- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

All Margaret Gordon wanted was to find out where her Civil War ancestors were buried.

She wanted to see the graves and continue to work on the family genealogy she had begun in 2003. When there appeared to be no burial information on one of her great-great-great grandfather’s brothers, John Peyton Byrne, she decided to find out why.

That trek would lead from her Minnesota home to California, where the urn containing the remains of Cpl. John Peyton Byrne of the 21st Missouri Infantry had been waiting since 1920.

According to military records, Byrne’s last quarterly pension check had been marked “return to sender” because of the recipient’s death. When Miss Gordon received a copy of the death certificate, she learned that he had died in Sacramento, Calif., and got the name of the cemetery in charge of the remains.

Miss Gordon contacted the East Lawn Cemetery and was surprised to learn that her relative’s remains were in an urn sitting on a shelf.

To a woman who is a medical social worker, dealing with the feelings of family members at a large medical facility, it seemed obvious that she should find a way to have her own extended-family member buried properly.

As she said, It “just was not right that he should be sitting on a shelf somewhere, with nobody around who cared.”

Going home

Miss Gordon contacted East Lawn Cemetery officials in Sacramento and signed the necessary papers. Byrne’s urn was shipped to her home. Her next question was what to do with the burnished bronze urn because she felt Byrne must receive a proper burial.

This meant he must go home to Memphis, in Scotland County, Mo., 11 miles from the Iowa line. “Most of the family is buried there,” she said. “It’s where he should be.”

Eighty-five years is a long time to wait for final honors, but the remains of Cpl. John Peyton Byrne, Union soldier, finally will be laid to rest today in the little cemetery at Memphis, Mo. A large contingent of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War is expected to be present for the event, along with numerous relatives distant and close, most of the small town of 2,061, and at least 1,000 visitors.

Four for the Union

Byrne’s story goes back to the hills of Missouri and a family divided by both war and geography and by philosophical differences.

Records show that the family was last listed on Virginia census records in 1850, before moving by ox cart to Missouri, where they arrived in 1852. Several successive generations lived in the original home, which is still standing near the Iowa border on State Road 15.

Much information on the family is found in “Genealogy of the Brown Family of Prince William County, VA,” published in 1898 by professor Samuel Boardman and republished in 1930. It contains material taken from numerous letters of family members, as well as the military service of the family.

Cpl. Byrne’s father, Samuel, saw four of his sons join the Union cause: Lucian, Harrison, Joseph and John Peyton.

The records show that the 64-year old father also enrolled, in Company A, 29th Missouri Militia, on Aug. 18, 1862.

Samuel had been born in Preston County, Va. (now West Virginia) on Jan. 13, 1798, making him 64 at the time of enlistment. He and his wife, Juana Fernandez Hagans Byrne, had 11 children, all born in Preston County. He would die two years after the war’s end.

Harrison H. Byrne was 28 when he enlisted in Company A of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, Missouri State Militia, on Dec. 4, 1861, at Kahoka, Mo. mustering out as a sergeant on Jan. 21, 1865.

Joseph Squires Byrne was 17 at the beginning of the war and living with his family on a farm of 320 acres in Scotland County. He enlisted in Company D, 29th Missouri Militia, on April 30, 1864, and was discharged on Nov. 28, 1864. No further information was given.

Sixteen-year-old Pvt. Lucian E. Byrne served with Company I of the 51st Missouri Infantry, mustering out on Aug. 31, 1865. He died in 1933.

John Peyton Byrne, who will be buried in Missouri, was 22 when heenlisted in June 1861 in the 21st Missouri Infantry at Memphis, Mo., mustering out on Dec. 5, 1864, after sustaining serious injuries, including a back disability with some paralysis of one leg, and other medical problems. He was described as 5 feet 9 inches tall, with red hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion.

One goes south

A fifth son, Charles Byrne, was living in Virginia in 1859 and enlisted in the Confederate army at Greenbrier at the age of 30. He had lived in Iowa and later California, where he was injured in an altercation over a mining claim.

Returning to western Virginia to visit relatives when the war broke out, he found that most of his neighbors were Confederates, and he joined the CSA to defend his new homeland. His service with the 27th Virginia Infantry, part of the famed Stonewall Brigade, would take him to both battles of Bull Run and battles in and around the Shenandoah Valley.

Cousin John Farnsworth, in letters to other family members, relates stories told by Charles to his mother about his travails at Gettysburg, being under fire for three days and having nothing to eat but a little raw beef.

There are no archival records to substantiate all this, and the Compiled Service Records indicate that Charles Byrne resigned on Sept. 13, 1862, just four days before the Battle of Antietam and two days before Union forces surrendered at Harpers Ferry.

His reason for resigning, in an August 1862 letter found in the General Staff Officers’ files, indicates that he was with the commissary of the 27th Virginia, but he stated there were “too many officers and not enough enlisted men.” In a subsequent letter to the Confederate War Department in March 1863, he asked permission to be allowed to raise a cavalry company in western Virginia, near Wheeling and behind enemy lines.

