Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"everybody deserves to have a headstone" - Union graves in Richmond County

More news on the finding and marking of Union graves in Richmond County. The first is a press release sent to me by Tom MacCallum, and from the Richmond County Historical Society. The second is part of an article by Jim Dodson, and was found in The Pilot, a local newspaper. I hope you enjoy.

From Richmond County Historical Society

Representatives of Confederate and Union armies met once again Saturday on a farm west of Rockingham in Richmond County, this time as reenactors descended from Civil War veterans.

In what the Rev. James B. Watson called a “solemn duty,” five Union Army soldiers killed on March 7, 1865, were recognized with white marble, federally-issued tombstones on graves where they were buried in the Zion Community of the county after being killed there by Confederates during the war.

Local Confederate Army reenactors, dressed in both Confederate and Union uniforms, presented the unveiling ceremony with rifle and cannon salutes and stood watch as representatives of Union Army Sons of Veterans honored the soldiers with an American flag and white rose at each tombstone.

The event was sponsored, organized and produced by the Richmond County Historical Society.

Descending relatives of Pvt. Henry L. Sennett, 24, were present to recognize their ancestor, who along with the four other Union soldiers, had been lost for the past 145 years.

They included Thomas Shugars of Salix, Penn.; his son, Jim Shugars; and grandson, Ian Shugars.

Formally recognizing the other Union soldiers were Charles Augur of Lexington, N.C., of the Gibbon Burke Sons of Union Veterans; and Dennis St. Andrew of Cary, N.C., senior vice commander, Department of N.C., Sons of Union Veterans.

Sennett was a member of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry along with Pvt. Calvin Simpson, 24; and Pvt. David Woods, 27; and Cpl. Reed Alcorn, 21, and Pvt. Mathew Ross, 20, both of the 8th Indiana Cavalry, when they were on a foraging mission as part of the Union Army in Richmond County.

The lost are found

Two years ago, the graves - marked only with large rocks - came to the attention of the Richmond County Historical Society through Paul Scholl, local contractor, who lives near the site. Irving Long, retired journalist living in Richmond County, included the information in his book entitled, “Sherman In The Sandhills.”

When he later mentioned the graves at a society meeting, Vietnam Veteran Bo Frye expressed the opinion the graves needed recognition. Long followed up with the suggestion, and in January proposed that the society provide markers.

“It really came down to they were serving their country, and everybody deserves to have a headstone,” Long told Joseph Cress of the Sentinel Reporter of Carlisle, Pa., when seeking information there on Union soldiers from that area.

“That feeling seems to trump any lingering bitterness that was left in the wake of Sherman’s march,“ Long said.

For the past 145 years, descendants of Confederate veterans stood watch over five large rocks marking the graves of Union soldiers buried on a farm west of Rockingham.

First it was the Lassiter family, descended from Daniel T. Lassiter. When he returned home as a Confederate Army veteran to find five graves dug a month or so earlier on his farm, he learned that the five Union soldiers were buried after being ambushed by what were believed to be members of the local Confederate Home Guard.

They were believed to have been buried either by an African-American family living nearby or Union soldiers who came upon the skirmish scene. The family told Lassiter about the skirmish and graves.

But, the identities of the Union soldiers were not known until this year. They were among at least 35 casualties the Union Army suffered while in Richmond County.

Saturday ceremony

In giving the background of the events leading up to the ceremony Saturday, James A. Clifton said from words passed down through families, “It is believed that Lassiter expressed sympathy for the death of the men. Although he had fought against their comrades, he had seen bravery on both sides and felt is should not be forgotten. The pledge was made to treat the grave site with reverence.“

That story - and land - was passed from Daniel Lassiter to his son, John Lassiter; and then to his grandson, Mason Lassiter. In 1974 Mason sold the land where the graves are located to Roy Moss, who continued the tradition of revering the site. Moss, 81, is a U.S. Navy veteran. His family lived in Richmond County during the Civil War, and his great-grandfather was a soldier in the Confederate Army.

Moss wanted to assist the project to protect the graves in perpetuity under N.C. law.

Ed Snyder of Cordova in Richmond County is a reenactor with the 26th S.C. Volunteers, Sons of Mars, Sons of Confederate Veterans. As a member of the executive board of the Richmond County Historical Society, he took on the task of identifying the Union soldiers and marking their graves, a task with which he has prior experience as a reenactor.

“I think all who serve this country in time of war should have a marked grave,” Snyder said, himself descending from a Confederate Army veteran. His great-grandfather was a captain in the Richmond County Confederate Home Guard. “I knew somewhere these Union soldiers had a family that might want to find them.” He said he believes that even though he is “a die-hard Confederate (son of) and Southerner” and still believes in the Confederate cause.

