Monday, March 12, 2007
Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, NY, the largest National Cemetery in the country, and Arlington National Cemetery, which holds the remains of 15,000 Union soldiers, both dwarf Battlefield National Cemetery in Washington, DC, with its 41 graves. The cemetery, located at 6625 Georgia Ave. NW, is not the smallest National Cemetery. That distinction belongs to Hampton National Cemetery, which was established in 1898 and is the final resting place for 22 former residents of the Southern Branch of the National Home for Volunteer Soldiers and Sailors. Battlefield National is the smallest when you consider that virtually every grave represents a man who died in battle. In this regard, Balls Bluff National Cemetery stands second with 54 burials and tragically has only one identified grave.
I used to drive by the cemetery on a regular basis when I worked on Georgia Avenue in Northwest D.C., but had only stopped to visit once before. My second visit was made the same day I visited the National Museum of Health and Medicine, the subject of an earlier post.
41 graves. 41 men all reported killed on July 11th or July 12th, 1862 near a place where 20,000 Confederate troops under Jubal Early almost had the Capitol buildingís dome within their sight. Early had marched his men from Petersburg, taking a circuitous route deep into Maryland, where the citizens of Frederick paid a ransom of $200,000 under threat of their town being torched, then swung southward, taking direct aim on Washington. But for a stalling action by Union troops at Monacacy, itís possible that the Rebels could have visited the White House, because the delay allowed veterans of the Sixth Corps to hurriedly bolster the Cityís weakened defenses. With Grant besieging Petersburg, Sherman plodding through Georgia, and Sheridan in the Shennadoah Valley, the time had seemed right to attack Washington. Though little more than a probing action against Fort Stevens occurred, Earlyís foray across the Maryland line and down the 7th Street Pike was the only time Confederates tested the outer defenses which surrounded Washington. Fort Stephens, too, is the only place that a sitting President ever came under hostile fire.
The entrance to the cemetery is flanked by two six pound smoothbore guns and diagonally behind them to the left are monuments to the 25th and 122nd New York Infantry, 98th Pennsylvania, and Co. K of the 150th Ohio National Guard. The 98th Pennsylvania monument not only lists 7 of its members who were killed, but the names of another 28 who were wounded in two days of fighting. I canít recall seeing another monument in which a regiment paid such a tribute to its men. Interesting, too, is the fact that in all the information posted on the Internet, thereís no mention of 98thís role in defending Washington, including an excerpt from their own official Regimental history.
One grave in particular drew my attention, that of John Dolan, a member of Co. D of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. One of my side projects, whenever I visit a cemetery, is to try to photograph graves of Massachusetts soldiers. I came up with the idea during my last visit to Andersonville and, although I didnít succeed in capturing all 767 graves, I came awful close with 696. Iím grateful for the advent of digital photography, because I never would have attempted a project of that magnitude with a film camera.
What becomes clear when you visit National Cemeteries is the ability to identify bodies and correctly mark graves has become more successful with each successive war this country has engaged in. The Viet Nam War, if Iím not mistaken, has yet to yield an unknown. Battleground National Cemetery on the other hand, small as it is, and as supposedly well documented as it is, offers up a number of mysteries among those interred there. While all 41 graves are identified by name and State, there are, in fact, six soldiers whose identities become questionable.
I took on this small research project because I was curious about the men buried at Battleground. Utilizing the American Civil War Research Database and a National Park Service Web site I surmised errors had occurred. These men include Private C.S. Christ, who is buried in Grave No. 5, and is identified as having been a member of Company G of the 2nd U.S. Artillery. There is no record of a man with that surname, or close to that surname, having served with the 2nd. Likewise with H. McIntire, who is listed with Co. K, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry. Using ACWRS, I checked both the individual records and the regimental records. Additionally thereís no record of a William Tray with Co. D or a William Ruhle of Co G serving with the 77th NY Infantry. Edward Campbell, whoís supposedly buried in Grave 41, was mustered out of Co. G of the 1st Vermont Infantry on May 13, 1865. There is a notation on the National Park site that Campbell was interred in 1936 as a retired Major. And last, thereís the mystery of Private Mark Stoneham of Co. G, 43rd New York Infantry. There are two men by that name who served with the 43rd NY and theyíre probably one in the same. The first, whose surname is spelled Stoneham was discharged due to disability on May 31, 1862, while the second, whose last name is spelled Stonham, is reported to have died of disease on January 4, 1863 and is buried at the Military Asylum Cemetery in Washington.
I donít have an expectation that the National Park Service will correct their records based on my findings. Iím also allowing for the possibility that the information I used could be incomplete. But correct or incorrect, Iím led to conclude that it was probably far more comforting for family members to have a place to mourn their loss then to experience the prolonged and everlasting grief of those related to the Unknowns and to those who to this day remain undiscovered.