Unknown Soldiers Receive Memorial 150 Years After Death

America pauses today to remember its veterans. Throughout our country’s history brave men and women have given their lives, both at home and abroad, as the ultimate sacrifice in support of our Constitution and to defend freedom and liberty. But not all of our fallen heroes have had the honor of a final resting place marked by a monument acknowledging their sacrifice. In Clarke County, Virginia one woman’s efforts has led a local Methodist congregation to right such a wrong waiting for resolution for nearly 150 years.

The story begins on a cold winter morning on February 19th, 1865 as a Union detachment is making its way north near Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church in eastern Clarke County. Not far from the small church the Union force is ambushed by a Confederate force led by Major Adolphus “Dolly” Richards.

Although the Federal force outnumbered the Confederates, the combination of surprise and close range fighting negated the Yankee’s numerical advantage. The nearly two hundred-strong Federal force was quickly scattered. Many, but not all, of the troops made their way to the Shenandoah River and safety. Sixty three men were captured. Thirteen Yankees were killed.

(l-r) Steve Jennings, Reba LaFollette, Troy LaFollette, Cody Furtner and Pastor Karen Adams - Photo Edward Leonard

Nearby Mt. Carmel church was used as a shelter for the Yankee troops wounded in the fight. It is not known whether any or all of the thirteen men died immediately in battle or whether some may have held onto life for a time only to meet their death lying in the tiny church.

What is known is that the thirteen men were hurriedly buried approximately one hundred yards west in the church’s small cemetery with only local field stones used to mark the graves.

Reba LaFollette points out the grave markers to a visitor last Sunday during a service dedicating a new monument to commemorate the fallen dead. Most of the field stone gravesite markers are no more than rocks that would easily be ignored by a passerby were they not enclosed in a larger circle of stones marking the burial site. But several bear crude dates scratched into the stone. Lafollette points out one stone with “1842” scratched into the rough surface. If the stone bears the birth year of the fallen soldier buried there, he would have been just 23 years old when he died. Another stone is marked “1847”.

Church historian Steve Jennings said that there was no official record of the wounded and dead from the fight. Jennings also said that Mt. Carmel’s proximity to nearby Ashby Gap meant that there was a lot of troop traffic nearby meaning that Confederate troops were also likely to have been buried in the church’s graveyard as well.

Reba LaFollette lives in Winchester but makes her way to Mt. Carmel United Methodist Church in Clarke County every week. LaFollette says that it has always bothered her that the graves of the fallen soldiers in the Mt. Carmel’s cemetery weren’t properly marked.

Mt Carmel Pastor Adams prays for past and present US soldiers - Photo Edward Leonard

“This has been heavy on my heart for years” LaFollette said. “All of these men died fighting for what they believed in and what they thought was right regardless of which side they were on.”

LaFollette and Mt. Carmel’s Sunday school class decided that it was time to correct the long-standing lack of proper recognition of the troops. The result of their efforts is an elegant marker mounted at the west side of the cemetery facing the fallen troops buried nearby.

Approximately 75 church members and community members gathered last Sunday morning to dedicate new monument and honor the finally-remembered heroes buried there.

“Today we remember all of those who have gone before us fighting for our country” Pastor Karen Adams said while leading the group in a graveside prayer. “They rest here with us today. Let us take a moment of silence to remember these unknown soldiers as well as the soldiers who fight today and have fought in years past.”

During the dedication ceremony Clarke County’s Honor Guard, led by Paul Sheehan, honored the fallen Civil War dead with a rifle salute and Taps played by Berryville bugler Michael Linster.

Sheehan, who served for 25 years in the Marine Corp including a year in Viet Nam in the 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, said that the Clarke County community is very supportive of its veterans.

“We provide honor guard services for veteran funerals in Clarke County and other county’s in the area” Sheehan said. “Families are always so happy to have us provide a final salute to their fallen veterans.”

Fourth grader Troy LaFollette and first grader Cody Furtner placed flags during the ceremony honoring the Federal and Confederate troops.

While watching a canon salute delivered by the North-South Association’s 5th Virginia Infantry Cody Furtner said “All of this is fun but I’m sorry that these soldiers had to die.”

The memorial service was held on a chilly, peaceful morning under beautiful clear skies with trees in full fall color. As the gathering sang Battle Hymn of the Republic it was difficult to imagine what the scene must have been like on that long past February morning. As the honor guard fired its rifle salute and the canon salute broke the silence the congregation was briefly reminded of the chaos of battle and the suffering that followed and continues today for American troops in places like Kandahar and Baghdad.

“My great grandfather was a confederate soldier and our family has a long tradition of military service” Reba LaFollette said. “I just can’t stand to think of a grave not eing marked. Everyone needs to be remembered.”

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Comments

  1. Great story, thank you for sharing and thank you to all the members of Mt. Carmel UMC for doing such a wonderful thing!