By MARK COOMER
Descendants of Evansville’s first mayor, James Garrard Jones, gathered at his grave in Oak Hill Cemetery on Saturday to dedicate a simple bronze and marble marker in Jones’ honor.
“We wanted to honor this man and the people who served with him,” said Mary-Frances Jones of Austin, Minn., the great-granddaughter of James Jones. “That is what we are trying to do in the dedication of this marker.
“We wanted to bring it out to the community to say that this was one of your people and one of our family and we’re very proud of him,” she added.
The ceremony commenced with the rat-a-tat of a drum as five members of the 42nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Civil War Re-enactors marched to Jones’ grave.
Twelve out-of-state relatives of the Jones family were present for the ceremony. Susan Ponstein of Newcastle, Okla., read a commemorative letter from President Bush. Other family members also made presentations.
Evansville Mayor Russ Lloyd Jr. addressed the assembly, speaking of Jones’ many services to country, state and city. “He was elected as mayor twice,” added Lloyd, “so we know he must have done a good job.”
Also making presentations were the Rev. Shane Scott-Hamblen, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Evansville, and Tim Beckman of Indianapolis, the 42nd Volunteer Infantry historian.
The ceremony concluded with a gun salute by the 42nd Volunteer Infantry re-enactors.
James Garrard Jones was born July 3, 1814, in Paris, Ky. His family moved to Evansville in 1819. He married Rose Ann Rappelye in 1838. They had eight children. Jones died of pneumonia at his home in Evansville on April 5, 1872, at the age of 57.
Jones’ grave is situated near twin black cherry trees, set a little apart from monuments to families with names rich in Evansville history, such as Shanklin, Rathbone and Harrison.
A nearby pillar marks the resting place of Jones’ uncle, Gen. Robert M. Evans, the man for whom Evansville is named.
Jones’ headstone is modest, however. Twelve inches wide and about the same in height, the weathered letters read: “Col. James G. Jones, 42nd Ind. Inf.”
Jones seemed to be getting his due Saturday. The new marker next to the stone relates his additional public accomplishments.
According to public and historical accounts, Jones was a likable person with a “strong poetic temperament.”
As a lawyer, “his knowledge of the law was so thorough, his memory so remarkably accurate, and his decisions so correct, that his opinions were always very highly valued,” The Evansville Courier reported in his April 8, 1872, obituary.
Courage on battlefield
Although his public career was remarkable, it was not untroubled. The two-time mayor, elected first in 1847 and again in 1850, lost two subsequent bids for that office and was defeated twice for City Council.
Elected by the Republican Party for the office of Attorney General in Indiana in 1860, he resigned a year later at the request of the governor to organize the 42nd Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Jones was given the rank of colonel.
Jones’ courage on the Civil War battlefield inspired his troops, according to a Perryville, Ky., newspaper.
But recurrent illness prevented him from an extended command in the field. He was able to serve as Provost Marshal General of the state — meaning he commanded a detail of military police — and afterward he served as head of Indiana’s recruiting bureau.
Jones’ last official position as judge of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit was also cut short by ill health.
Although Jones had “at one time possessed ... considerable property,” reported The Evansville Courier, “his possessions at the time of his death were very limited.”
The 42nd Regiment, Indiana Volunteer Infantry was formed in Evansville from Vanderburgh County and the surrounding counties of Warrick, Spencer, Gibson, Pike and Dubois. The regiment participated in many notable battles, including Sherman’s famous March to the Sea in 1864.
Stewart DeVane of Indianapolis is president of the 42nd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Civil War Re-enactors.
“I think we all need some interest in history or we forget where we came from,” said DeVane.
Participating in a memorial ceremony for one of the 42nd’s most illustrious members is a unique opportunity for the re-enactors, he said.
Dylan Houck, 13, son of Stacey and Sherry Houck of Newburgh, has played a drummer with the 42nd re-enactors since he was 9 years old.
“I probably know the most about the Civil War in my school (Castle Junior High School),” he said, crediting his involvement with the re-enactors and his interest in history.