Two hundred and five years ago, in 1806, the U.S. Army erected a frontier fort & factory only a short distance from here on the highest hill of the Muscogee Creek’s sacred “Old Fields.” Although Fort Hawkins never saw any blood shed – red, black or white – in any actual conflict, being on the American frontier was a constant and potential deadly conflict with the Spanish, the English, the Natives, and even white squatters. During the War of 1812, Fort Hawkins was one of the most important military outposts in the southeast, and today you will see flying at half mast at the fort site, its 15 star spangled banner from that 2nd War of American Independence.
We are here today to remember and honor those soldiers who died in service of their country while stationed at Fort Hawkins. Although there is no official count of those that died here – due to the British burning Washington, D.C. during the War of 1812, thereby destroying the official plans and records of Fort Hawkins – it is estimated that between 20 and 200 soldiers could have died here during the fort’s 22 years of existence. This Fort Hill Cemetery would have become their final resting place and that is why we are here today at their very crossroads of the Federal Road –between the two massive cedars towards the fort, the Garrison or Milledgeville Road – along which you are parked, and the Clinton Road – believed to be the location for those resting places.
In 1823 the GA General Assembly called for the fort’s burial site to become an official state burial ground, making this cemetery the oldest burial ground in our area except for the Funeral Mound at the nearby Ocmulgee National Monument. However, this hallowed ground has seen much better days despite our progress into the modern world. Thus our Fort Hill Memorial Day Observance is a long overdue recognition of these Fort Hawkins servicemen, we believe buried somewhere in the northwest quadrant, where other unknown graves include the widow of Col. Benjamin Hawkins, Lavinia, a daughter of Fort Commandant Maj. Philip Cook, and many others including perhaps Fort Factor Jonathan Halsted.
The twenty U.S. flags you see today are a symbolic gesture to remember these unknown yet deserving Fort Hawkins servicemen, some no doubt even veterans of the American Revolution. There are many historical reasons why our ceremony last year was the first known to remember these servicemen. The term “Memorial Day” was not used until 1882 to describe “Decoration Day” that grew out of the American Civil War. This cemetery was not incorporated into Macon until 1910. Our “Memorial Day” did not become an official United States observance until 1967.
The Fort Hawkins soldiers buried here served and died on the American frontier 200 years ago and as the Fort Hawkins Commission continues to celebrate its Bicentennial, we felt that it was necessary to remember these soldiers on Memorial Day – the day set aside to commemorate U.S. soldiers that died while in service.
We also wish to remember all those that have served throughout our Nation’s history. Therefore after our closing prayer, we will take the symbolic wreaths that stand before us and that stand for all American servicemen that gave the supreme sacrifice, and place them before other soldiers whose graves are unknown but whose veteran gravestones are honored here by the City of Macon - their final resting places unknown but their names and service to their country etched in stone. Known yet unknown - much like their Fort Hawkins comrades – we take this time to remember them aloud for the first time in history:
From World War I: US Army Pvt. Eddie Brown
US Army Pvt. Elmer N. Bryant
US Army Pvt. Howard W. Craig, Sr.
US Army Pvt. Joe Benjamin Elder
US Army Pvt. Robert M. Irby
US Army Sgt. Matthew PJ Paull
US Army Pvt. Budrow Wilson
US Army Pvt. Osie Wells
US Army Pvt. Sampson Yaughn
1938 US Navy Seaman Richard K. Fox
World War II: US Army Pvt. Johnnie J. Brow
US Air Force Airman George W. Butler
US Army Cpl. Matthew Dean
US Army Pvt. Giless L. French
US Army Pvt. Silas Goddard
US Army Pvt. Franklin Irvin
US Navy Seaman Clyde O. Jacobs
US Army Pvt. Timothy Kinsey
US Army Sgt. Wilson M. McEwen
US Army 2nd Lt. James W. Mathis, Jr.
US Army Cpl. Thomas Peyton, Sr.
US Army Cpl. Thomas Frank Walker
US Navy Seaman Leland K. Sessions
Korea: US Army Pvt. Bennie R. Robinson
We will have the Fort Hawkins Blockhouse Replica open for the remainder of the day and we encourage you to visit to remember our nation’s patriotic history at this special place on this special day for those who died in their nation’s service. We thank all of you that have attended. God Bless You All, God Bless These Fallen Soldiers, and God Bless America!