“I have recently been there,” he wrote to Confederate Secretary of War James A. Seddon, “and am satisfied that I can raise men without interfering with any other person to whom authority has been granted for a like purpose. I am exempt from military service,” he continued, “by reason of disability of one of my arms, but have served as a commissary.

“I am a native of North Western Virginia,” he added, which seemed to evidence his Confederate allegiance. A notation further up the line recommends granting the request, but no additional information has been found.

A military specialist at the National Archives researched all military records pertaining to Charles Byrne and could find no proof that a unit was raised, or that it (and he) participated at Gettysburg, despite numerous letters and statements to that effect.

Charles Byrne moved to Arkansas after the war, raising beef cattle until his death in 1902. His burial location remains unknown.

John Byrne’s injuries

John Farnsworth, the siblings’ cousin, also wroteabout John Peyton Byrne, the soldier who will be buried today. “He was in the Battle of Pittsburgh Landing, at Shiloh and had the little finger of his left hand shot off at the knuckle while on a steamboat on the Mississippi.”

Apparently, Byrne suffered more severe back and shoulder injuries later in the war, resulting in a degree of paralysis, and was hospitalized at Benton Barracks, St. Louis, where he remained on a detached-service status until his enlistment expired in December 1864.

During the time of his hospitalization, he met and married a young lady from Maryland named Mary Wharton. The couple had no children, but they adopted a baby boy found in a basket on a train near Redding in Shasta County, Calif., whom they named John Bruce Byrne. The aging veteran lived with his son for some time after his wife’s death in 1906.

His death certificate indicates that he died of “encephalitis and exhaustion” on Jan. 20, 1920. The presence of encephalitis might explain his cremation the next day.

John Peyton Byrne’s first battle appears to have been in Athens, Mo., where his brother Harrison was wounded. Today, John and Harrison will lie side by side once again.

When Miss Gordon learned she could obtain John’s urn for burial, she promptly ordered a Department of Veterans Affairs military grave marker for him and one for Harrison and Lucian as well. The very old markers for their father and Harrison had settled through the years and are being reset.

The 21st Missouri Infantry, organized in February 1862, saw much action, including battles at Vicksburg, Shiloh, Iuka, Corinth, Islands No. 70 and 71 in the Mississippi River (where Byrne was injured on the steamer William Wallace), as well as numerous fights and skirmishes in Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.

The coffin

Once word of the coming burial of a Union veteran began to leak out, numerous groups sprang into action. Local and national DUVCW and SUVCW participants eagerly agreed to help plan and manage the event, and representatives of the United Daughters of the Confederacy asked to be included as well because John’s brother was a Confederate soldier.

Descendants of the men in the 21st Missouri will be at the funeral and burial, serving as pallbearers and an honor guard. Miss Gordon planned to drive from Minnesota, carefully bearing the urn with the remains of the ancestor she has grown to know and love. The local newspaper, the Memphis Democrat, planned to publish 10,000 copies of a special edition to memorialize the day.

Vern Stottlemyre, an industrial arts instructor at Green City R-1 (Reorganized 1) School, volunteered to see that a proper coffin of the period was made to hold the urn.

Mr. Stottlemyre will retire soon after a 30-year teaching career, the last 26 years of it at Green City School. He researched the type of coffin made for the burial of the Hunley submariners and also examined an actual period coffin in the attic of a local business.

He selected three types of wood for the project, each of which had symbolism in Victorian days. The top and bottom are made of soft pine, which represents rebirth; the two ends are of cedar, said to embody reaching toward heaven. The sides are of mahogany, denoting strength. Three wooden handles on each side are used to carry the coffin.

When Mr. Stottlemyre presented the task to his students, their initial reaction was, “We’re gonna build a what?” The 10 young men and women, all sophomores and juniors, soon warmed to the 1½-month job, a large portion of which involved sanding and polishing.

The coffin was designed to be 6 feet 3 inches long and 29 inches wide. When student Jake Long learned that Pvt. Byrne was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds, he instantly said, “That’s my height and weight — make it to fit me.” And they did.

The ceremony

The urn will rest on a special green satin and brocade pillow made by Lonnie Dover of Unionville, Mo., of the same type of fabric and design as the 21st Missouri’s regimental flag.

The coffin will be placed on an 1860s-period funeral wagon, owned and driven by John Avery.

“In all of northeast Missouri,” Miss Gordon reports, “there was not one horse to be found who can pull [a wagon] and not bolt when the cannons go off.” However, one was found in St. Louis. “We are having that horse shipped up to Memphis for the day of the funeral,” Miss Gordon said.

Ozzie Thompson, national president of the DUVCW, and others will accompany Miss Gordon and the urn to the nearby cemetery where Samuel Byrne is buried.

“After 129 years ofabsence, John P. will touch Missouri soil at the graveside of his father,” Miss Gordon said. “We will join hands, and prayers of thanks will be offered for the safe return of John Peyton to Missouri, where he grew to manhood.”

A wake was scheduled for noon yesterday at Payne Funeral Home as well as at the courthouse on the square. Today’s burial ceremony begins at 9 a.m.

John Peyton Byrne finally will be home.

Martha M. Boltz is a frequent contributor to the Civil War page.

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