Modern headstones

19 July 2020

I recently tweeted about adding a new bio page for a Georgia soldier, Andrew W Poarch and, somewhat as an aside, noted that his modern headstone has some problems.

He was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, MD in October 1862 and at some point given a basic headstone, now heavily worn.

Much more recently, I’d guess in the 1980s or 90s, well-meaning persons got him a new headstone from the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Probably because of transcription errors in his original burial records, they got his name terribly wrong. Apparently the applicant didn’t dig any deeper – like into his service records, rolls, or family genealogies to verify his information. Although, to be fair, it’s much easier to do that today than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

But now the errors are literally carved in stone.

I’ve seen dozens of markers like these with errors large and small over the years of researching my soldiers, but had not thought to make a list or keep a log of them.

The day after Private Poarch’s, though, I found another such case – the stone for Louisianan Volney L. Farnham at Elmwood in Shepherdstown, WV. It has his first initial/name and his regiment wrong.

And this afternoon a third popped-up: Private William T. Curry of South Carolina. This is his modern VA marker in Dials Cemetery, Gray Court, SC. Minor things, to be sure, but his middle initial and his year of birth are probably wrong.

So taking these 3 stones as huge cosmic hints, I’m starting a visual list here, and I’ll add to it as I find more. I can’t fix them, but I can provide a virtual erratum.

Let me know if you find any more cases like these, won’t you? Or if you have any information that corrects errors I’ve made.

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Gravestone pictures via Findagrave.

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[25] additions after the break …

Another Mt. Olivet stone: This one’s for W.P. Hamby, who was mortally wounded on South Mountain and died in Frederick. He was probably a Sergeant, and, more certainly, in Company C of the 22nd South Carolina Infantry rather then a Private in K of the 27th.

Mt. Olivet again. The man buried here was Solomon Turbeville, Jr., about 18 years old when he was mortally wounded at Sharpsburg. His new stone missed his first name and added a letter to his last name.

Another resident of Confederate Row at Mt. Olivet: here’s the final resting place of Private Benjamin D. Anderson, mortally wounded at Turner’s Gap on South Mountain. He was probably not a Lieutenant, didn’t spell his first name Benjamen, and his middle initial was not J.

Also at Mt. Olivet. This stone is for 20 year old Louisianan Private Amos K. Anselm. He was wounded by a gunshot at Sharpsburg and died two months later in a Frederick hospital of the wound and gangrene. The stone has his last name twisted up a little.

I’m not sure who this next man was, but I’m fairly certain he didn’t die on 12 October 1862.

There were at least 7 Reeves/Reaves in the 27th Georgia, but none listed as Robert. The only one of the 7 not accounted for was Patrick – listed only as killed in battle – so he could be our man. Or not. Our Reeves could have been in another unit, but I’ve had no luck finding him. I have a page for him as Robert until I can do better. Here’s his new headstone at Mt. Olivet:

The Frederick hospital records (which have him as Robert) say he died of gangrene infection from his wound on 21 May 1863. If you look closely, that looks like the date on his original, or at least much older stone, which is immediately in front of his new one. It seems a shame not to have used that as a reference or at least a hint.

This next one’s a little fuzzier, because I don’t have a strong ID, but I think he’s F.M. McKown of the 15th South Carolina. This is his stone on Confederate Row in Mt. Olivet, Frederick, MD.

I say fuzzy because I only have his name from the State Roll and the CSR Index.  McCowan comes from his Federal hospital records. I do know that McKowns were common in the Union District before the war which is why I’m agreeing with the Roll/CSRs, I just don’t know which McKown he was.

Buried under this Mt. Olivet stone is John Francis Boles, a Private in Company K, 48th North Carolina Infantry. He took a gunshot to the chest at Sharpsburg and died in a Federal hospital in Frederick.

What are the problems with his modern stone? His first name and middle initial have been reversed and his regiment is not identified. Sad, again, because both of those things are correct on his older stone just in front.  Jno. = John, in case you’re not familiar with that abbreviation.

