Near the cemetery gate and in the shadow of the Rockaway Presbyterian Church’s dome stands an obelisk erected in 1892 to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the nation’s bloodiest conflict, the American Civil War. On its face, and among countless others, is a specific list of surnames that once elicited great feelings of joy, honor, and eventually pain for the people of Rockaway, namely those of the members of an all-Rockaway Company L of the 27th New Jersey Volunteer Infantry.
Made up of all abled men of the small municipality, the “Rockaway Company,” as their superiors called them, were activated for duty in December 1862. The following year, when the men’s enlistments were nearly up, the NJ 27th and the Rockaway Company were ordered to retreat across the Cumberland River in Somerset County, Kentucky. With an intense storm and rain above them, a rapid current before them, and the enemy at their rear, the Rockaway men mounted a large barge and began their 100-foot crossing by pulling on a rope hung between the two shorelines.
When the boat reached the mid-point of its journey, a young Rockaway soldier positioned at the raft’s bow lost his grip on the rope. The five men behind him tasked with propelling the barge across watched as the line now slipped from their grasp. As the current moved them away, some panicked soldiers rushed towards the end of the barge to grab the rope, only to cause the large raft to turnover and sweep them into the rapid Cumberland—killing all the boys that the town of Rockaway could muster into service in 1862.
Peter Zablocki is a local historian, author, and educator. He can be reached at peterzablocki.com.