Albion dedicates grave marker for Medal of Honor recipient from 1869

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 29 October 2019 at 3:25 pm

Photos by Tom Rivers

ALBION – Orleans County Historian Matt Ballard speaks during today’s dedication of a graveside marker for Charles D. Harris. He received a new headstone in the summer at Mount Albion Cemetery, following the efforts of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and the Medal of Honor Historical Society.

The new marker is on west side of the cemetery on Route 31.

Harris, who fought in the Civil War, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Apache Wars in 1869.

On September 23, 1869, Harris was present at Red Creek, Arizona, with Company D of the 8th U.S. Cavalry. On that date, the 8th Cavalry engaged a group of Apache Indians during the Apache Wars, which resulted in three men receiving the Medal of Honor.

Harris had a military gravestone in the cemetery, but it didn’t note he was awarded the Medal of Honor. The specifics of the engagement and the actions that warranted the awarding of the medal remain shrouded in mystery, Ballard said. After the war, Harris returned to Albion and lived a quiet life until his passing on September 6, 1895.

Harris is one of two Medal of Honor recipients to be buried in Orleans County. The other, John Butts of Medina, is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Medina.

Ray Johnston, director of the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the U.S., spent about five years trying to show that Harris was the same Charles D. Harris who served in the Civil War from Albion. There have been two occasions where a Medal of Honor was awarded to the wrong person with the same name.

Johnston traveled to Albion from Toledo, Ohio. The retired U.S. Postal Service carrier served in the Vietnam War.

The Medal of Honor Historical Society has been able to find the final resting places for 160 Medal of Honor recipients and continues to try to find 365 others.

Johnston said the organization would like to have a photo of Harris and also know the whereabouts of his Medal of Honor.

“I love looking for these lost souls,” Johnston told about 50 people at the marker dedication ceremony today.

Ray Johnston greets Betty and John Kemp of Clarendon. Mrs. Kemp is the great-niece of Charles Harris. She read about the ceremony for Harris in the Lake Country Pennysaver.

“I was a little shocked to see it in the paper,” she said. “This is like coming home.”

Tim Archer, a service learning teacher at Albion, organized today’s dedication service. One of his classes of seventh-graders attended the event.

“Bravery and courage are important virtues,” Archer said. “He (Harris) pushed through his fears and we are certainly grateful to him.”

MacKenzie Snook, an Albion seventh-grader, shares about Harris’s sister, Lydia. She was 11 when she was killed September 28, 1859, when the Main Street bridge collapsed on the Erie Canal. Her brother was 13 at the time.

Archer’s students two years ago worked with the Orleans County Historical Association to purchase a gravestone for Lydia Harris at Mount Albion.

These students – from left Kiera Zambito, Chloe Gray and Madison LeBaron – sing “God Bless America” at the ceremony.

Seventh-grader Landen Allis shares history about the Medal of Honor. About 3,500 of the medals have been awarded since the Civil War.

Another seventh-grader, Oliver Beach, spoke at the ceremony and shared a poem, “Recessional.”

County Legislator Don Allport said the community should remember and honor the sacrifices of veterans, including those from Harris’s era.

“I will always be grateful of everyone who came before me and allows me to stand here in this great republic,” Allport said.

Eileen Banker, Albion’s mayor, also spoke and thanked Archer’s class for helping to honor Harris, more than a century after his death.

“We have a solemn duty to honor the men and women like Charles Harris for what they are – heroes,” Banker said.

Members of the local Honor Guard did a 21-gun salute and then Taps was played.

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