This Mt. Olivet marker is for Richard M. Brown of the 2nd South Carolina Cavalry. He was probably 2nd Corporal of Company C when he was mortally wounded in a skirmish in Frederick on 14 September. He died in a Federal hospital on 7 November. This stone has him as a Private in Company B of the 2nd SC Infantry.

His old stone is slightly off on his first initial and death date, but got his regiment right:

Here’s a different kind of problem, though it’s in Mt. Olivet in Frederick, again.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Crispen Watkins was commanding the 22nd South Carolina Infantry when he was mortally wounded in the head at Turner’s Gap on South Mountain. He died in Frederick on 26 September. A Confederate officer, obviously.

His newer government stone, however, is in the Federal or Union style. You’ll notice how it differs from all the other Confederate stones above. Puzzling.

Next to Colonel Watkins’ stone is this one, somewhat famous for the unusual name of Raisin Pitts carved on it. It probably marks the burial place of Lieutenant Drayton Pitts of Company F of the 6th Alabama. I guess if you slur Drayton it might sound like raisin. Or maybe it was an obscure nickname?

In addition to incorrect name, rank, and Company, this stone has the Union-style round-top shape (although without the shield), not like the typical Confederate pointed ones.

Here’s the Mt. Olivet marker for Private Joseph Jernigan of Company K, First (Hagood’s) South Carolina Infantry. Not Company F of the 20th Infantry, which was in Charleston, SC until the Spring of 1864.

Mt. Olivet again. This stone has Private George Knupp in Company B of the 7th Virginia Infantry. He was actually in Company G, 7th Virginia Cavalry. He was mortally wounded and captured at Poolesville on 8 September and died in Frederick. His death records and the older stone have only 7th Virginia Regiment, not specifying his Company nor cavalry vs. infantry.

This Mt. Olivet headstone has a minor error. The man buried under it was William H. McLeod (not McLead) who was mortally wounded at Sharpsburg.

This modern marker is for A.F. Denney, 13th Georgia Infantry. His first name might be Allen, but I don’t have a reliable source for that. He was mortally wounded at Sharpsburg, died in a US hospital in Frederick, and was buried at Mt. Olivet. His stone’s not far wrong.

This next headstone is for Captain Robert Boyce. He commanded the Macbeth Artillery at Sharpsburg but died of chronic dysentery 7 months later in Wilmington, NC. He’s in his family graveyard in Laurens, SC, and he must be spinning.

The man who followed him in command of the battery after April 1863 was Berry Argivis Jeter, until then Boyce’s First Lieutenant. Captain Boyce was never in Jeter’s Company … it was the other way around. And it’s not Mac Beths, it’s Macbeth.

Here’s the stone in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Lebanon, TN for Samuel G. Shepard, formerly Lieutenant Colonel of the 7th Tennessee Infantry and a Sharpsburg veteran. It illustrates something I see all the time: many people do not understand military unit structure and just accept what they find at large on the internet. That’s not really a problem … until they order a gravestone.

Shepard was not in “Company S” of the regiment.  There was no such Company. A number of online databases and genealogy sites use “Company S” to identify field and staff officers (hence the “S”) of a regiment – those who were not in a line Company. So we get this:

There’s only a minor error on the stone for William James Quesenbury in Bethel Cemetery in Springdale, Kansas. He was in Company G, not I, of the 7th Tennessee Infantry.

Just a quibble on this stone for James W White in Vernon Cemetery, Vernon, Alabama. He was Captain of Company H, not D of the 26th Alabama Infantry.

A small error on this next one at Mt. Olivet in Frederick, MD, I know. But an easily avoidable error. It’s for William C. Hill of the 26th Alabama Infantry, mortally wounded on South Mountain on 14 September. He died in Frederick on 5 October 1862. His original stone has that date, so why doesn’t the new one?

This government memorial has a different kind of problem altogether, hopefully rare. It’s for Henry Taylor McKay [via Findagrave]. I don’t believe Henry had the service described on the marker. Or any Civil War service, as far as I can tell. This is no slam on him, by the way, he was only 11 years old when the war began.

