Tombstone Tuesday: Francois Chenette, Civil War Soldier

Given that Memorial Day is only a few days away, I thought today would be a good day to write about and remember Francois Chenette, Jr. Francois died of disease at the age of 19 while serving as a private with the Company K, 11th Vermont Volunteers during the Civil War. He is buried at the Winchester National Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia. Two years ago, as my family and I drove back to Massachusetts from a trip to Charleston, South Carolina, we stopped in Winchester to visit Francois' grave. Young Francois was my paternal grandfather's half-brother, the son of my great-grandfather, Francois Chenette (18 Apr 1813-22 Mar 1886) and his first wife Maguerite Charon.

I know little of Francois' life other than he was born on 02 May 1845 in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec. He was baptized the same day at Notre Dame-du-Rosaire. Interestingly, Francois Jr. and Francois Sr. both enlisted on 10 December 1863 in Woodstock, Vermont. Francois Jr. was 18 and Francois Sr. was 50. Father and son mustered in on 16 Dec 1863. The Vermont 11th fought in a number of major battles in the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War, including the battles of the Wilderness, Spottslyvania, and Cold Harbor.

Sadly, Francois Jr. died of disease on 03 Nov 1864, less than a year after enlisting. According to statistics compiled by the Army Medical Department after the war, four soldiers died of illness and disease for every one soldier killed in battle. A sobering statistic. Francois was originally buried on someplace called Braggs Farm. I have looked for information about Braggs Farm without luck, and would love to hear from anyone with knowledge of it. Francois body was eventually moved to the Winchester National Cemetery, which serves as the final resting place for soldiers who fought and died in the battles of Winchester, New Market, Front Royal, Snickers Gap, Harper's Ferry, Martinsburg, and Romney. Francois' name is listed on the gravestone, and in military records as Francis Chenette.

I felt a great sense of sadness while visiting the cemetery, looking at the graves of all the men who died. Francois Jr. died young and hundreds of miles from home. I've often hoped that his father was with him at the end. My guess is family circumstances were probably such that, financially and/or logistically, it was impossible to have Francois' body returned to be buried at home. I did feel a little sense of happiness that we were able to visit Francois's grave, and occasionally wonder if anyone else has visited his grave in the last hundred and fifty years.

Memorial Day is a time to reflect and remember the fallen, those who gave their lives for us so that we may be free. It's a day to remember the soldiers--to remember the thousands of men like Francois--who died fighting a war far from home.


  • Wiley, Bell Irvin. The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union. Baton Rouge: Louisana State University Press, 1978.

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