Friday, April 29, 2016

Numbers on granite blocks: Union unknowns in Fredericksburg

In Fredericksburg (Va.) National Cemetery, the remains of 17 Union soldiers, all unknown, 
are buried under these markers. The second number on each marker denotes bodies in each grave.
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In life, Harvey Tucker was a farmer and blacksmith from northeastern Michigan. He had gray eyes, dark hair, a swarthy complexion and stood 5-7. Married in 1852, Tucker and his wife Lovina had four children 7 or younger by 1860.

On Sept. 10, 1862, Tucker enlisted in the Union army as a private in the 6th Michigan Cavalry, eventually rising through the ranks to corporal and then sergeant in February 1864. Surely aware by the spring of 1864 of the danger he faced as the opposing armies slugged it out near Fredericksburg, Va., Tucker was wounded through the hip during the brutal Battle of the Wilderness on May 6. Two weeks later, on his 12th wedding anniversary, he died of his wounds in an army hospital in Fredericksburg.

He was 37.

After his death, Tucker's body was placed in a coffin and buried in a soldiers' graveyard on Winchester Street. His name and rank were carved into a crude, wooden headboard. As he was laid to rest, the regimental chaplain noted, soldiers and a detachment of grave diggers uncovered their heads and stood in silence.

A post-war view of Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
The wooden markers were eventually replaced by stone markers.
(Courtesy Central Virginia Battlefields Trust)
In a massive Federal effort shortly after the war, remains of Union soldiers in the ravaged region were gathered and buried in a national cemetery completed in 1869 on Marye's Heights, a Rebel stronghold during the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. The remains of Tucker and 327 other Union soldiers buried in the graveyard on Winchester Street were among them.  The wooden headboard that once marked the Michigan sergeant's grave there likely had deteriorated or perhaps was used by fuel by local citizens. Without an ID disc or any other means to identify him, Tucker joined a long list of unknowns.

In the terraced national cemetery, graves of identified soldiers such as 6th New Hampshire Lieutenant colonel Henry Pearson are marked by rounded granite headstones. Graves of unknown soldiers are marked by small, square granite stones. The top number identifies the plot; the bottom number denotes the number of soldiers buried in the plot.

In death, Harvey Tucker became only a number.

Before the heavens opened up Wednesday morning, I shot photographs of  markers of  the unknowns. There was no shortage of subject matter. Of the 15,243 Union soldiers buried in Fredericksburg National Cemetery, 12,770 are unknown.

Thousands of Harvey Tuckers. 

Four soldiers' remains are buried in Plot No. 1690

Six are buried in Plot No. 3626.

Seven are buried in Plot No. 1687.

Eight are buried under Plot No. 3900.

In the immediate area of Pearson's grave, nearly all the soldiers are unknown.

Walk the grounds of the cemetery someday. It will open your eyes.

SOURCES:

U.S. Census

Harvey Tucker's widow's pension file via fold3.com National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C.

Harrison, Noel G., Military Images Magazine, "Victims and Survivors: New Perspectives on Fredericksburg's May 1864 Photographs," November-December 1998

Remains of 43 unknown Union soldiers are buried under these 12 markers.

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