There’s more about this in another blog post, but the upshot is that someone probably found “H.T. McKay” listed among the men of the 26th Alabama Infantry and assumed it was this man. It wasn’t. It was actually Harley Tuttle McKay, and he’s buried in Texas.

This stone was put up in the Spotsylvania (VA) Confederate Cemetery for Captain William Thomas Bilbro of the 3rd Alabama Infantry. He never served in a North Carolina unit, nor did any other Bilbro as far as I can tell. I don’t know when this marker was placed or by whom.

Here’s another marker with a confused military unit. It’s for Captain Watkins Phelan in Oakwood Cemetery in Montgomery, AL. Phelan served the entire War – April 1861 to April 1865, when he was killed at Petersburg, VA – in the 3rd Alabama Infantry. I don’t know where the Alabama Home Guard(s) designation came from.

Back to Mt. Olivet in Frederick for this next one. It’s for Private William Segrist (or Segrest) of Company G, 9th Alabama Infantry who was mortally wounded at Sharpsburg and died in Frederick. The name on his stone is probably due to poor Federal burial data based on the Frederick hospital records, which have him as William S. Legrest. I wonder if handwritten loopy-script S and L look enough alike to have caused the error.

It could have been worse, I guess – he was originally buried under a wooden headboard that had him in Company B of the 3rd South Carolina Infantry. That carried forward onto his first stone at Mt. Olivet. This newer marker got the regiment right.

There are a couple of minor errors on this Mt. Olivet stone. It’s for Joseph L. Davis, Company C, 3rd Alabama Infantry. He was mortally wounded on South Mountain and died in a Frederick hospital.

Also at Mt. Olivet is this one, for a man who never existed. His actual name was William D. Scarborough. And he got a new gravestone at Mt. Olivet with his real name, too.

There’s more about Scarborough/Corfre in a blog post elsewhere on behind AotW.

5 Responses to “Modern headstones”

  1. Timothy Davis says:

    My first cousin thrice removed James Lafayette Davis is buried at Hope Cemetery, Worcester Massachusetts under a stone that commemorates James H Davis who was killed at Antietam. Both served in the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company E. James Lafayette Davis died in 1875. The stone was placed later by well-meaning but ill-informed persons. James H Davis does not have a stone at or near Antietam, so likely rests as an Unknown. I solicit guidance in rectifying the situation.

  2. Timothy Davis says:

    P. S. After so many sad stories, Raisin Pitts caught me in the flanks… cracked me up… because I’d heard it before. Try this for a laugh: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDzX3XkuTLs

  3. Brian says:

    Thanks for coming by, Timothy.

    I have no expertise on this, but it looks like he VA might have a process for errors on their stones, according to their website

    If a historic marker has inaccurate information, which can be verified with documents like death certificates or discharge papers, we will correct the error. Then we’ll replace the marker “in kind,” which means the marker will have the same type, style, and inscriptions used when the Veteran was buried …”

    “For information about replacing a Veteran’s headstone or marker, call us at 800-697-6947. We’re here Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. ET. Please be sure to have the Veteran’s name, Social Security or service number, and the date of the Veteran’s death.

    I have reservations myself, though. The fault is not the VA’s. Should taxpayers be responsible for the well meaning but misinformed person who ordered the wrong stone? On the other hand – the stone is wrong …

    Good hunting!

  4. Timothy Davis says:

    OK. Thank you- That’s very good news. I’ll follow this path and see how it turns out. I’ll keep you posted. Cousin James L. Davis deserves his own marker with correct dates. James H. Davis’ marker is correctly marked, just misplaced. I will suggest it be moved to join a group of nearby Civil War veterans’ markers as a cenotaph.
    BTW: What happens if unburied soldier’s remains are discovered in or around Antietam today? Has this occurred in the last century? In the time since DNA tracing has become possible?

  5. Brian says:

    Yes. Remains have been discovered on the battlefield on several occasions. I don’t remember if anyone attempted DNA matches. I do remember evidence like NY State buttons being used as forensic evidence :)

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