VIENNA, Va., September 20, 2011 — The only known Armenian to have served in the Civil War, Khachadour Paul Garabedian, is being recognized with a new grave marker in a Philadelphia cemetery on Saturday, October 1, thanks to an anonymous $10,000 donation and the dedication of fellow Armenian-Americans.
Garabedian was born in the small town of Rodosto near Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) in Turkey, on August 25, 1836, and immigrated to Lowell, Mass. in the late 1850s. There he worked as a machinist and became an American citizen.
In 1864 at the age of 28, he enlisted in the Union Navy. Engineers were in demand at the time, and his years of working in the mills in Massachusetts made him a desirable recruit. He enlisted as a Third Assistant Engineer, holding officer rank, and served upon two ships, the USS Geranium and the USS Grand Gulf, both blockade ships, deployed to cover Southern ports along the Atlantic Coast and later on in the Gulf of Mexico.
Garabedian’s letter of appointment was reported in the Lowell Daily Citizen & News of August 11, 1864, part of which said:
“We record this appointment with pleasure. The young gentleman is an Armenian by birth, but has become not only naturalized, but is thoroughly indoctrinated in liberal and loyal principles. We have no doubt at all that he will acquit himself honorably and usefully in the position assigned him.”
The USS Grand Gulf, on which Garabedian primarily served, had a steam engine and was screw propelled. With a top speed of 11.5 knots, armed with one 100-pounder, two 30-pounders, and three 8-inch guns, it was highly effective as a blockader. She was credited with sinking a number of blockade-runners along the coast.
First Armenian in Philadelphia
There are no other details available regarding his service, and Garabedian was finally discharged in August of 1865 in Philadelphia, remaining there for the rest of his life and becoming the first Armenian in the City of Brotherly Love.
His engineering abilities were obvious in 1868 when he filed for a patent with the US Commissioner of Patents for a Pipe Coupling.
Garabedian married Hannah Matilda “Tillie” Wynkoop in Philadelphia on June 18, 1871, at the Church of the Messiah. Daughter of a prominent Philadelphia family, Tillie’s brother had died at Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. The Garabedians had no children, and Garabedian died at only 45 years old on August 25, 1881, apparently of tuberculosis, which he may have contracted years before during the war. He is buried in Fernwood Cemetery in southwest Philadelphia.
Original Marker Is Gone
An Armenian, Paul Sookiasian, of West Chester, Penn., researching Garabedian’s early life learned that the original grave marker had basically disintegrated sometime in the 1950s, leaving the brave Armenian with his singular contribution to the Civil War in an unmarked grave. Initially, Gary Koltokian of Chelmsford, Mass. had brought the story to his attention, doing the early research in governmental archives and other sources in Lowell, Mass. and learning that the Armenian sailor’s grave no longer had a marker. Mr. Koltookian’s efforts began the idea of a new marker which will achieve success on October 1.
That was “the reason we needed a gravestone for Garabedian,” said Sookiasian, who then brought the story to the Philadelphia Armenian-American Veterans Association.
Sookiasian explained that the group “felt that a traditional ‘khatchkar’ or Armenian cross-stone would be an ideal replacement,” but fund raising continued slowly until an anonymous donor heard of the project and sent the PAAVA a check for $10,000.00.
Continuing the Armenian participation, the artist who designed the khatchkar was Leo Hanian, an ethnic Armenian who fled from massacres against Armenians in Baku, Azerbaijan at the end of the Soviet era. He later settled in Philadelphia where he made stone crosses for churches as well.
Marker Tells Garabedian’s Life Story
And what a marker it is! Made of Indian black granite, showing the ornate Cross, it carries Garabedian’s name and dates of birth and death. The two spire images at the top flanking the cross reflect his two countries: that of Independence Hall for Philadelphia, Pa. on the right, and the spire of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia, on the left.
The lower panel or base reveals his life story. The USS Grand Gulf on which he served is portrayed with a Civil War era American flag above it.
Haike Giragosian, an Armenian friend who lives in the Richmond, Va. area, said that he “felt very proud that this fellow Armenian served in the Union Navy.” Giragosian, who served in World War II as a submariner, then continued,“He did not come here seeking benefits; instead, in return for a good life, he chose to lay down his life for his adopted country, if needed, because he had become an American.”
Current plans are for the rededication ceremony to be held at noon on Saturday, October 1 at the Fernwood Cemetery, and will include a traditional Armenian grave blessing service performed jointly by priests from the five Philadelphia area Armenian Churches. At some point in the ceremony, Khachadour Paul Garabedian’s uniquely Armenian-American story will be told.
The ceremony is open to the public and all are invited to attend. For additional information, Paul Sookiasian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 610-812-8368.
My thanks to Paul Sookiasian for taking the photograph of the Garabedian marker.
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