Sunday, March 08, 2015

Lost and (finally) found: Grave of an Alabama private

The grave of 5th Alabama Infantry Batallion Private James Tompkins in rural South Carolina.
(Photo: Wayne Jones)
After nearly three months of detective work, Wayne Jones received the big payoff Sunday. I did, too.

In a remote section of 100-acre site near Parksville, S.C. -- "in the middle of nowhere," according to Jones -- he and a friend found the grave of James M. Tompkins, a 20-year-old private in the 5th Alabama Infantry Batallion, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Gaines' Mill on June 27, 1862.

Just before Christmas, I purchased an albumen of Tompkins in a Gettysburg antiques shop. As soon as I got back to Connecticut, I dived into my own heavy-duty research -- yes, I used Google -- with an aim to find out more about the young man with curly hair and serious expression. A quick search revealed Tompkins was shot in the leg at Gaines' Mill and died later that night, one of 8.700 Rebel casualties in the battle near Richmond.

 Tompkins, 20, was mortally wounded at Gaines' Mill (Va.)
James was the youngest son of Mary and Major John Tompkins, a wealthy plantation owner from Edgefield, S.C., who served a term in the state's legislature before he moved his family to Sumter County in Alabama in 1851. Two of James' brothers also served in the Confederate army.

"He was a bright and promising boy,"  according to a post-war account, "just budding into manhood when, with so many of his generation, he was called from the school room to the battlefield; called to exchange his books for the haversack, the promise of a bright future for almost certain death at the hands of a countless, overwhelming foe."

After finding out the basics about Tompkins, I was eager to find out more -- especially where he was buried. Find-A-Grave indicated his final resting place was in a family plot in South Carolina, but the site didn't have an image of his grave or an exact location. A quick call to the local newspaper led to another call, which led to the e-mail address of Jones, a North Augusta, S.C.., resident who's a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Jones took on the challenge, spending hours studying old maps and walking the area with his wife and friend, Tom Plowden, in an effort to find the soldier's grave. Less than an hour into their search Sunday, Jones and Plowden finally found James' final resting place among several other graves, probably for other Tompkins family members, on South Carolina Forestry Service land. Field stone lay everywhere, said Jones, who added that the search required "some dirty grunt work." On the gravestone, Tompkins' name was spelled without the "p," possibly the reason the search was tedious, and most of the "J" in James was worn away or broken off.

Jones wants to find out more about Tompkins. I do, too. We'll keep you posted.

 James Tompkins was one of 8,700 Rebel casualties at the Battle of Gaines' Mill.
Reverse of the image of Private James M. Tompkins.
Close-up of period tag on the back of the Tompkins image notes he "fell in the
 Battle of Gaines Mill before Richmond."


  1. Glad to have this soldier remembered and his final resting place found. Thanks to all involved. A great post!

  2. Thanks to all involved in this search and identification. A soldier's life worth remembering...

  3. He was in the 5th Alabama Battalion as opposed to Robert Rodes' 5th Alabama Infantry.

    1. Ted: Thanks for this. Much appreciated.

  4. Great story- hope to hear more,