Assumptions (maybe?… and hopefully not mine) and Civil War “memory”

Posted on March 20, 2008 by


Thanks to a recent comment, I’ve been made aware of an error. Well, at least it appears to be an error. There are two headstones in the Winchester National Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia that are mix-match in nature when it comes to data and design. Really, this is no great surprise. As I mentioned in an earlier post, when I first saw the headstone of a cousin buried at the cemetery at Andersonville National Historic Site, in Andersonville, Georgia I realized that his stone listed the wrong name and state from which he hailed. Then too, at Staunton National Cemetery in Staunton, Virginia, I found a headstone that bore the name of a soldier who died in the Luray Valley in October 1864 (Rather rare when considering graves in the National Cemeteries in the Valley but I have some rather specific details about how he died). Funny thing is, he has another headstone at Grafton National Cemetery in Grafton, West Virginia. I feel pretty sure that they didn’t select different parts of his body and send the two halves to the two different cemeteries, but I rather believe this to be an administrative error. FYI, for those with inquiring minds, there is a pretty good history of Veterans Administration headstones available on the Web.

A photo of Ashcraft's headstone from John Berry's Graveyard's and Gravestones website... I site that I highly recommendEzekiel Ashcraft’s stone identifies him as a member of Co. G, 12th West Virginia Infantry. That’s all fine and dandy, except the next line really throws thing off as it identifies the unit as in the service of the “CSA.” I really doubt that any self-respecting Confederate would admit to an affiliation, in any form or fashion, with the “break-off state.” Anyway, other “Confederate identifiers” on Ashcraft’s headstone include the distinctive pointed feature at the top of the stone and the “Confederate Cross of Honor” (with a wreath inside the maltese-type cross). Incidentally, since the 12th West Virginia was a Union unit, the distinctive recessed Union shield is absent from the headstone. Also, note that this headstone has “In Memory Of” engraved on the top, just under the Confederate Cross of Honor, meaning, this soldier isn’t really buried here. Ohhhhh, I hope this isn’t another case of a descendant thinking he knows better than his own ancestor as in the case of my posting about Stephen S. Shook.

Photo of Lt. Sims' headstone, courtesy of Berry's Gravestones and Graveyards websiteThen, we have the stone of J.V. Sims. First Lieutenant John V. Sims of the 122nd New York Infantry, according to the website created in honor of the 122nd NY Infantry, was a member of Co. H, having served as a 1st lieutenant with the company from 8 July 1864 through until his death at Third Winchester on 19 September 1864. As with Ashcraft’s stone, Sims’ stone has some of the same features that would falsely identify him as a Confederate soldier, but, in contrast with Ashcraft’s stone, that “122nd NY Inf., CSA” stands out like a sore thumb.

So, is this a simple matter of “let’s just get replacement stones that accurately reflect the nature of the service of these men?” Ummmm, well, it might be a bit more complicated than that. You see, I have it on good authority that an official tied to the cemetery has been telling people that these men were Confederate spies. Does this mean that they were spies in the Union army, spying for the Confederacy or does this mean they had a part-time hitch spying on Confederates? I’m not sure just yet. I suppose either could be possible, but I’d like to know the source of information that makes this official think that these men served as spies (as they say, “inquiring minds want to know”). I may be wrong (and I’ll admit it if I am), but personally, I have a hunch that the story about being spies is an assumption based on the way that somebody interpreted meaning into incorrectly inscribed headstones. If this is the case, then we have yet another take on the meaning of Civil War “memory.”

I’ll keep you posted as more details come to my attention.