Monday, February 17, 2014

Virginia soldiers' cemetery: Enemies in life, together in death

In 1865, photographer William Frank Browne, a former Union soldier, shot this image of a soldiers' cemetery
 at Drewry's Bluff in Virginia. This is the right half of a glass plate.  (Library of Congress Civil War collection)
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In life, they tried to kill each other. In death, Frank L. Smith of the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery and at least six Confederate soldiers were buried together in the same small graveyard next to a woodlot at Drewry's Bluff, near the banks of the James River, seven miles south of Richmond.

Weeks after the Civil War officially ended, photographer William Frank Browne, a former Union soldier, shot the poignant image above of a soldiers cemetery. Perhaps he was drawn by the large, well-marked grave marker for Smith, a quartermaster sergeant who drowned in the James River on May 4, 1865, a little more than three weeks after Lee surrendered to Grant. The 30-year-old soldier's name, rank, company and cause of death were carefully carved or painted onto a marker, and his initials "F.L.S." were etched into a small, wooden footboard.

The grave was only temporary for the soldier from Granby, Conn., who enlisted in the Union Army as a private on May 23, 1862. In a massive post-war Federal effort, the remains of Smith and other Union dead were recovered and re-interred in national cemeteries. Smith's final resting place is in Section A, Plot No. 196 in City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell, Va.

A cenotaph (left) in Silver Street Cemetery in Granville Center, Mass., for Frank Smith; his grave is
at City Point National Cemetery in Hopewell, Va. The date on the  cenotaph notes he died May 3, 1865. 
Other sources denote May 4, 1865. (Cenotaph photo: Dave McCaffrey; City Point photo: Find A
Smith's name appears in this old ledger book of re-burials of Civil War soldiers.
At least 17 gravesites appear in Browne's image at Drewry's Bluff, site of Confederate fort called Fort Darling by the Union. Upon closer inspection, six are Confederate:

An enlargement of the cemetery image reveals
the name of Archer Neill of the 23rd Tennessee

 on a slender wooden headboard. Neill was listed as 
Archibald in the 1850 U.S. census.
Private Archer Neill, 23rd Tennessee: The Civil War rocked the Bedford, Tenn., family of wealthy farmer John Lambert Neill and his wife, Sally. All three of their sons served in the same regiment in the Confederate Army. A private in Company D, John was captured at Petersburg in June 1864 and died in the wretched Union prisoner-of-war camp in Elmira, N.Y., on Nov. 25, 1864. His gravesite is in Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elimira. James, who by the end of the war was promoted to colonel, was wounded at Shiloh on April 7, 1862, and apparently survived the war. Archer, whose given name was Archibald, was killed at the Battle of Drewry's Bluff on May 17, 1864. Only 26 years old, he served in Company D with his brother. (Starting at Drewry's Bluff, tragedy also rocked a family from Connecticut. On May 16, 1864, Lieutenant Edward Wadhams of the 8th Connecticut was killed during an attack on the Rebel fort. Within 18 days, two of his brothers who served in the Union army also had died.)

Private Ebberlee R. Boisseau, Virginia Chesterfield Artillery: He enlisted in Company Epes', Virginia Chesterfield Light Artillery Battery, on Sept. 17, 1861. Boisseau, buried to the right of Quartermaster Smith, was killed at Drewry's Bluff on Aug. 4, 1864.

Private William Cox, 63rd Tennessee: Little is known about Cox, whose date of death appears to be May 1864 on his grave marker, which is just above Boisseau's in the image directly below. Organized in July 1862, the 63rd was comprised of men who lived in Claiborne, Roane, Washington, Knox, Hawkins and Sullivan counties. The regiment fought at Chickamauga before it joined the Army of Northern Virginia in the spring of 1864.

E. McD: Probably E. McDonald or E. McDowell, he served in a Virginia artillery unit.

Private Burwell Orange, 20th Virginia Heavy Artillery: Orange's age -- he was 45 years old in 1860 -- didn't deter him from joining the army. Neither did his family circumstances. According to the 1860 census, Orange, a laborer, had a 28-year-old wife named Ann and three children: Silman, 4;  William Edward, 2; and Eliza, 1. From Buford Depot in western Virginia, Burwell and his brother Edward enlisted Feb. 25, 1862, and both served in Company C of Jones' Artillery. Burwell was killed during an attack by Union gunboats at Drewry's Bluff on May 15, 1862.

Private E. McDaniel:  Upon close inspection, the grave for this soldier noted that he served in Jones' Artillery, the same unit in which Orange served. An E. McDaniel,  a 21-year-old private in the 22nd North Carolina, died of disease in Richmond on May 18, 1862, but it's unlikely he was buried near Drewry's Bluff.

In 1893. Confederates who were buried at Drewry's Bluff were disinterred and re-buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Perhaps the Confederates mentioned in this post are among them.

Frank L. Smith's grave was also marked with a foot board that included his initials. 
In this enlargement, the graves of more Rebel soldiers are revealed near Smith's grave. 
Privates Burwell Orange (20th Virginia Heavy Artillery) and E. McDaniel (unit unknown) 
 were buried behind Frank Smith. They served in Jones' Artillery.
Private Ebberlee R. Boisseau of the Virginia Chesterfield Light Artillery was killed 
at Drewry's Bluff on Aug. 4, 1864. He buried to the immediate right of Sergeant Frank Smith.
The enlargement of the background of the cemetery image reveals several buildings,
most likely living quarters for soldiers. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

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  1. Does anyone know where this burial ground was located originally?

  2. Anonymous6:48 PM