Recently, I visited the gravesite of my great-great-grandfather. The cemetery was literally out in the woods. No church stood nearby, but I am sure one did a hundred years ago. My brother had taken the time to clear the grounds of the cemetery and set headstones back up where he could. It looked very nice.
It is interesting to read tombstones and see the symbols and artistry that are displayed. Some of the tombstones noted deaths in the 1800’s. There were many babies, which is always sad to see.
Through the trees, there was a beautiful view of the hills and woods. It seemed like a pretty good place to be buried, if it wasn’t so hard to get to.
Of the men buried there, it seemed all who had the opportunity to serve in The Civil War – did. Of course being in rural Alabama, you would expect all of them to be Confederate Veterans. There was one fellow who chose to fight with the only Alabama Northern Regiment. I’m not sure why, I couldn’t really ask him.
Robert E. Lee once said, "Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more; you should never wish to do less."
All of these Civil War Veterans in the cemetery had survived the war to come home and live out the rest of their lives. Regardless of the side they fought for, I am sure they thought they were doing their duty.
Researching my great-great-grandfather’s regiment, I found first that he was captured in the last month of the war in North Carolina and that a large percentage of them did not make it home to be buried in the woods of land they knew. I also found many interesting letters written by those who served in the regiment.
One particular letter caught my interest.
It was from a captain in the 25th Alabama Regiment. The war was coming to an end, the fighting was still fierce, but this fellow kept a sense of humor about some things and spoke fondly of those in his command. His leadership ability was admirable.
On one occasion around Christmas of 1864, the captain had to choose 40 of his men to go immediately to fight on the front lines. The captain called it a “peculiar trial.” Why was it peculiar?
It was difficult.
The captain’s brother was in his command and he had to be fair about which 40 men he chose to go to the front. He held a raffle or lottery, putting the word “front” on 40 tickets and making the rest blank. The men drew blindly from a hat and the captain’s brother had to go to the front.
He did not note that his brother was killed; I would have to assume that he was not.
The captain noted another incident that happened during the winter of 1864-5. He wrote, “Some time during the winter, two young men, who had been brought in as Yankee prisoners, and who expressed a willingness to take the oath and join our army, rather than remain prisoners of war. So they took the oath and joined my company.” He also went on to say the fellows were from New York.
What would you do?
Two fellows from New York captured in North Carolina, given the choice to go to a civil war prison or swear allegiance to the other side. I’m sure they said to themselves, “Let’s just do this until we can figure something else out.”
Around March of 1865, the captain wrote, “Our picket line was in a swamp with thick undergrowth and while the Yankee picket line was not far away, we could not see whether it was a mere picket line or a line of battle.”
There was a problem. The captain needed someone to climb up in a tree to see if they could get a look at the Yankees and what they were going up against. The captain had determined that the Yankees were right on top of them and whoever climbed up in the tree was going to be shot (rather quickly).
The captain asked for a volunteer and even offered a day of rest for the fellow who would climb the tree.
One of the “New York Yankees” said he would do it.
The captain penned, “And to my great surprise and somewhat to my gratification, one of my Yankee soldiers volunteered and went up the tree, but no new discovery was made and fortunately for him at least he was not fired on while up the tree.”
I’m not sure what the Yankee fellow was thinking. Perhaps the food was really bad or there wasn’t much food and he was hoping he would get shot. Perhaps he was thinking he could signal to his Yankee brethren or find a way to sneak out of the swamp.
The captain just had a way with words.
Very soon after this tree climbing episode, the two Yankee “volunteers” disappeared. And in the captain’s letter he notes, “…from whom we never heard till this day.” (I’m sure they headed north.)
This was March of 1865; my great-great-grandfather was noted as captured in April of 1865. They were all around Bentonville, North Carolina where “our” last battle was fought on Sunday the 19th of March, 1865. I suppose my great-great-grandfather either surrendered or was rounded up the first week of April.
At least he held out a little longer and didn’t run off with the “New York Yankees.” It would be hard for my brother to clean a cemetery in the New York woods.
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