Little was known about Private James Powers, a Michigan man who served in the Civil War, later moved to Seattle and died 95 years ago.
He was a soldier lost to time and memory.
Until a Kent couple, family history researchers and Civil War enthusiasts with masters degrees in history, made it their mission and their deep pleasure to bring Powers’ story to life.
After extensive research, painstaking verification and widespread networking they began last summer, Jim and Loretta-Marie Dimond confirmed that the Union Army infantryman had never received a proper military burial. For whatever reason, brass urns containing the cremated remains of James and his wife of 57 years, Irene, have sat in community storage at a Seattle cemetery since his death in 1921 and hers in 1928.
Working with several veterans organizations, the Dimonds are determined to right this wrong.
Their effort culminates with the long-delayed military interment of Powers and his wife at noon Saturday at Tahoma National Cemetery near Kent. The memorial service is open to the public.
Powers will receive full military honors “as if it were a 1921” ritual service, complete with a gun salute, the playing of “Taps” and honor guards from local Civil War reenactors, military reservists and other groups, Jim Dimond said.
As many as 10 of Powers descendents throughout the nation are expected to attend. The Dimonds contacted one of the last surviving members of the family, a Floridian, who consented to the ceremony.
“It took 20 minutes to find (descendents),” Loretta-Marie Dimond said, “but 20 weeks to put (the memorial service) together.”
For the Dimonds, it has been an amazing adventure to provide a fitting honor for a once-forgotten but deserving war veteran who died at the age of 78.
“This is closure for a story that started in 1921, and we’re finally giving honors to a Civil War veteran that was never done,” said Jim Dimond, a retired federal government worker who is the Western Washington historian for the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW), a volunteer, fraternal, nonprofit educational organization. The SUVCW is similar to its predecessor, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which was one of the first integrated organizations in the United States and the largest Union Civil War veterans organization at that time.
“It’s a surreal moment. It’s like a-once-in-a lifetime deal, a Civil War funeral, and it’s exciting and scary,” Jim Dimond said. ”He is finally getting what he deserves, the recognition of his service to this country. That’s what means the most to me. … It’s a great thing: it’s doing justice to an American Civil War hero.”
Powers will be the first Civil War veteran to be interred in the state since Hiram Randall Gale, the last GAR national commander and the last living Civil War veteran in Washington, died in 1951 at the age of 104.
The Dimonds’ partner in the effort has been Robert Patrick of the Washington chapter of the Missing in America Project, which works to find, identify and inter the unburied remains of veterans. The couple have been working since 1994 with local genealogists to chronicle the stories of Civil War veterans who moved west to Washington.
Loretta-Marie Dimond photographs gravesites and manages a database of compiled findings. She stumbled upon the Powers’ names after analyzing a partial list of community storage cremains at a Seattle cemetery. Her curiosity led to further records, documentation and information and finally to the realization that the Powers – the war veteran and his wife – were never interred.
“The Dimonds did all the work. … Jim lives for the Civil War veteran,” Patrick said. “They did the research, found him and his wife, approached the cemetery and did the verification process with the VA (Veterans Administration).
“It’s exciting to me, kind of strange in a lot of ways, to have a man recovered after 95 years,” Patrick added. “It’s kind of a good day in the office.”
Private Powers isn’t just an accidental, isolated case, but it is unique in the nature and scope of unclaimed veterans, especially one from the Civil War period. Patrick and other organizations today work to find, verify and ensure a proper burial for many unclaimed or lost war veterans.
About the soldier
James Powers joined the 12th Michigan Infantry in 1864, replenishment for a veteran unit that had seen heavy casualties. But the 5-foot-5, blue-eyed, fair-haired man never saw significant combat, his military service mostly consisting of railroad guard duty and work as a hospital steward in Arkansas, records show.
No surviving photos of him have yet been found.
Discharged in 1865, Powers married Irene, and they raised two sons, Jesse and Frank.
Powers worked in public service. He spent a term in the Michigan Legislature, read and practiced law. He also farmed, and documents in his pension file showed that as he aged the rigors of mechanized farming became more difficult. An accident in 1867 crippled his left arm, according to records.
His health deteriorating, Power suffered a stroke in 1915.
The Powers eventually moved to Seattle in 1920 to be near Jesse, who became a minister and founded the First Unitarian Church.
James Powers died a year later, his wife in 1928. Both were cremated but for unknown reasons, family members never claimed the remains.
The Dimonds have a great appreciation for American history and for those who put their lives on the line to protect the land of the free.
Their work with the Sons of Union Veterans, which maintains a registry of burial locations of Civil War veterans, is a worthwhile extension of their passion for history and family. Both of their fathers were World War II veterans.
“It’s important because I love history, family history and my father’s background in the military,” Jim Dimond said. “All those things together make it extremely important to me.
“And the fact we’re accomplishing this with the family present is just way beyond anything I ever expected,” he said. “It’s a very incredible, wonderful experience.”
Dimond is intrigued and humbled by those who have served, especially by an Army private named Powers.
“The man who saved the union and helped end slavery deserves (an honorable burial). … Just think about the impact of what these people did.”
The Dimonds contributed to this story.