October 17, 2009

In Search of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather - Part Two

On a cold and sodden Saturday I ventured down to Fredericksburg in an attempt to locate the grave of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Maj. Robert Henry Gray of the 4th Maine Volunteer Regiment, who fell at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 9 1864. Mortally wounded, he died en route to Fredericksburg and is presumed to be buried there.

Included as an appendix to my transcript of Maj. Gray's 1862 diary is a 190x letter to his son from a colleague, Frank Farnham. In this letter, Farnham gives a likely clue as to where Maj. Gray was buried, and may still now lie. I used this letter as a basis for my search.

I marched with my regiment through Fredericksburg a few days after he was shot.
This would be, presumably, about May 11.

We halted outside a city cemetery which is on the right hand side of the road leading out to Spotsylvania (The National Cemeteries are on the left of this road now).
He presumably is referring to the Town Cemetery on the corner of Washington and Williams; Williams St is the only road he can be referring to. It connects with Rte 3 which is the Old Plank Road running Westbound out of the city. If facing westbound, the City Cemetery is on your right, and the National Cemetary is further down on the left.

I looked through the large gates, set in the stone wall front of the cemetery and saw many tombs and monuments and one new-made grave.
The walls of the cemetery are red brick now. The Fredericksburg Ladies Memorial Association created the Confederate memorial cemetery in the land adjoining the City Cemetery in 1867, and presumably the brick walls surrounding the entire cemetery were built then or soon after.

The cemetery itself is quite fascinating: the Confederate cemetery is arranged in a large rectangle with two diagonal paths (subtly evoking the Stars 'n' Bars) with a memorial statue in the center.

Some of the Confeds are still interred in the City portion of the cemetery. Overall, the graves of the soldiers were in pretty poor condition, covered in moss and eroded by nature and time; some were virtually unreadable.

The large gates and the imposing sandstone archway on Williams St, which I presume are the ones he looked through, appear to be original (1844). The City gate is locked, due to the deteriorating condition of the sandstone, so all enter through the Confederate gate on Washington St.

"Hello" I said "here's a Yankee got in among the FFV's"
(An FFV is a First Family of Virginia. I only know this because I was in a production of '1776' once. )

A few days afterward, I met a member of the 4th Maine, and asked about your father. This man (whose name I never knew) told me that a few days before the regiment was ordered into a hot place, that the other officers got off their horses on account of the danger, but that your father kept his saddle and led the regmt into the fight and as pierced with several bullets that he was placed in an ambulance and died on his way back to Fredericksburg and was buried in the city cemetery as he was one of the first officers to fall in that might, much against the wishes of the rebel proprietors of the cemeteries, and that he was the only Union soldier buried there. So I told that it was your father's grave that I had seen.
He bases his conclusion that the grave he saw was Maj Gray's entirely on the word of that unnamed soldier; not particularly the most watertight case on which to go on, but worth a try.

Alas, I must report that I was unable to find Great-Great-Great-Grampa's grave. There were many possible reasons, even if that was his grave that Mr Farnham had seen.

It's highly unlikely that the Yankees who buried him had a stone marker, so perhaps there was some other identifying marker of a temporary nature (even the Confederate graves initially had wooden markers until the 1880s) which was lost or discarded by the unhappy 'rebel proprietors.' If this is the case, he's still in the City Cemetery, somewhere in view of the sandstone entryway, but unmarked.

The Frederickburg National Cemetery was created in 1867 for the fallen Union soldiers killed in the various battles nearby, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Wilderness, Chancelorsville, etc. Out of the more than 15,000 soldiers there, the identities of 85% of them are unknown... this being the time before soldiers wore dogtags. The register at the National Cemetery does not list Major Gray among the known fallen. So if they did re-inter him there, they likely had no idea of his identity, and he is now one of the many, many unknowns with only a number to mark his remains. (The number on the pictured stone indicates the lot number, 67, and that there are two unknown bodies buried there.) The same appears to be true of his brothers, Madison (fell at Fredericksburg, Dec '62) and Augustus (Cedar Creek, Oct '64). No stone - with their name on it at least - marks where they lie today. That astounds and saddens me.

The site of the battle is well-kept, although suburban encroachment onto the battlefield tended to wreck any sense of the era. The tour guide occasionally pointed out significant events by saying "over there, down that street, around where that blue truck is..." I wonder if the residents know how many dozens of Union soldiers died in their backyards.


Scoopernicus said...

I'm sorry you did not find the grave. It's fascinating though, the level of detail your research unearthed.

John said...

Well, the research was done by my uncle Bob; his were the tools that I used.

John said...

To clarify, my Dad actually did the transcribing (the diary's in the Harvard library) several years ago, my uncle Bob did the annotating.

smaher said...

Hi John:

ijust joined your blog today. Blogging is a new experince for me. My brother and I have a vested interest in your search for your Great-Great-Great Grandfather's grave site.
We both believe that our Great-Great Gradfather was one of the brothers. Probably Clarendon as our Great Gradfather's name was Clarendon Gray.
For years my brother ( Robert H. Gray) and I have heard the story about my Dad's relatives in the civil war and how only one came home. My father's name and his father's name was Robert Henry Gray.
There was an article in a Maine newpaper about the brothers and my Mom (89) who has saved everything is presently looking for the article. When she locates it I would be glad to share the contents with you.
Good luck in your (our) search!