Alexander Hodges, was tall for a Civil War soldier, standing six feet two inches. William Tilley was a fifty-five year private in the Fourteenth South Carolina Militia. David Amos, First Tennessee Heavy Artillery, was captured at Fort Morgan, Alabama. Alkana McHenry had his right leg amputated after being wounded at Gettysburg. William H Farmer died with sixty cents and a watch in his pockets.
Even as I walked among the headstones at Cypress Hills National Cemetery reading the simple inscriptions of Names and Unit, I wanted to give “life” to these long dead southerners. Details such as those above were exactly what I was interested in when I began researching the Confederate buried in Cypress Hills National Cemetery. In order to learn this information, I realized that I would have to consult their compiled service records.
Confederate records of this type have been microfilmed and are available at the National Archives in Washington, Family History Centers, the Confederate Research Center in Hillsboro, Texas, and elsewhere. But making an exact identification often proved difficult. The Consolidated Index to Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers (National Archives microform publication M253) contains 535 rolls of film. The Roster of Confederate Soldiers. 1861-1865, is a sixteen volume compilation, published by Broadfoot Publishing Co. in 1996, of the same index. Some of the names on the list of the dead at Cypress Hills, however, cannot be found on the index. C M Gice, for instance, is identified as a member of Company B, First Alabama Cavalry who died on April 18, 1865 but there is no entry on the indexes for a man with this name. When I actually examined the service records of the regiment, I could identify no one whose name even remotely resembled this. Cemetery records list an E Prestwood, a member of the Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Infantry. Again, there is no such name in the index but examination of the unit’s records succesfully produced an Ervand Preswood. The only person named John Pease on the index was a member of the Third South Carolina Infantry Battalion but his file gave no indication that he was captured or died in captivity.
The only record of him (and a number of others) appears in Microform publication M347, Unfiled Papers and Slips Belonging to Confederate Compiled Service Records. This collection of 442 rolls of microfilm contains papers regarding Confederate soldiers who could not otherwise be identified. And so it was that I discovered that each name of the list had to be checked and double-checked to verify identification. Cemetery records turned out to be misspelled, incorrect, or incomplete. Despite this, positive identification and correction of their records (where necessary) was made for almost all of the men listed. One of the best examples of errors in the cemetery records concerns the man buried in grave 812. The records give his name as Daniel Nakeep of the Fifty-Seventh North Carolina Infantry. Examination of the unit’s files, however, show his was name actually Daniel Kanup who had been wounded at Gettysburg and died at Hart’s Island on August 21, 1863, of Chronic Diarrhea.
William B Griffin was a twenty year old Private in the Seventeenth North Carolina Infantry regiment. He enlisted at Plymouth, North Carolina, in May, 1861, and was captured at Fort Hatteras, North Carolina in August, 1861. Taken north, he died at Fort Columbus, New York, on September 28, 1861. He appears to have been the first Confederate soldier to die in New York City.
William D Roberts died on December 13, 1865, long after the war had ended. He was the last to die in New York. A member of the Fifty-Third Tennessee Infantry, Roberts had been captured at Fort Donelson in mid-February, 1862.
Exchanged and returned to duty, he was captured in July, 1863, when Port Hudson, Louisiana fell. Exchanged at Vicksburg in early October, 1863, he was captured a third time less than a month later at Connersville, Tennessee. He was held at Fort Delaware for almost a year and was again exchanged. Roberts was wounded in the knee at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, in mid-March, 1865. Sent north and admitted to DeCamp General Hospital on Davids Island, New York, he died there of Phthisis. Few men, Union or Confederate, could equal the number of times he was captured. Surviving records do not give the ages for most of those who are buried in Cypress Hills. The age of S D Early, of the Fourth Virginia Heavy Artillery, does appear in his records and he may very well have been the oldest. He was 62 when he enlisted, married, a resident of Bedford County, Virginia. He spent much of his career either hospitalized, as a hospital guard, or attached to the Quartermaster’s Department. Early was captured at Petersburg, Virginia, on April 3, 1865, and was sent to Hart’s Island. He died on June 24, 1865, the cause of his death being given as “old age.”
A similar unique cause of death is given for John O Priodgen, a private in McDugald’s North Carolina Infantry Battalion. He was detached as a railroad and telegraph guard until late 1864. After being captured in North Carolina on March 20, 1865, he was sent to Hart’s Island and hospitalized there suffering from Chronic Bronchitis. On June 4, 1865, he died of “Nostalgia.”
