How blindly do we honor the Civil War dead?

Posted on June 29, 2011 by

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Sure, the same could be asked about those from other wars, but… I’m talkin’ Civil War here…

You go to a National Cemetery which, originally, was created specifically for Union dead… take a pick. Remember, many of the Union soldiers buried therein were relocated from several surrounding graveyards and battlefields. Shall we assume they all died gallantly, bravely, defending the Union? Shall we place flags on them all, and honor them as such? If this is your stand on this topic, perhaps you should give it a little more thought.

Union graves at Staunton National Cemetery, adorned with wreaths, as part of the Wreaths Across America program, around December 2010

I know of a few instances, in the National Cemeteries (Staunton National and Winchester National) in the Shenandoah Valley, where Union soldiers did not go out on an honorable note, and yet, every Memorial Day, and Veterans Day, flags are placed on every grave therein, as if all DID die on honorable, respectable terms. Likewise, this past year, with the Wreaths Across America program, many a wreath ordained a grave… which, perhaps, did not really merit such positive attention.

While, as I mentioned, I can think of a few instances, I’ll focus on the one that really stood out to me. In fact, it was just this past Spring, after visiting Bolivar Heights, that it dawned on me…

On one of the markers on the heights, there are mentioned two men, William Loge and Thomas Murphy. Loge (aka “Billy the Frenchman”, or “French Bill”) was hung on a gallows built on Bolivar Heights, on December 2, 1864, having been found guilty of “being a deserter… bushwhacker, murderer, and assassin.” Regarding details of Loge, one recent (1999) history of Harpers Ferry in the war states…

The order for Loge's execution

… Most of Mobley’s [John W. Mobberly] command was made up of old friends who grew up in the Harpers Ferry neighborhood. The exception was Private William “French Bill” Loge, of the 61st New York. One day Loge stepped across the Potomac to join Mobley’s gang, and he soon earned a reputation as a notorious murderer and bushwhacker. He possessed great physical strength and relished a good fight. On December 1, after several months of successful marauding, he made the mistake of appearing at Johnson’s stillhouse to witness a boxing match… French Bill had been involved in the murder of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry’s surgeon, and Sheridan had standing orders to have him shot. Merritt’s raid through Loudoun County had sent Mobley’s men into hiding, but a few of the gang resurfaced to see the fight.

It so happened that Corporal Samuel E. Tritapoe, of Atwell’s company of Independent Loudoun Rangers, was also present at the boxing match, recognized Loge, and hauled him in, sealing “French Bill’s” fate.

Casualties of War marker, Bolivar Heights

Murphy’s story was quite a bit less dramatic. Having been found guilty of desertion, was put to death by a firing squad on Bolivar Heights, on March 3, 1865.

Point is, both men were laid in graves on Bolivar Heights, the site of a cemetery that grew through the course of the war. In the latter 1860s, after the war had ended, these bodies were most likely, like so many others from that site, relocated to Winchester National Cemetery, just down the road in Virginia. Now, I’ve looked up the names of Loge and Murphy, both, in the list of names for those buried in Winchester National Cemetery, but neither is listed as buried there… at least, they aren’t among those who are identified with a name on a stone. So, then, are these two men among the unknown buried there… and do they, at least twice a year… if not three times… get honored with a flag and a wreath? Who really lies in those graves of the unknown, and do you even really know the story of all those who are among the known?

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