Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cemetery secrets: Are my IDs for these Rebel graves correct?

(Library of Congress collection)
In April 1865, John Reekie, best known for this ghastly image of African-Americans unearthing and collecting remains of  Federal dead at Cold Harbor, made this haunting photograph of Confederate graves at Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. At least 100 mostly crude, wooden headboards filled this section of the cemetery, where Rebel dead were buried starting in the summer of 1861. Freshly turned dirt isn't apparent, probably evidence that none of these graves were recent, and the grounds are weed-choked, likely an indication the cemetery was poorly maintained. ...

... an enlargement of the original image reveals a small building in the background, perhaps a barn or farm outbuilding. But my aim was to identify soldiers who were buried in the marked graves, as I have done by viewing enlargements of the largest TIF versions of other Civil War images available on the excellent Library of Congress web site. For example, see this post on the burial of Union dead in Fredericksburg Va., in May 1864 and this post on Federal sailors who were buried in a cemetery in Charleston, S.C. In the enlargement above, writing on several of the wooden markers is apparent. ...

... but the inscription on this headboard and on several other markers in enlargements of the original image are not clear enough to identify the soldiers who were buried in the graves. An identification of the name on the headboard above seems tantalizingly close, and perhaps an examination of the original image at the Library of Congress in Washington would result in a rock-solid ID. ...

Is this the headboard for N.F. James?
This grave appears at the far right of

 the enlargement above. Nathaniel James,
a private in the 3rd Virginia,
was killed at Antietam, but it's
unlikely his remains were
buried in Richmond.
... this enlargement reveals other names on headboards. The writing on the slender marker next to the large grave marker at the far left appears to be B.M. Ferrell. According to the American Civil War Research Database, a Bowlen or Bolding M. Ferrell, a private in the 35th Georgia, died of disease in a Richmond hospital on July 18, 1862. A musician, he was from Campbell County, Ga., and enlisted on Oct. 31, 1861. Database records are incomplete, so while this ID is likely, it's not proof-positive.

Although the last two letters of the last name are not visible, we can surmise that a soldier with the last name Morton was buried next to Ferrell. His first two initials appear to be E.W. or F.W. According to the database,  Ezekiel R. Morton, a private in the 28th North Carolina, died in a Richmond hospital of typhoid fever on Aug. 23, 1862. Morton was 22 years old when he enlisted in Stanly County, N.C., on March 20, 1862. No Confederate soldier named Morton with a first initial "F" is in the database, perhaps an indication that this is indeed the grave for Ezekiel, although the second initial "R" in the database leaves that ID open to question.

The grave in the middle of the enlargement appears to be for a W. Kelly. Of the 20 Kellys listed in the database, at least four died in Richmond: Private William H. Kelly of the 6th North Carolina, Private William Kelly of the 45th North Carolina, Private William H. Kelly of the 35th Georgia and Private William N. Kelly of the 37th Virginia.

The Kelly of the 45th North Carolina had an especially interesting war record. He was 37 when he enlisted in Rockingham County, N.C., on March 19, 1863. Less than four months later, Kelly was captured at Gettysburg and confined at Point Lookout, Md. Exchanged at City Point, Va., on March 16, 1864, he apparently became a POW again near the end of the war. He died of chronic diarrhea on April 11, 1865, two days after the war officially ended. It seems unlikely, however, that he was buried in Oakwood Cemetery. The grave in the image, which was taken in April 1865, does not appear to be fresh, making it more likely that one of the three other Kellys, each of whom died in Richmond in 1862, was buried here. ...

H.L. Harwood enlisted in the
 Rebel army on April 7, 1862,
according to this document
found on
... upon first viewing an enlargement of the original image, the chances seemed promising for a positive identification of the soldier buried under the large headboard. The name H.L. Harwood at the top of the marker is easily read, the death date appears to be July 1862 or 1863 and the soldier's company apparently is "K."

Seven Confederate soldiers with the last name Harwood are in the database; Horatio Harwood, a private in the 27th Virginia, died of disease in Savannah, Ga., on Nov. 15, 1864, making it highly unlikely he's the soldier whose grave appears in the image. Of the six other Harwoods in the database, only one had the initials H.L.: a private in the 5th Virginia Cavalry who enlisted when he was 28 in Petersburg, Va., on April 7, 1862. The database does not indicate that H.L. Harwood died during the war, but many Civil War records, especially Confederate, are inaccurate or incomplete.

Under command of Captain Charles Pannill, Company K of the 5th Virginia Cavalry was comprised mostly of men from Petersburg. In July 1862, the 5th Virginia saw action during the Peninsula Campaign near Richmond, and in July 1863, it fought at Gettysburg. If the soldier identification is correct and he died in July 1862 or 1863, as I surmise was written on the headboard, perhaps H.L. Harwood was sent to Richmond to recover from a battlefield wound. He may have died in one of the many army hospitals in the capital of the Confederacy.

Further research surely will reveal much more about the graves John Reekie photographed more than 150 years ago. The remains of more than 16,000 Confederates are buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Most, the Restore Oakwood web site notes, were casualties at Cold Harbor, Gaines' Mill, Malvern Hill and other battles near Richmond.

Notice anything else in the original image or enlargements? E-mail me.

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