Scotia natives and graduates of Scotia-Glenville High School, returned to the Schenectady County area Friday to unveil a headstone at what was the unmarked grave of David Mountain, their great-great-grandfather and a Civil War veteran. The event turned into quite an occasion as various Civil War groups made up of reenactors and “living historians,” brought together by Schenectady City Historian Chris Leonard, joined in a ceremony honoring Mountain’s more than two years of service in the Union Army after emigrating to America from Ireland just a decade earlier in the 1850s.
“I’m sure he is looking down and very proud,” said Julie Mountain at Friday’s event. “We are so happy to have so many people here helping us remember him. This is wonderful. We are very proud.”
Rich Talay, representing the 125th New York Regimental Association, served as emcee of the ceremony, which along with several cannon fires, musket shots and the playing of bagpipes and bugles, also included a few short remarks by Leonard, Schenectady Mayor Gary B. McCarthy, state Sen. James Tedisco and Assemblyman Phil Steck.
“It was very moving, very emotional,” said Jennifer Mountain, who lives in East Brookfield, Mass. “We didn’t even know of him before Julie started her research, and our father didn’t even know this part of our history. So we feel like we’re honoring him and all of his descendants, and we’re so appreciative that all these people came out here today to help us honor his service to the country. It’s a great day.”
David Mountain survived the Civil War and lived in Schenectady until his death on June 14, 1893. He and five other family members were buried in an unmarked grave for 128 years before Julie Mountain’s research culminated in Friday’s unveiling of a headstone in St. John’s. The cemetery is adjacent to the much larger Vale Cemetery near the State Street/Brandywine Avenue intersection in Schenectady.
Julie Mountain began looking into her family history in February of 2019 after the death of her father, Frank, who was named after his grandfather. That Frank Mountain was David’s son and a well-known baseball player during the late 19th century.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I had the opportunity to properly pay my respects to my father, so I decided to take that energy I felt and start researching his family,” said Mountain, a 1987 Union College graduate who now lives in Westmore, Vermont. “I started looking for information about his father and his uncles and the journey kept on evolving until I came across David and his Civil War service. We had all known about Frank, the baseball player, but I had never heard anything about his father. I had no idea one of my ancestors was a Civil War veteran.”
It didn’t take long for Mountain’s research to heat up after joining Ancestry.com.
“I went online and was looking at things when this Civil War pension card flashed across my screen,” remembered Mountain. “That was the first indication that we had a Civil War veteran in my family. The second piece of evidence was an adjutant general’s report which clearly had David enlisting in Company 1 of the 16th Regiment of Heavy Artillery on Dec. 29th, 1863, in Fort Edward.”
Mountain also discovered that David’s younger brother, John, decided to enlist in the same regiment the following day.
“They had both emigrated from Waterford, Ireland, and John enlists the day after David, at the ages of 38 and 36 respectively,” said Julie Mountain. “They fought side by side throughout the war and survived. It was amazing.”
When Mountain discovered that her great-great-grandfather died on June 14, 1893, she began looking for his gravesite. That journey began with contacting a number of local cemeteries and churches, and a phone call to St. John the Evangelist in downtown Schenectady proved fruitful since that parish had collected all the birth and death records from St. John the Baptist when that church closed in 2010.
“We learned that there were family members buried in a six-person lot at St. John the Baptist Cemetery, but we didn’t know who exactly was buried where and there was no record of David being buried there,” she said. “We then found out by looking at the archives at St. John the Evangelist that David’s son John purchased the six-person lot on the day his father died in 1893. We shared all of this with the Holy Redeemer Cemetery in Niskayuna, which now oversees St. John the Baptist, and that was enough for them to change the plot card and officially recognize that David was the sixth person in the unmarked lot.”
Mountain has no idea why none of the gravesites had headstones or why David’s name was originally left off the plot card. Along with David Mountain, and now also recognized with their names on the marker, are his wife Elizabeth, their daughter Mary, their grandson Martin, his wife Margaret and their daughter, referred to as Baby Agnes.
“It was unbelievable to me and difficult to bear that after taking part in a stunning part of American history that he was lying in an unmarked grave in Schenectady for 128 years,” said Mountain. “I called Chris and got him involved and he was the one making all these connections to different Civil War groups. It turned into a real movement and we’re so delighted to see it all happen. It’s a great tribute to David.”
Leonard, appointed city historian in 2018, got involved in the project when Mountain contacted him in early May.
“I got an email from her telling me what she was planning to do, and how her great-great grandfather had fought for his country but then never had a headstone,” said Leonard. “I can’t get into what was going on in his mind, but he and his brother were recent immigrants from Ireland and they cared enough about this country to risk giving up their life fighting in the Civil War.”
Leonard said the story immediately captured his imagination, and then the connection to Frank Mountain really piqued his interest.
“The Civil War and baseball are my two main interests,” said Leonard, who has lectured extensively on the history of local professional baseball. “I started thinking about it and realized this is a great story. I wanted to help her put on a good ceremony to go along with putting up the stone marker.”
Leonard began making phone calls and didn’t have to twist any arms. The 125th New York Volunteer Infantry Association was happy to be a part of the event, along with the 123rd New York Volunteer Infantry Association, the Sons of Union Veterans, the Patriot Guard Riders and Crenshaw’s Brigade.
“I initially reached out to the 125th New York Volunteer Infantry Association, and they knew right away that this was a man that needed to be recognized,” said Leonard. “I love being the city historian, and an event like this is really one of the big reasons why. It’s a great human story, and I’m happy so many other people wanted to be a part of it.”