Remembering A Union Soldier

Posted in: Bourne
Jun 1, 2007 - 8:24:21 AM
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Memorial Day weekend on the Cape: three days of beaches, family and friends, traffic, nightlife, and the sound of cash registers ringing up tourism dollars.
But Memorial Day is also a national holiday set aside to remember those who gave their lives in the service of  their country.
The Memorial Day holiday itself, which is observed on the last Monday in May, was originally established to memorialize fallen Union soldiers following the American Civil War. It has since been expanded to include soldiers from all of the country’s conflicts.
This was evident Sunday at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne as veterans of all ages, current soldiers, and civilians looking to pay their respects filed into the cemetery for a ceremony that included Civil War reenactors, volleys fired by members of the Massachusetts Army National Guard, and taps played by Bugles Across America.
In another part of the 750-acre cemetery—denoted as section five—just over the hill from the ceremony, things remained relatively quiet Sunday afternoon except for the chirping of birds and the echoes emanating from the nearby holiday service. The sun beat down on the grassy slope and on a large boulder flanked by vegetation.
Approximately 10 feet away lay several gravestones, set flush in the ground. Over the past several weeks, the grass has crept up several inches over the edges of the tombstones, making the markers barely visible to passersby.
One of the gravestones in section five belongs to Richard David DeWert, a US Navy hospital corpsman who died on April 5, 1951, while administering aid to fallen comrades in the midst of heavy fighting in Korea. He put himself directly in the line of fire and died after suffering numerous wounds. He was 20 years old. As the only Medal of Honor recipient buried in the cemetery, his is certainly one of the more noteworthy graves there. A ship named in his honor paid the Cape a visit recently.
Several feet in front of the grave of Mr. DeWert lies the grave of another patriot, another 20-year-old from Massachusetts who also died in the line of duty. However, there will be no Navy vessel named for this soldier.
A sniper killed this particular soldier. He was killed not by a Chinese Communist,  but rather, by a fellow citizen of the United States, and he was killed shortly before the end of the war that he had enlisted to fight in.
Sadly, his grave,  # 107, reads “Unknown US Soldier; Mass Vol Inf; Civil War.”
Two soldiers from two different conflicts, buried in section five; one soldier heralded as a hero, the other unknown and almost forgotten.
In fact, 42 percent of Civil War casualties are unidentified, according to historians. The dog tag system was instituted during World War I.
“I think that gentleman was discovered when they were building a parking lot down [in South Carolina],” said John E. Marland, the cemetery’s supervisory budget analyst, who was with the cemetery in 1990, when the Unknown Soldier was laid to rest in Bourne. “There was so little known about that gentleman.”
The soldier was laid to rest in Bourne with full military honors in early August of 1990. The procession included a horse-drawn hearse, a 21-gun salute, a riderless horse, plenty of re-enactors, and even a symbolic widow, “dressed in a mourning dress of the era,” according to an August 5, 1990, Associated Press story.
The Associated Press story also describes a somber scene as the soldier’s casket was lowered into the ground. Some of the more than 1,000 people in attendance were moved to tears.
However, other than accounts of the funeral, little is known about this Unknown Soldier. There is nothing in the archives at the cemetery, according to Cemetery Director Paul B. McFarland. The only information that exists is from old newspaper articles.
The cemetery’s Administrative Program Assistant Janice M. Heckler Souweine also remembers the funeral. She described it as a very hot day, and that the funeral was very moving. She agreed that the soldier having been buried “Unknown” is quite a shame.
“It is very sad,” she said. “It certainly gives to the mystique of why we honor all of our veterans here, whether they’re known or not.”
Welcome To Clarendon County
A construction crew found this Unknown Soldier in 1974 while they were excavating to build a road in South Carolina’s Clarendon County, according to articles provided to The Enterprise by the archives department of the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper.
The remains, which included bone fragments, reddish brown hair, pieces of leather, and various buttons, according to the reports, were at first believed to be that of a murder victim, buried in a shallow grave in the red clay of Clarendon County.
The remains were sent to the FBI, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the University of South Carolina for analysis. The fragments of a coat recovered in the grave were determined to be blue and that the boy was between the ages of 19 and 21 years old.
The remains were then identified as a Union soldier from the buttons on the coat that bore the Massachusetts emblem. Other emblems found further identified the man as a member of the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. According to the Post and Courier, some of the buttons even said “Massachusetts” on them, and on others, “the bas-relief of the Union Eagle with outstretched wings was still clearly visible.” The artifacts that were recovered with the body were rusty and suffered from mildew.
The remains were then handed over to O’Neal Compton, according to the Post and Courier, who was a member of the 23rd South Carolina Volunteers, which is a Southern Confederate reenactment group. Mr. Compton’s family owned a funeral home, and the remains were stored there for more than 20 years for safekeeping.
In 1989, some of the members of the 23rd South Carolina Volunteers were talking with their Union counterparts from Massachusetts after a successful reenactment of the mine assault during the Battle of Petersburg in Virginia. Mr. Compton’s friends mentioned the remains, and it was decided then and there that the Union soldier be repatriated to the Union and his home state of Massachusetts. The 23rd South Carolina Volunteers even built a period-type casket for the soldier to be buried in.
