Saturday, November 21, 2015

Singleton tells of visiting the local grave of an unknown Confederate soldier

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Grave of the wandering Rebel soldier is peaceful” was originally published in the Nov. 30, 1995 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

On Tuesday, the 21st of November, I wandered again to the north end of the county, looking around as I have done many times. Since I was in the area, I decided to go by and pay a visit to the grave of the unknown Confederate soldier who is buried near where I was resting.

There were no hunters in the area that I had seen thus far. So I decided that this would be a good time to stop there, if only for a few moments.

I parked my trail bike off the little-used trail and walked over to the grave site. The fallen leaves from the trees around had formed a golden carpet over the final resting place of this unknown soldier. The faded tomb leaned at a drunken angle as it had when I was here on my last visit a year ago.

Not having anything to work with, I used the heel of my shoe to pack dirt around it and try once again to straighten up the faded marker. As I packed the rich soil against the leaning marker, I was satisfied that the gravestone looked a little better. As I worked to straighten the marker, the thought rushed through my mind as to the circumstances of the one who slept here in this lonely grave, whose location is known only to a few.

What was his name?

What was the story behind this fallen Rebel? What was his name? There was no name on the tomb; only the words “Confederate Soldier.” And, in the middle of the tomb, was the word, “Unknown.” Standing there beside the faded marker, I wondered if this soldier could have been on his way home from the war, perhaps wounded or sick, when death had stalked and overtaken him here on this lonely road. Perhaps, someone had found his body and buried him, later to return and place a marker here at his final resting place.

As I stood there, I remembered the many hours that I had studied and researched this bloody war and its terrible aftermath. How many of those wounded and hungry soldiers had left the scene of battle, trying to reach their homes and loved ones before death overtook them? As I remembered, there were many who fell by the wayside, never to reach their destinations. Many, like the one who lay before me, were to never see home again.

I thought of my maternal great-grandfather who, though wounded severely during the bitter fighting near Lookout Mountain, Tenn., made his way home in an agonizing journey that took almost three months. I remembered the story that he was taken prisoner by the Union Army, but due to the seriousness of the wound in his hip, was told to go home. Maybe this solider who slept here had suffered similar circumstances and was trying to reach home and family before the ghost rider of death overtook him.

Why did he join?

I wondered, too, what his reason was for joining the Confederacy. Did he have visions of gallantry and glory as he left his home to join the cause? Or was he seeking a decent meal and a place to sleep? Did he leave behind a wife and perhaps children, never to see them again? Could this be, by some strange coincidence, the only son of Nancy Haines, who was trying to make his way those final few miles to his home on the high hill by the river, only to die this short distance from his destination and be buried by a stranger who didn’t know his name? Did “Crazy Nancy” continue to wander the roads and pathways in search of her lost husband and only son when perhaps he slept only a few miles from where she took her nightly walks and later vanished from this life?

The slight ripple of the tree branches reminded me that the silence found here and around the unknown grave would give no story as to who this was. The stillness settled down like a large blanket and cover the one who now rested in the soil below.

The tall pines seemed angered at my thoughts of trying to identify the lone, sleeping solider that they had protected and watched over for these hundred or so years. As I looked up into the branches of the tall pines, I felt that I was the intruder. What business did I have here, searching for answers and disturbing the endless sleep of this gallant warrior?

Protective branches

The wind had risen; the protective branches tossed to and fro as though telling me that this lonely grave was theirs and in their safekeeping.

Looking to the skies, an apology was whispered upward. It seemed that the angry winds had begun to grow quiet and the stillness settled across the hillside once again. The words of an almost-forgotten poem rushed forth in my mind, as if it was requested by some unseen force that lingered nearby.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone

In deathless son shall tell,
When many a vanquished year hath flown,
The story of how you fell.

Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter’s blight,
Nor times remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of holy light,
That gilds your glorious tomb.

The golden leaves from a nearby sweetgum tree fluttered in the evening winds as they gradually settled in place on and around the grave of the sleeping Rebel soldier. Searching around, I found a few wild goldenrod that I placed beside the faded and weathered marker. Perhaps the wild, beautiful goldenrod had been his favorite flower, as they were mine. As I stood there beside the marker, I was glad that I had come this way.

Time to depart

The shadows were lengthening as the time approached for me to depart from the graveside of this unknown Confederate soldier. As I turned to leave, I looked toward the heavens and saw the stillness of the protective branches of the tall pine trees. I knew that all was well, and peace abounded here within these surroundings. I knew, too, that I was welcome to return, and I vowed that I would at my first opportunity.

Looking again into the branches above me, this sleeping stranger, whoever he might be, was in good hands and in safekeeping here in the quietness of this lonely, rocky hillside.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County and served as the administrator of the Monrsoeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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