|10th West Virginia Private John Roby's grave in Antietam National Cemetery.|
Walk through Antietam National Cemetery and you're sure to find a token of remembrance atop many of the weather-worn Civil War gravestones. You may see a pebble, a penny or two, perhaps a flower or a jar with a small candle -- all efforts by someone to tell us an ultimate sacrifice long ago still has deep meaning.
If you ventured toward the back of the beautiful, well-manicured grounds recently, past the massive soldier's monument known as "Old Simon," John Roby's grave may have caught your eye. A large, white cross affixed with fresh, red roses leaned against the marker for the 10th West Virginia private. More than 155 years after he died, someone still cares. The discovery sparked our curiosity: Who was John Roby?
|In this document dated April 28, 1864, a surgeon at the Union hospital|
noted John Roby's cause of death: "phthisis pulmonalis," commonly
known today as tuberculosis. (National Archives via fold3.com)
CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.
In early December 1862, Roby contracted a "disease of the lungs" near New Creek, Va., while he was "engaged in the normal duties of a soldier." Days later, he lay in "U.S. General Hospital" near Cumberland, Md., probably the Clarysville Hospital that opened in early March 1862 for the care for hundreds of ill and injured Union soldiers. On Christmas Eve, Roby died of disease, by far the leading cause of death during the war.
On June 6, 1863 -- 12 days before West Virginia was granted statehood and became part of the Union -- Elizabeth traveled to the courthouse in Lewis County, Va., where she provided evidence for a widow's pension claim. The 54-year-old woman declared she had married John in "David Heart's house" in Pendleton County, Va., on Aug. 30, 1827, and said the couple had 13 children together. Two friends of the family vouched for Elizabeth's claims, noting letters from 10th West Virginia soldiers that confirmed Roby had died in a Union hospital. Although she initially could not provide acceptable evidence of the birth of her youngest children, Elizabeth's claim was approved in 1864 at the standard $8 a month.
|Signature of John Roby's widow on a pension file document. (National Archives via fold3.com)|
Of course, we'll probably never know who left the magnificent remembrance at the old soldier's final resting place on the hill in the village of Sharpsburg, Md. But that's OK. When you remember one, someone once said, you remember them all.
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-- 1860 U.S. census
-- John Roby widow's pension file, National Archives and Records Service, Washington, D.C., via fold3.com.