Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Confederate soldier identified as body in grave

By Tiffany Thompson, Staff Writer

Sunday, February 24, 2008 — After nearly 143 years, a new event can be added to the timeline of Sgt. Ivey Ritchie.The Confederate soldier of the 14th North Carolina Infantry was identified as the inhabitant of grave No. 4824 at Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Dinwiddie County, Va. on Feb. 13 during a mock trial at the historic Dinwiddie Courthouse.Jim Harwood, founder of the Ivey Ritchie Camp 1734 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, as well as Joel Fesperman, commander, and Anthony Way 2nd Lt. commander of the camp, were the plaintiffs in the trial.“It was like a military tribunal,” said Harwood, “but I was impressed by how the National Park Service treated us. They were very fair.”Chris Calkins, chief interpreter for Petersburg Nation-al Battlefield, served as the defense, and Bob Kirby, superintendent for Peters-burg National Battlefield, was the moderator.“We had an hour to present our evidence and the National Park Service had an hour to provide theirs,” Harwood said.Among several of the arguments Harwood presented was the lack of adequate records.Recordkeeping at the time wasn’t precise and the first body was not buried at Poplar Grove until more than a year after the end of the war. As a result, it would be difficult to know exactly who occupies which grave.The fact that body-retrieval crews, also know as the “burial corps,” were paid only for finding Union Soldiers, which raised the possibility that a Confederate soldier, had been intentionally misidentified.Ritchie’s body was originally buried at Appomattox Courthouse and his brother, Marvel Ritchie, identified the body.Harwood believes Marvel placed an identifying marker on Ivey’s body, which is how the name Ritchie stuck with the body as it was exhumed and reinterred at Poplar Grove.He also believes, as was the custom during the Civil War due to lack of clothing, that Ritchie may have taken a jacket from a fallen Union soldier, which was why he was mistakenly identified.Harwood also presented a letter written by Marvel that showed his tendency to write “I’s” and “J’s” similarly.Also, the 14th New York Infantry, which was the group Richie was associated with and is included on the grave marker, disbanded more than two years earlier in 1863.Despite these facts, Calkins said it was still possible for Ritchie to be interred at Appomattox Courthouse. He also noted that due to the inadequate records, if a J. Richie wasn’t in the grave, it might not be Ivey Ritchie either.After a 90-minute lunch break, each side had 30 minutes to provide rebuttals.Once each side had finished, the three judges — A. Wilson Greene, president of Pamplin Historical and The National Museum of the Civil War; John Latschar, superintendent of Gettysburg National Military Park; and Patrick Schroeder, historian of Appomattox Courthouse National Historical Park — recessed to determine the outcome.“I was sitting on pins and needles,” Harwood said.After the judges returned, they each presented why they made their decision to change the headstone.“I felt the air go out of my body. Fourteen years of hard work and it’s all over and we won,” said Harwood.He also said the courthouse, which was packed with people, burst out in cheers.The change of the headstone will be included in a $2.3 million rehabilitation project at the Cemetery that will take place in 2012.“We’re planning to have a funeral ceremony at the graveside when the marker is changed, but that will be down the road,” said Harwood.In the meantime, a funeral service will be held in April at New Bethel Lutheran Church where a monument is erected in Ritchie’s honor, which is where many of Ritchie’s family members are buried.
Contact Tiffany Thompson at (704) 982-2121 ext. 24 or
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