Highgate Cemetery holds secret history of the American Civil War

07:00 13 February 2012

American Military Attache Lt Col Jack Wallace (left) and Michael Hammerson at the centenary of the founding of the London branch of the American Civil War Veterans in 2010. Picture: Nigel Sutton

American Military Attache Lt Col Jack Wallace (left) and Michael Hammerson at the centenary of the founding of the London branch of the American Civil War Veterans in 2010. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email

Peeking through the bushes in Highgate cemetery is the gravestone of Samuel Lucas.

A London based abolitionist newspaperman with strong sympathy for the Union cause, he died a satisfied man, just weeks after hearing the Confederate Republic, Richmond, Virginia, had fallen.

In the 1860s the quiet streets of Highgate may have seemed a far cry from the American states, which were being ravaged by a harsh civil war.

But a walk through the graveyard a century and a half later sheds a bright light on the history of this bitter conflict.

“There is such a huge spectrum of history within the cemetery,” said Michael Hammerson, who has written a pamphlet about the graveyard’s links to the American Civil War.

“It is not just interesting to know that these people are buried there, but these graves offer us an insight into the history of those times.”

Appropriately separated from Samuel Lucas and buried in the Eastern cemetery lies Richard Booth, the half brother of perhaps history’s most notorious assassin – John Wilkes Booth who shot Abraham Lincoln five days after the end of the war.

The killing of Lincoln on Good Friday was notably mourned by millions both north and south, and his was a legacy contested for years to come.

Among these mourners was Ferdinand Thomas Barzetti, who was born off Tottenham Court Road and baptised at St. Pancras Church.

He enlisted in the 13th New York Light Artillery in 1861 under the alias Thomas Shepherd so his mother would not know he had signed up with the Union army.

Mr Barzetti was severely wounded at the infamous Second Battle of Bull Run and was invalided out of the army for disability.

On his return to England he kept the name Thomas Shepherd, and his real name remained known only to a select group of friends and family.

So tightly was this secret kept that his comrades in the London branch of American War Veterans were unaware of his real name.

Adam Worth was also a casualty of the bloody Second Battle of Bull Run.

He enlisted soon after war broke out and, aged just 17, he lied about his age to get into the Union army.

As he lay in Georgetown Hospital, in Washington Worth, it was discovered he had wrongly been declared “killed in action”.

Taking the announcement as a prompt to start a notorious life of crime, he set up a pick-pocketing ring in New York before moving to London where he ran his own criminal network.

He is believed to have personally stolen Thomas Gainsborough’s painting of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire.

Such was Worth’s notoriety that it has been speculated that he was the inspiration behind Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Professor Moriarty – Sherlock Holmes’ great nemesis.

His death was far less glamorous than his life, however, and he lies buried in a pauper’s grave.

* North And South In East And West, Highgate Cemetery And The American Civil War, by Michael Hammerson, is available from Highgate Cemetery in Swains Lane, Highgate.


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