In what the Rev. James B. Watson called a “solemn duty.” Five Union Army soldiers killed on March 7, 1865, were recognized with white marble, federally-issued tombstones on graves where they were buried in the Zion Community. They were killed there by Confederates during the war.
Confederate Army reenactors dressed in both Confederate and Union uniforms, presented the unveiling ceremony with rifle and cannon salutes and stood watch as representatives of Union Army Sons of Veterans honored the soldiers with an American flag and a white rose at each tombstone.
Relatives of Pvt. Henry L. Sennett, 24, were present to recognize their ancestor, who, along with the four other Union soldiers, had been all lost for 145 years.
They included Thomas Shugars of Salix, Penn.; his son, Jim Shugars; and grandson, Ian Shugars.
Formally recognizing the other Union soldiers were Charles Augur of Lexington of the Gibbon Burke Sons of Union Veterans; and Dennis St. Andrew of Cary, senior vice commander, Department of N.C., Sons of Union Veterans.
Sennett was a member of the 9th Pennsylvania Cavalry along with Pvt. Calvin Simpson, 24; and Pvt. David Woods, 27; Cpl. Reed Alcorn, 21, and Pvt. Mathew Ross, 20, both of the 8th Indiana Cavalry. They were on a foraging mission as part of the Union Army in Richmond County.
The lost are found
Two years ago, the graves - marked only with large rocks - came to the attention of the Richmond County Historical Society through Paul Scholl, a local contractor, who lives near the site. Irving Long, a retired journalist living in Richmond County, included the information in his book entitled, Sherman In The Sandhills.
When he later mentioned the graves at a society meeting, Vietnam veteran Bo Frye expressed the opinion the graves needed recognition. Long followed up with the suggestion, and in January proposed that the society provide markers.
“It really came down to they were serving their country, and everybody deserves to have a headstone,” Long told Joseph Cress of the Sentinel Reporter of Carlisle, Pa., when seeking information on Union soldiers from that area.
“That feeling seems to trump any lingering bitterness that was left in the wake of Sherman’s march,“ Long said.
For the past 145 years, descendants of Confederate veterans stood watch over five large rocks marking the graves of Union soldiers buried on the farm.
First it was the Lassiter family, descended from Daniel T. Lassiter. When he returned home as a Confederate Army veteran to find five graves dug a month or so earlier on his farm, he learned that the five Union soldiers were buried after being ambushed by what were believed to be members of the local Confederate Home Guard.
They were believed to have been buried either by an African-American family living nearby or Union soldiers who came upon the skirmish scene. The family told Lassiter about the skirmish and graves.
But, the identities of the Union soldiers were not known until this year. They were among at least 35 casualties the Union Army suffered in Richmond County.
In giving the background of the events leading up to the ceremony Saturday, James A. Clifton said from words passed down through families, “It is believed that Lassiter expressed sympathy for the death of the men. Although he had fought against their comrades, he had seen bravery on both sides and felt is should not be forgotten. The pledge was made to treat the grave site with reverence.”
That story - and land - was passed from Daniel Lassiter to his son, John Lassiter; and then to his grandson, Mason Lassiter. In 1974 Mason sold the land where the graves are located to Roy Moss, who continued the tradition of revering the site. Moss, 81, is a U.S. Navy veteran. His family lived in Richmond County during the Civil War, and his great-grandfather was a soldier in the Confederate Army.
Moss wanted to assist the project to protect the graves in perpetuity under N.C. law.
Ed Snyder of Cordova in Richmond County is a reenactor with the 26th S.C. Volunteers, Sons of Mars, Sons of Confederate Veterans. As a member of the executive board of the Richmond County Historical Society, he took on the task of identifying the Union soldiers and marking their graves, a task with which he has prior experience as a reenactor.
“I think all who serve this country in time of war should have a marked grave,” Snyder said. His great-grandfather was a captain in the Richmond County Confederate Home Guard. “I knew somewhere these Union soldiers had a family that might want to find them.” He said he believes that even though he is “a die-hard Confederate (son of) and Southerner” and still believes in the Confederate cause.
He personally knows the importance of such recognition. “My grandmother looked all her life for her grandfather, Pvt. David Deaton of the 14th N.C., and did not find him. I did find his resting place about 10 years ago in Winchester, Va.”
“The ceremony here means closure for an unfinished story,“ Snyder said. “I hope all of this work will tell the families and the people of the North that we do care, and hopefully they will do to same when they find Confederate soldiers’ graves.”
Sennett’s brother, Henry Sennett, came to Richmond County some 30 years after the Civil War searching for his brother’s grave, unsuccessfully.
It isn’t often that unmarked Union soldiers’ graves are found, Snyder said. His next project is to research two such graves in Wagram, in nearby Scotland County. “It means a lot to me as a reenactor,” he said.
Bruce D. Frail of Coventry, R.I., is a researcher and co-founder of American Civil War Ancestor, Inc. He provided the identities of the soldiers and was sent by the historical society to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., for confirmation and information on each soldier. He was present Saturday.
“That information and persistence, which included help from Rep. Larry Kissell (D-NC8), finally persuaded the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue the markers,” Clifton said in his remarks.
The event was sponsored, organized and produced by the Richmond County Historical Society.