Complete Body of Civil War Soldier Unearthed at Construction Site

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Civil War-era Soldier’s Entire Body Recovered at Construction Site
By Mindy Tate
5/21/2009
Williamson Herald (TN)
http://www.williamsonherald.com/home?id=64505
The entire body of a Civil War-era soldier discovered last week by a construction worker digging on a Columbia Avenue construction site has been recovered, according to local sources.

“They found the entire body,” said Sam Gant, commander of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War Fort Donelson Camp # 62, headquartered in Franklin.

The discovery was made on Thursday, May 14, by a worker diggin g a trench on the former Through the Green site on Columbia Avenue near Southeast Parkway. The land has been sold for commercial, office and residential development.

“The worker was digging a hole when he saw what he thought was human remains,” Deputy Chief David Rahinsky said that day. “Fortunately, he had the sense to stop digging and call us.”

Gant has been an interested observer as work progressed.

“Among the items initially recovered from this grave were pieces of skull, a jawbone with teeth missing, a single tooth, an arm bone, numerous other bone fragments, five buttons and a Minie ball,” Gant said. “This blunted Minie ball was presumably the one that took the young man’s life. Later excavation uncovered the rest of the skeleton. This body of a tall man, clad in a long military coat, evidently had been buried in a wooden coffin.”

Police called Carnton Plantation Thursday and asked for officials from there to come to the site. Eric Jacobson, historian at Carnton Plantation and a Civil War expert, came quickly, along with Lotz House owner J.T. Thompson and David Fraley of The Carter House.

Franklin officials immediately place a stop work order on a two-acre portion of the site, which has since been lifted, Gant said.

Jacobson said Wednesday during further excavation, more bones were found, as well as nails, apparent evidence of a makeshift coffin.

“I think everything points to him being a Union soldier,”=2 0Jacobson said. “We will probably never know, but will always be guesswork.”

Jacobson believes the soldier did not die during the Nov. 30, 1864, Battle of Franklin, but a few weeks later when Union soldiers were chasing retreating Confederate forces from Nashville and skirmished with them in the area.

“They concluded that in all likelihood this soldier was killed on Dec. 17, 1864, as the Union soldiers battled with the rear guard of Hood’s army in their retreat from the Battle of Nashville,” Gant wrote to SUVCW members, citing Jacobson and other historians. “In this area, a few hundred yards north of Winstead Hill, began a skirmish that carried on down Columbia Pike to the West Harpeth toward Spring Hill.”

“It just gives you chills really,” said Margie Thessin, interim director at Carnton, which saw use as a hospital following the Battle of Franklin, fought on Nov. 30, 1864. “It really brings the battle home.”

While working to further identify the soldier, Gant and others are also working to see if the remains can be reinterred in a local historic cemetery, such as Rest Haven Cemetery on Fourth Avenue. 

The property owner has released any claim to the remains, Gant said, who is now working with Third Ward Alderman Mike Skinner and the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to move quickly to remove any roadblocks to reinterment once the bones are released by Franklin Police and then the state.

“The bones will then be returned to the state archeologist who will turn them over to a forensic anthropologist for evaluation before their being reinterred,” Gant said. “The state archeologist stated that the preferred option for reinterring the soldier is to return the contents of his grave to the original burial site which means that his grave would be a 2’x 6’ plot in the commercial section of a mixed-use development.  

“A burial site in a cemetery would be a much preferred location to give proper honor to the soldier lost in battle so far from home,” Gant said. “The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, Fort Donelson Camp # 62 wishes for the soldier’s remains to be re-interred in Rest Haven Cemetery in Franklin.”

While some might think the soldier might be overwhelmed by Confederates, Gant said this cemetery also contains the remains of Union officers, Brig. Gen. James Brownlow and Lt. Col. George Grummond.

For Jacobson, the idea of gathering DNA and further researching the soldier’s identity is intriguing.

“We are going to take DNA,” Jacobson said Wednesday. “I have some ideas of the units and who it could be and we are going to see if any we can find any descendants. It’s a long shot.”
Our thanks to Joe Bilby and the CW News for this interesting article.
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Martha M. Boltz

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