Today I am writing to you from a morgue. Inside the hospital, you go down the stairs to the basement, and just before you come to the kitchen, there is a hallway leading to the autopsy and embalming room. The hallway is lined with cabinets, and the brick walls in the room have worn over time. It is slightly chilly, but not as cold as the morning mountain air outside the window. Of course, the building has been repurposed as an arts center; but it only seems fitting that I relay my tales of death from the morgue.
I am at the annual meeting of the Association of Western States Folklorists in Virginia City, Nevada. I am staying at St. Mary’s Art Center, which in its previous life was a 19th century Catholic hospital in this small gold mining town up the mountain from Reno. It is very nice—and very hilly. From downtown, you can see for miles. From the Art Center, you can see up the steep hill to downtown. Apparently, there is more gold, and a mining company has bought the rights to all of it with plans to strip the mountains on the quest for riches.
On the other side of the continent, 150 years ago this week, the Civil War began. I had a hard time believing it when I saw the first one, but several veterans of that war are buried in the area that I am researching. Some have the old-fashioned markers, which were short in size until around 1903, have a rounded (Union) or pointed (Confederate) top, feature a badge shape on the front which lists the soldier’s name, unit, company, rank, and job (infantry or cavalry). Others have more modern style veteran markers (the ones that I have seen have been flat granite). Others do not even have a marker. If it were not for the memory of a few locals, you could stare at their graves for days and not realize that they are veterans.
The information that I use in these short biographies (and those in other posts) comes from sources that anyone can use. If you have a family member who was (or may have been) in the Civil War, a good starting place for researching them and their service is at the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database. This is an online, searchable database of people who served in the war on either side, their unit, company, and what their position was. Next, to see primary documents (such as pay and enlistment information), go to Footnote.com’s Civil War Collection. A third handy website is the Civil War Archive, where you can find brief information about specific units on each side. In order to narrow down my searches, I use Family Search to try to figure out where people lived and when. I have also found Google to be a great tool, because sometimes people post their own biographies online.
I will give a brief biography of those veterans whom I have identified in my travels. For some, I have not conducted very much research and can only give their name and unit. A few people apparently had common names, and I cannot yet identify which entry in the database belongs to them. If nothing else, I will mention their name. Another issue that I have run into is that some veterans do not have veteran markers. I have identified at least one burial where the person has a grave marker that does not indicate their veteran status at all. It is likely that there are more that I do not know about, but to run each person who could have been in the war through the database would take far too long.
- In Preston, Idaho, I saw the first veteran. Here, lies Francis L. Wilcox and his wife Jennie. You will notice that Jennie has a marker very similar to that of her husband. Look closely, however, and you will see minor differences: it is wider, the style of text is different, and it includes her dates of birth and death. Francis served as a Private with the 185th Regiment of the New York Infantry, Company G. His unit saw some memorable action, including chasing down General Lee and being present at his surrender at Appomattox. After the war, Wilcox settled down in Idaho with his wife.
- In Samaria, Idaho, is the grave of William Jones. This name is very common, with 3,417 hits in the database from both the Union and Confederate sides. If I could find out where he was from, I could possibly narrow that search down to a few handfuls.
- Benjamin F. Glauner lies in the Fairview Cemetery in Soda Springs, Idaho. He was a Sergeant in Company H, in the Union 32nd Regiment of the Missouri Infantry. They did not participate in any well-known battles, but lost 434 men; 408 of them to disease. If Glauner’s marker appears to be new, that is because it is. In the last decade, Congress approved the reproduction of Civil War style markers for identified veterans of that war who do not have one, and whose family would like one. Veteran markers are furnished by the government upon request of the family, although the family must pay for its installation if the person is not buried in a national cemetery.
- Corinne, Utah has a few veterans buried there. First up is Henry Clay House. It is not clear which unit he was with, but after the war, he was promoted to Colonel and appointed to move condemned weapons from Fort Union, New Mexico to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Along the way, he and his unit apparently fought off bands of hostile Cheyenne, Kioways, and Sioux Indians. Later, as a scout, he was involved in the Sand Creek Massacre and the Little Blue Massacre. The story goes that, after the Sand Creek Massacre, he was subpoenaed to face a court martial. The charges were dropped when he showed up with a young boy whom the Indians had allegedly scalped during the fighting—his head covered with surgeon’s plaster.
- Next in Corinne is Elias M. Quimby, a Sergeant with the 1st Regiment, Company I, of the Vermont Cavalry. His unit saw action at Gettysburg, and was present when General Lee surrendered at Appomattox.
- Edwin N. Williams, also in Corinne. I could not find his name listed in the database, but he was a member of the 69th Illinois Infantry, Company B. They were involved in no battles and lost 13 men to disease.
- In Deweyville, Utah, you will find the grave of James Berry, who is also a veteran of the Spanish American War. He does not have a government marker, and a search for his name turns up 292 results in the database. I would need more information to locate his records.
- Coleman C. McNiece is one of two people, of those I have identified, whom I can confirm to be a Confederate soldier. He is buried in Honeyville, Utah with a modern, flat granite government marker. His unit was not present for any famous battles, and it appears that most of the men surrendered in April 1865.
In Junction, Utah, the cemetery is very small—about the size of an average one-room apartment. It is surrounded by a barbed wire fence, and you have to climb a ladder to go over to the weed-infested burials. Here, there are three Civil War veterans. The graves of two of them are unmarked; the third is marked, but not with a government monument.
- John W. Moon is the person who has a marked grave; however, his name comes up several times in the database. I have tried to find some more information about him, but he is one of those mystery people about whom it will take some time to find information.
- Samuel Sawyer Sease is the other Confederate soldier on my list. He was born in rural Virginia in 1831, and is listed with Company K of the 5th Regiment in the South Caroline Reserves for 90 days. Then with Company E of the 6th Regiment in the South Carolina Infantry. The latter unit surrendered on April 9, 1865. He is buried next to his son, who was killed after being kicked in the ribs by a horse; back when doctors had to come on horseback from another town.
- Lewis Jefferson Wright was born in Kentucky in 1844 and enlisted with the 48th Kentucky Infantry, Company D. Like other units, most deaths during the war were from disease. The 48th only saw seven men killed during battle, but 97 from disease.
Apparently I can’t have multiple markers on a Google Map. If anyone reading this wants to see where these folks are located, I can e-mail you a file that you can open in Google Earth to see them.