A personal quest

He personally knows the importance of such recognition. “My grandmother looked all her life for her grandfather, Pvt. David Deaton of the 14th N.C., and did not find him. I did find his resting place about 10 years ago in Winchester, Va.”

“The ceremony here means closure for an unfinished story,“ Snyder said. “I hope all of this work will tell the families and the people of the North that we do care, and hopefully they will do to same when they find Confederate soldiers’ graves.”

Sennett’s brother, Henry Sennett, came to Richmond County some 30 years after the Civil War searching for his brother’s grave, unsuccessfully.

It isn’t often that unmarked Union soldiers’ graves are found, Snyder said. His next project is to research two such graves in Wagram, in nearby Scotland County. “It means a lot to me as a reenactor,” he said.

Bruce D. Frail of Coventry, Rhode Island, a researcher and co-founder of American Civil War Ancestor, Inc., provided the identities of the soldiers and was sent by the historical society to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for confirmation and information on each soldier. He was present Saturday.

“That information and persistence, which included help from Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC8), finally persuaded the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue the markers,” Clifton said in his remarks.

Before leaving the ceremony site beside the Moss pond to attend an unveiling of the tombstones in a nearby pine tree thicket, local Confederate reenactors fired a salute with Civil War vintage rifles and a cannon, followed by the playing of “Taps.”

From The Pilot -  “Five Union Soldiers Find Peace”

Shortly after 10 o'clock on a crisp Saturday morning two weeks ago, 75 folks solemnly clutching small American flags and digital cameras assembled in a grove of young pines at a modest farm in the Zion community, tucked into in the soft hills west of downtown Rockingham.

Their objective was to honor five forgotten Union soldiers who died in a skirmish only days before the end of the Civil War. Until now, the solders' remains have lain in hand-dug graves marked only by small piles of white stones for 145 years, their identities unknown.

The event, sponsored by the Richmond County Historical Society, was an unlikely memorial service to honor their service to country and unveil official grave markers for the newly identified deceased. Invited guests included ancestors of the dead soldiers from as far away as Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, plus local citizens and history buffs and even a color guard made up of the Sons of Confederate Veterans from both North and South Carolina.

As local historian James Clifton reminded the participants, what happened at Lassiter Farm on March 7, 1865, was only a tiny incident in the bloodiest conflict in American history, a vast conflagration that produced more than a million casualties including 620,000 soldiers - an estimated 8 percent of all white males from the North and 18 percent from the South. More American soldiers died in the Civil War than in the next six wars combined.

Ironically, it was only the honor of a Confederate soldier that kept the memory of the five Union deaths from vanishing forever into the ether.

The story goes that Daniel Lassiter returned home to learn of five fresh graves on his property just weeks after the guns fell silent. He learned the bodies in the graves belonged to Union troops who'd been on a foraging mission on horseback and wagon when they evidently encountered remnants of the Richmond Home Guard. Records show that more than 35 Union Army deaths occurred from running skirmishes and scattered house-to-house fighting that took place in Richmond County during the closing days of the war.

After hearing the story, it's believed Lassiter expressed sympathy for the deaths of his former enemies and their families, citing the need for the nation to heal its wounds. He pledged that the graves of his former enemies would be marked and never disturbed as long as his family owned the farm.

Lassiter's promise passed through several generations of his family. In 1974, a man named Roy Moss purchased the property, and he agreed to honor the graves of the unknown soldiers by leaving them undisturbed as well.

'Homecoming of Sorts'

Two years ago, during a casual conversation with a fellow member of the Richmond County Historical Society, former Richmond County Daily Journal owner Neal Cadieu Jr. learned about the presence of the graves. A campaign was undertaken to see if the men could be identified and their final resting spots properly marked with grave markers.

A Union Army historian named Bruce Frail undertook the research in Washington and turned up more than 300 pages of research on the five dead soldiers, including their names.

"This really amounts to a homecoming of sorts for the families who lost their ancestors and for those of us here who looked after these graves for so long," Cadieu said to me as we stood watching the color guard load their rifles. "In the larger scheme of things, it not a very big thing, I suppose, but to me it's a powerful commentary on human kindness and brotherhood - how one man ended a war and honored his enemies by giving them a proper resting place, a home."

After taps was played hauntingly by a lone bugler off in the October-lit pines and a three-shot volley was fired by the honor guard, family members and guests filed silently along a narrow pine-needled path to a clearing in the pines, where five new grave stones stood draped with Yankee blue cloths.

One by one, the new grave stones were revealed - in at least two cases by a relative who also planted an American flag.

As the silent, moving ceremony unfolded, a line from Homer's "Odyssey" slipped into my head: All I want and all I pine for is to go back to my house and see my day of homecoming.

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