Robert Berkeley, who could not be located for this story, was a Union reenactor who gave the eulogy at the Unknown Soldier’s funeral service. He told the Post and Courier that this saga was the ultimate sign of reconciliation and peace between the North and the South, and the two main antagonists of the Civil War, Massachusetts and South Carolina.
According to Mr. McFarland, the Union reenactment group, the Sons of Union Veterans helped with the funeral. Among those in attendance was Ms. Heckler Souweine’s father, who is now buried in section five along with Mr. DeWert and the Unknown Soldier.
According to Frank Tucker, a former Sons of Union Veterans official, the Unknown Soldier was represented “spiritually” at the Memorial Day ceremony on Sunday by a lone soldier in Union blues.
Who Was He?
Mr. Tucker said that unfortunately, even the Sons of Union Veterans do not know much about the Unknown Soldier. According to reports from both the Post Courier and the Associated Press, the soldier was apparently shot in the head by a sniper while he was marching with his unit from Georgetown County to Sumter to fight in the battle of Dingle’s Mill in April 1865. He never made it to the battlefield.
The Unknown Soldier died shortly after Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox in Virginia. Union troops were still tasked with weeding out Confederate guerillas and would face mounted infantry at Dingle’s Mill. They had been under orders to disable railroads in South Carolina. April would be the last month that the Union suffered official wartime casualties.
The Post and Courier reported that the soldier is believed to have held the rank of private.
“I think if he were an officer, they would have taken more care to do more than they did for him,” Larry Fudger, a member of the 23rd South Carolina Volunteers, told the Post and Courier. “It wasn’t uncommon for officers to be embalmed and shipped back home. He was rather shabbily buried, and, of course, that was indicative of a forced march.”
Frank Tucker’s son, Kevin Tucker, the current senior department commander of the Sons of Union Veterans, said last week that he believes that the soldier most likely volunteered early in the war, possibly even before it started, which could make him as young as 16 when he enlisted. He believes that the soldier volunteered, before the draft, into a local militia in Massachusetts. At that point, the country only had a small army.
After the attack at Fort Sumter, the soldier was probably dispatched to Washington, DC, Kevin Tucker said, where he and his unit were sent to protect the capital from southern invasion. Then after that, he would have gone into New Orleans, and into heavy fighting in Virginia, and along the Mississippi, finally ending up in South Carolina. But he agreed that it was all speculation.
A Possible Match
James Fahey, a 77-year-old retired veteran, and Braintree-based military historian, has helped identify dozens of Civil War-era remains during the past three decades using genealogy, military records, and soldier correspondence.
Mr. Fahey is responsible for identifying the remains of 19 Union soldiers found on Folley Island, South Carolina, in the area where an old Union hospital had been located.
He also identified a black Union flag bearer, and former slave named Abraham Jenks, who was killed in action at the battle of The Crater in Petersburg, Virginia, in 1864. Mr. Jenks was later buried in Quincy.
In addition to these accomplishments, Mr. Fahey has also corrected three desertion cases, lifting a cloud of shame off of several family trees. In fact, one woman began crying when she was told that her ancestor had died in a Union hospital and had not been a deserter, as was listed in Civil War records. Mr. Fahey says that the term “deserter” was thrown around very loosely during the Civil War and he hopes to be able to look into more of these cases in the future.
In 1990, The Boston Globe wrote a story about Mr. Fahey, and in that story he was quoted as saying that the Unknown Soldier now buried in Bourne could have been one of two people: Albert Jackson or Josiah Q. Pratt. The article went on to say that both men were members of the Massachusetts 4th Cavalry.
Visited this week, Mr. Fahey, who is the director of the Watson Museum and Research Center on Quincy Avenue in Braintree, recalled the case. Mr. Fahey said that he remembers being stuck on the two names, because without DNA testing, he could never be 100 percent sure of  the soldier’s identity.
The museum he runs features everything from Nazi flags to the samurai swords of kamikaze pilots. Most of the items on display were collected by Mr. Fahey in his travels around the world. But when the 17-year-old case of the Unknown Soldier was mentioned, he sprang into action and began digging through dated military records.
Mr. Fahey revisited the museum’s vast library of Civil War records this week at the request of The Enterprise. He said that after further research, he is now almost sure that the man buried in Bourne is Josiah Q. Pratt.
Josiah Q. Pratt was a private in the 4th Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry and he was from Weymouth. He signed up at the age of 18 in 1863. He was a shoemaker by trade.
Mr. Pratt was mustered, two weeks after enlisting, on December 21, 1863. His regiment spent time in Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia, and was unique because the various squadrons of the regiment were scattered across the South up until the war finally winded down. They reunited in the fall of 1865 in Virginia, but Mr. Pratt was not among them.
He was listed as having died on February 19, 1865, in Manning, South Carolina, which is a part of Clarendon County. He would have been 20 years old.
“Pratt could be the one,” Mr. Fahey said. “That’s gotta be him...Like I said, that would be a nice DNA case for history.”
Mr. Fahey said that he hopes to work with the Massachusetts National Cemetery, as well as with genealogists, and to one day take a DNA sample from the Unknown Soldier’s remains, in hopes of having the headstone on grave 107 changed from Unknown to Josiah Q. Pratt