Last Thursday afternoon I rode out to the Old Evergreen Cemetery to take a photo of Dr. Charles T. Taliaferro’s grave for a historian in Oregon researching the 4th Alabama Infantry, a Confederate infantry regiment that included the famed “Conecuh Guards.” Taliaferro was a surgeon for the 4th Alabama, and went on to become Mayor of Evergreen and Conecuh County’s probate judge in the late 1800s.
While there, I explored the cemetery for a few minutes and happened upon the grave of one of Conecuh County’s toughest and perhaps most unusual Confederate veterans, Mitchell Burford Salter. Salter’s grave consists of a simple headstone that gives only his full name, date of birth and date of death. To look at his grave, you’d never know he served in the military although the slab over his grave carries the words “Faithful Unto Death,” a motto seen on many Confederate monuments.
Salter was born near Evergreen on May 20, 1839 and on April 20, 1861, at the age of 21, he enlisted as a private in the Conecuh Guards, which later officially became known as Co. E of the 4th Alabama Infantry Regiment. Two years later, in July 1863, the Conecuh Guards found themselves at the Battle of Gettysburg, which lasted three days. Salter was shot in the arm on July 2, the second day of the battle, and was captured the following day.
A serious gunshot wound during the war was often a death sentence, however, Salter lived to the ripe, old age of 81. He most likely owed his long life to Union surgeon Edward DeWelden Brenneman of Lancaster, Pa., who was about three months younger than Salter, but held a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Keep in mind that Salter and Brenneman were on opposite sides of the war, but that didn’t prevent Brenneman from saving Salter’s life by amputating Salter’s wounded arm. At this point, things took a turn for the unusual.
|Salter's arm bone in Washington, D.C. museum.|
After amputating Salter’s arm, Brenneman sent the damaged humerus bone (the long bone that runs from the shoulder to the elbow) from Salter’s arm to the Army Medical Museum (now called the National Museum of Health and Medicine) in Washington, D.C., where Salter’s arm bone is currently on display. As it turns out, Salter’s arm was among over 4,000 amputations from similar injuries that were forwarded to the museum during the Civil War. Officials at the museum have told me that Union physicians often performed surgery on Confederates, but the majority of the specimens in the museum are from Union soldiers, which makes Salter’s arm bone somewhat unusual.
|Edward DeWelden Brenneman|
After the Civil War, Brenneman got married and practiced medicine in Washington, but unfortunately, he didn’t live much longer, passing away at the age of 31 on Oct. 11, 1870. You can visit his grave today in Washington, D.C.’s Oak Hill Cemetery.
Salter on the other hand returned to Conecuh County where he ironically went to work for the U.S. government gathering taxes. Salter died on Nov. 8 1920 and is buried in Old Evergreen Cemetery, where you’ll find his grave today. He’s buried beside his wife of many years, Eugenia A. Salter, who passed away on Nov. 2, 1942 at the age of 81.
In the end, the next time you find yourself in the Old Evergreen Cemetery, make your way down toward the old ginkgo tree and cast your eyes to the south. There you’ll find a Salter family plot bordered with blocks and within that space you’ll find the final resting place of Mitchell Burford Salter. Perhaps someday he and his arm will be reunited beneath the soil of Evergreen, but until that day, this one-armed Confederate veteran remains “Faithful Unto Death.”