- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

In May 2005, this page featured the story of Margaret Gordon of Minnesota, who had found the ashes of a long-lost relative, a Union soldier named John Peyton Byrne, and had set out to have the remains buried properly in Missouri. The ashes had been unclaimed in California for about 80 years, and Miss Gordon decided to bring the young man’s remains home.

A year has passed, and Miss Gordon has been on a second mission, making sure another relative finally is remembered. This time, she arranged for the dedication of a grave marker in Memphis, Mo., on May 28 to the lone Confederate in the family: Charles Byrne, who was living in Virginia when the war began.

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

Much information on the Byrne family is found in the book “Genealogy of the Brown Family of Prince William County, Virginia,” published in 1898 by professor Samuel Boardman and republished in 1930. This excellent reference contains numerous letters from various Byrne family members and gives a rough outline of their lives as well as the military service of four boys who joined the Union forces.

After the war, Charles went to Arkansas, where he purchased a homestead in Garland County, southwest of Hot Springs. A portion of his tract became part of a man-made recreational lake. Unfortunately, no records remain because of two 20th-century courthouse fires. Death certificates were not issued in Arkansas until 1930, so Charles’ death on New Year’s Eve 1902 was not recorded.

Other family researchers found a small family plot, the long-abandoned Hisaw Cemetery, near the land owned by Charles Byrne. They speculate that his remains lie in an unmarked grave there. Apparently he never married, and the remaining family members have no other information.

Four of Byrne’s brothers — Lucian, Harrison, Joseph, and John Peyton — joined Union units, as did his father, Samuel, who at age 64 enrolled in the 29th Missouri Militia. He and his wife, Juana Fernandez Hagans Byrne, had 11 children, all of them born in Preston County, Va.

The fifth son, Charles Byrne, was living in Virginia in 1859 and enlisted in the Confederate army at Lewisburg in Greenbrier County (now West Virginia) at the age of 30 on May 9, 1861. He served in Company E of the 27th Virginia Infantry.

Charles had returned to the area after spending time in Iowa and California, having initially gone to Virginia to visit relatives. When the war broke out, he joined the Confederacy to defend his new homeland. His service with the famed “Stonewall Brigade” would take him to both battles of Bull Run as well as battles in the Shenandoah Valley.

Charles began his service as a private, designated a “laborer,” but by June 16, he had transferred to the quartermaster unit. He was appointed captain and quartermaster of the regiment on July 9, 1861, the position in which he served until he resigned on Sept. 13, 1862. In truth, his service was brief and in some respects difficult to document.

Of interest in this sequence is a section of the genealogy of the Brown family that contains the following information written by one of the younger Byrne brothers, Joseph Squire Byrne, who was 17 at the beginning of the war:

“Brother Charles was in Virginia at the time and went with the South, volunteered in the 7th Virginia as a Private (the 7th Virginia was short-lived and became the 27th Virginia) in the first battle of Bull Run, after seven color bearers had been shot down, he picked up the Company Flag and carried it during the remainder of the battle. He carried dispatches in nearly all of the important battles of Virginia.”

Joseph Byrne added: “At the close of the War he had the best record of any man in the Southern Confederacy as a spy; was captured twice but made his escape both times.

“He lived with me for most of a year after the war and told me the daring things he did. I think he was the best judge of human nature I ever saw and I do not believe he knew what fear was.”

Apparently nothing was recorded regarding his participation at Second Manassas, when the 27th Virginia began its flank march with Gen. “Stonewall” Jackson to the rear of Gen. John Pope’s army, ultimately driving the disorganized Yankees from the field.

Aside from his promotion to captain of the Quartermaster Corps early in the war, no other staff officer positions are named, although the Joseph Byrne letter also indicates a post-battle staff appointment.

Charles Byrne resigned on Sept. 13, 1862, just a few days before the Battle of Antietam (Sharpsburg).

His reason for resigning, stated in a letter dated August 1862 and found in the General Staff Officers files, was that although he was with the commissary of the 27th Virginia, he thought 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.

The young Southerner indicated he was anxious to continue to serve the Confederacy, but on different terms.

“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.” He pointed out that though he technically was exempted from military service by a physical disability with one of his arms, he had served with the commissary corps. His simple final statement of eligibility was, “I am a native of North Western Virginia.”

Despite his best efforts, he apparently was unable to win approval from Seddon. A military specialist at the National Archives researched all military records pertaining to Byrne and could find no proof that any subsequent unit was raised.

Charles Byrne moved to Arkansas after the war, raising beef cattle until his death in 1902. Despite the efforts of Margaret Gordon and cousins Ed and Vicki Corrick, no one has been able to locate where he is buried. For this reason, Miss Gordon says, “I felt very strongly that Charles should have a tombstone to mark his passage on this Earth. My wish was that a military CSA tombstone [should] be ordered from the government and placed in the Byrne family plot in Memphis. All of the cousins agreed and felt the same.”

This ceremony differed from the one held last year for John Peyton Byrne — first, because it was a monument dedication rather than a burial, and second, because the monument is to a Confederate hero.

Made of beautiful white marble with the typical modified pointed top, the stone has a representation of the Southern Cross of Honor on it and the words “In Memory of” before the name of Capt. Charles Byrne. The family placed the stone on the morning of May 28, also burying a time capsule put together by various descendants of Charles Byrne.

The dedication ceremony took place at 2 p.m. and featured a Confederate re-enactor unit bearing the U.S. flag together with those of Missouri and Iowa and the First National Flag of the Confederacy. Miss Gordon had hoped to use a flag of the 27th Virginia Infantry but was unable to find a replica of the one captured more than a century ago.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy also were invited, and Miss Gordon delivered the eulogy for her absent ancestor.

She said, “Charles achieved the rank of captain, the highest military rank of all the brothers who served in the Civil War, the only one to serve in the Confederacy, serving with dedication and commitment. Four of his siblings named a son after him. He kept in touch with family members until near the end of his life.”

Margaret Gordon and her family put much thought into selecting the site for the grave marker. It was placed in the plot where older brother Harrison Byrne is buried as well as the brother buried last year, John Peyton Byrne. John’s grave is in the north corner of the plot. Charles’ memorial marker is at the south corner, symbolic of the Southern cause he took as his own.

The little space is a special place for the devoted cousin who has worked so hard to bring all this about. “I love this family plot most of any in the cemetery,” she says.

“I have on many occasions gone to the cemetery before dawn to sit vigil for the rising of the sun. When the sun begins to rise, the tombstones where John P., Harrison, and the family are buried is bathed with the first rays of the sun, heralding a new day.”

Now Capt. Charles Byrne is remembered there also with his brothers in arms.

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

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