On the morning of April 20, Banks’ troops marched on Luray… it was the first time Union soldiers entered the town.
Joseph Wheat remembered:
As they approached Luray, the Main Street was crowded, people looking up at the top of the hill at the Modesitt house, but when they actually came in the great rush began. Everybody made for their home and locked the doors. After the rush was over everything was as still as death until after the Yankees had left town. I was up in an attic looking out of the window at them crossing the Hawksbill bridge. I had a horse pistol hid in a box behind me. I caught my finger on the latch and cut it bad. I went down stairs in the front room where all was in an uproar. I could not get anyone to tie up my finger so I went across the street to Lionberger’s. Miss Sally [Sarah J. Lionberger] opening the door and fixing up my crippled finger.
Miss Fannie Buracker saw a Yankee on Charley’s horse. Jim Weaver and I had returned from the mountain and were here when the Yankees came into Luray. They – the Yankees – said there was a dead soldier over the river, and if we wanted to send an undertaker they would show us where the body was and help to get it. Johnny Waters went out after the body, and Miss Fannie Buracker gave him blankets to wrap the body in. When Mr. Waters got to the river they would not let him go over, but they took the hearse and went after the body, which was all muddy from the red clay, and stripped of everything but the underclothes. Uncle Sam Buracker got permission from Mr. Nicholas Yager to put the body in his vault until they could hear from my father and mother at Berryville.
The funeral was preached in the front room by Rev. Richard Herndon.
While it’s not now remembered when Wheat was removed from the crypt, he was later buried in the family cemetery on the edge of Luray.
The inscription is the only indication that Wheat may have been a Confederate soldier. With no record of his enlistment, it may even be that the affiliation with the Massanutten Rangers was purely an honorary one, so designated by the veterans of the unit. Still, no matter… Wheat was officially the first man killed in the war in Page County.