Sunday, April 20, 2008

Uknown No More

By Mike Billips

They were sick, shot up boys from Murfreesboro and Fayetteville and Jackson, too hurt to fight anymore in Johnston's doomed defense of Atlanta. When they were taken off the cattle cars in Forsyth, they were treated in crowded hospitals by men and women who were short on sleep, medicine, time and knowledge.

Sons of Confederate Veterans from Forsyth and Thomaston install new headstones at Forsyth Cemetery Saturday morning. They died, many of them, and 300 of them were laid down in the red clay of Forsyth Cemetery, ranked in 12 even rows on a plot 50 yards square. And for more than 130 years, each of their headstones bore the same name:
"Unknown Confederate Soldier"
The names of many of those lonely boys and men have been rediscovered, and new markers are replacing the anonymous marble, through the efforts of local resident Linda Hallman.
She used to read the historical marker next to the graves when she was a member of the Mary Persons High School marching band.
"We used to practice up there because the football team had the field," she said Saturday while sitting on a stone wall beside the soldiers' graves. "It always bugged me that so many men had died without anybody knowing their names."
Coincidentally, Hallman graduated from Mary Persons 100 years after the summer of 1864, when most of the soldiers died. In the 33 years since, she has kept up her interest in history and the Confederacy, joining Forsyth's Cabiness chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Confederate dead finally get proper headstones
The grave of Capt. George A. Lowe has a new headstone installed by Sons of Confederate Veterans from Forsyth and Thomaston Saturday morning.
She searched records in Atlanta and at courthouses, and met other researchers who led her to more material.. The bonanza came a few years ago, when a Virginia man who said he was "too advanced in age to do more research," sent her a list of names culled from the reports of Edward Fluellen, chief surgeon of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston's Army of Tennessee.
Hallman has now identified about 175 of the soldiers, and her friends in the Sons of Confederate Veterans are putting that knowledge to use.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides new marble or granite headstones for the graves of American soldiers, including those who fought for the Confederacy. The VA is also providing a stone for Honora Sweney, a nurse who died at the hospital and is buried next to the young men she tended.
Two SCV "camps," as local chapters are known, from Thomaston and Forsyth worked together on Saturday to replace 50 of the 1930's era, "unknown soldier" headstones that currently mark the graves. Jack Grubb, commander of Thomaston's John B. Gordon Memorial camp, said he hopes to finish the work within a couple of years, as fast as the VA will send the stones.
The camps are looking for someone to donate a flagpole to mark the soldiers' cemetery.
On Saturday, men in blue jeans and T-shirts labored like infantrymen digging trenches, slotting the 250 pound marble headstones into a newly dug, 18 inch deep ditch.
Like fresh recruits replacing shell-shocked veterans, the new stones - 50 others were put in place last year - stood in lines at rigid attention. Some are still labeled "Unknown Soldier, CSA," but most bear names, such as Pvt. Joseph D. Ridley, 6th Florida, died August 22, 1864. The exact location of each body is unknown, but the names on the new stones match those buried in the cemetery.
The remaining old slabs - stained, broken and leaning drunkenly - patiently wait for their relief.
Hallman's nieces - Corey, 8, and Christina, 10 - help tamp the clay into place as each stone was erected. Their elders said they hope the next generation will hold the same spirit of respect for their forebears.
"I hope that, in 2097, there will be people out here taking care of these boys," said Lee Murdock, commander of K Company, 53rd Georgia, the Forsyth SCV chapter. "Because they need it."
(Article transcribed from the front page and page 8A of The Macon Telegraph, Sunday Edition, May 11, 1997, Number 131.)

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