The final indignity befell Cpl. William Demby when his name was spelled incorrectly on his tombstone at Loudon Park National Cemetery.
The Union Army corporal died of wounds during the Civil War and was interred off Frederick Avenue in Southwest Baltimore. But what is thought to be a handwriting error denied him the recognition of a properly marked white limestone marker.
Born in Queen Anne’s County, he was the son of Henry Bedford, enslaved by “Mr. Tilghman.” His mother was Hester Demby, a free Black woman. Under Maryland law, the status of the mother determined whether her offspring would be enslaved or free.
William Demby, who was born of this union, worked for a local farmer, William Bryan. He became the sole supporter of his mother.
Demby went on to enlist in the Union Army in Baltimore. He joined Aug. 11, 1863, as a private for a three-year term in Company G of the 4th Regiment of the U.S. Colored Infantry.
Marriotsville photographic historian Ross J. Kelbaugh became interested in his story when he found a photo of William Demby that accompanied his Army papers when he was promoted to corporal. Kelbaugh exhibited the photo at the Maryland Center for History and Culture several years ago but always wondered where the corporal was buried.
During the pandemic Kelbaugh spent his time trying to resolve unanswered questions. A search on Ancestry.com revealed that Cpl. Demby was interred at the National Cemetery in Loudon Park.
“I thought it was going to be a slam dunk that I’d able to find the grave,” said Kelbaugh, a retired Baltimore County U.S. history teacher.
On hot a day nearly a year ago, he visited the cemetery and talked with a helpful worker in a building on the Frederick Road side of the cemetery. After a wait, the employee said, “I found him, but he’s under the wrong name.” The stone said William Demly.
“Bingo, there he was,” said Kelbaugh.
“He was promoted to the rank of corporal and his records show he was hospitalized only once for illness, the greatest cause of death for Civil War soldiers,” Kelbaugh wrote in his new book, “Black Lives in Focus,” an edition that focuses on the Civil War and Reconstruction. The book tells the story behind the items in his collection that took 40 years to assemble.
William Demby was wounded in a skirmish near Wilmington, North Carolina, and later died.
His mother, Hester, subsequently moved to Baltimore and was living in Baltimore at No. 9 Gillingham Alley when she applied for his pension benefits. Gillingham Alley is no more. This tiny downtown Baltimore address was located near Howard and Lombard streets.
“William Demby could read and write. He had written his mother saying he was enclosing $5, which became proof that he was supporting her,” Kelbaugh said.
She was illiterate, signing the document with “her mark,” appointing Bascom & Seaton to represent her in the getting the pension in June 1867. Initially, she was denied the survivor’s benefits.
In 1885, attorney Louis Gillson in Washington, D.C., became her legal advocate in the quest for a pension. This time, the effort was successful.
Demby’s mother lived on Dover Street (in Ridgely’s Delight) and received $8 a month starting retroactively to March 3, 1865, and then $12 a month starting from March 19, 1886. This was approved Aug. 11, 1891, Kelbaugh found in his research.
When she died Aug. 3, 1899, her body was sent from Baltimore to Centreville to be buried.
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Her son, William, is buried in section R, grave 180 in Loudon Park National Cemetery, several blocks below the Frederick Avenue gate.