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Rochester man honors veteran from the Civil War

Union Leader Correspondent

June 12. 2013 8:51PM
Bob Baker places a flag at the grave of James Ramsbottom, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Civil War. (JOHN QUINN PHOTO)

ROCHESTER — By uncovering the story behind the city's only Medal of Honor recipient, a local veteran gained a better appreciation of his own mortality.

Each year, Bob Baker — who will be 77 later this month — visits the gravesite of James Ramsbottom, who died Jan. 5, 1867 — around the age of 41 — from injuries suffered during a naval battle near Mobile, Ala., in 1864.

Ramsbottom, who served in the place of Charles Melville and enlisted under his name during the Civil War, was buried in a family plot along Old Dover Road, according to Baker.

"Ramsbottom is the original name," Baker said, adding it was common and acceptable to pay someone else to serve in your place — with your name — during the Civil War.

While Melville and Ramsbottom were both born in 1826 — making them both 35 at the outbreak of the War Between the States in 1861 — Baker said Melville was born in England and moved to Rochester in 1840. He added Ramsbottom was a Rochester native as his family had first settled in the city in the 1760s.

At the age of 38, Ramsbottom, who was an seaman with the Union Navy, was injured after his ship, the 225-foot U.S.S. Hartford, was attacked by the C.S.S. Tennessee, a 209-foot ironclad, in Mobile Bay Aug. 5, 1864, according to Medal of Honor documents.

As a result of his enlistment, Ramsbottom was awarded the Medal of Honor under the name Melville Dec. 31, 1864, according to documents.

"I got involved with this when I started asking questions," Baker said, adding he was confused why Melville — and not Ramsbottom — was honored with a separate marker at the city's Civil War monument on the Rochester Commons.

Eventually, Baker said he found Ramsbottom's grave at the family plot. He added federal officials later added a second stone which helps explain the discrepancy with the name.

Baker, who currently serves as commander of AMVETS Post 1, said he will eventually be buried in state Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen

He enlisted in 1953 and was still finishing up his initial training when ceasefire ended the fighting in the Korean War.

Afterward, he said he was stationed on the island of Okinawa with B Battery, 65th Anti-Air Artillery Battalion in support of the 3rd Division of the U.S. Marine Corps. He later served with the 36th Field Artillery in Germany before leaving the Army as a Specialist — E-4 — in 1963. Baker said he's fascinated by the Civil War and has spent a lot of time visiting Civil War battlefields and cemeteries. He added more people died due to disease rather than on the battlefields — which accounts for a discrepancy in the number of casualties.

"I've always thought about my own mortality," Baker said, adding he hopes fellow veterans will carry on the tradition of remembering the fallen in the future.

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