William Traitor (also carried on the rolls of the Twentieth Georgia Infantry as William Traytor, W Traitor, W F Trautor, and W W T Traitor) was hospitalized for various ailments so frequently after his enlistment in May, 1861, that he was absent from most of the engagements his regiment fought in. He returned to his unit in early April,1863, and accompanied it north. At the battle of Gettysburg, Traitor was wounded in the breast, shoulder, thigh, lungs, and eye and was captured when Federal troops occupied the Confederate field hospitals. Despite the number of his wounds, he survived hospitalization at DeCamp General Hospital and was moved to Fort Wood in mid-October, 1863, only to die there a month later.
He was only one of many who died as a result of wounds received at Gettysburg. Among them was Robert Carroll, Third Alabama Infantry, whose effects when he died included a hymn book and an empty pocket book. William G Ivey of the Eleventh North Carolina Infantry was survived by his mother, Eliza, of Chapel Hill. Malachi Statton was a sergeant in the Thirty-Seventh North Carolina Infantry who had survived a wound at Chancellorsville. More than one hundred and twenty-five of those buried in Cypress Hills died between July 15th and August 31st, 1863, almost all as a result of wounds received at Gettysburg.
Despite this, large numbers of men buried at Cypress Hills died of disease. Patrick Burnes, for instance, a private of the Fifteenth Texas Infantry regiment was captured at Cane River, Louisiana, in the spring of 1864. Sent to New Orleans, he was reported hospitalized there suffering from diarrhea. He was readmitted to the same facility on May 31, July 27, August 10., and September 29, suffering from the same ailment. Early in October he was transferred to Ship Island, Mississippi, and, from there, to New York City. He appears to have again been stricken on the voyage north and upon his arrival at New York he was placed in the Post Hospital at Fort Columbus. There, on November 19th, he finally died, totally dehydrated by his sickness.
Quite a few of the men sent as prisoners to New York by ship arrived sick. Only one, however, died before the ship arrived in New York. A letter in his file reads: “I have the honor to report that on July 4, 1864, Murdock Jones, Company D, 64 Georgia Regiment, died on the Hospital Transport ‘Thomas P. Way’”. The letter went on to explain that his personal effects consisted of a “pocket book containing $22.00 Rebel currency, 1 coat, 1 pair pantaloons, 3 letters from his wife [and] 10 postage stamps.” The writer of the letter, J B Merwin, Chaplain, U S Army added that ‘[t]hese things are now in my possession. Jones was buried in grave number 1216 by the Government Undertake, AJ Case.
One of the men buried at Cypress Hill, E M Archibald (cemetery records gives his name as E N Archibald) was captured by the U S Navy. A private in the Seventh Alabama Cavalry, he was captured by a naval shore party at Mobile Point, Alabama. He, too, was held in New Orleans and Ship Island before being transported to Fort Columbus, New York, where he died shortly before Christmas Day, 1864.
The records of many of the men show them to have been good soldiers, some heroic. Richmond Phillips was wounded and captured at Gettysburg. Held in captivity until the spring of 1864, he returned to duty with the Forty-Seventh North Carolina Infantry, was wounded again in the spring of 1864, and was finally captured on April 3, 1865. R F Mattox was also wounded and captured in Pennsylvania in July, 1863. Exchanged, he was so badly injured that he was assigned to the Invalid Corps but was back with his original regiment, the Eighteen Virginia Infantry. He, too, was re-captured in April, 1865. David Harmon, Twenty-Sixth North Carolina Infantry, was wounded in the face at Chancellorsvile and was in and out of hospitals thereafter. He was finally captured at Farmville, Virginia, on April 6, 1865. Ulysses Fisher of the Sixth Louisiana Infantry was wounded in the foot at Antietam and in the thigh at Gettysburg. He died on Davids Island in early September, 1863. Alexander Hodges joined the Thirty-Eighth North Carolina on April 18, 1864. Three weeks later he was wounded at the Wilderness and as late as November was reported to have an “Unhealed gun shot wound on [the] left leg.” He was captured on April 3, 1865, and died on July 21, 1865. And the list of men with similar details could go on and on.
Not all of the men buried at Cypress Hills had such meritorious records, however. Jefferson Coindrey, of the Fourteenth Virginia Infantry, for instance, enlisted in May, 1861, and was promoted Corporal by year’s end. He was absent without leave in early January and when he returned to the regiment was reduced to the rank of Private. In the summer of 1862 he was again promoted to Corporal only to desert again. He was back with the unit in early 1863 but the rolls of January, 1864, shows that was he under arrest, having been absent without leave for eleven days the previous month. He was court-martialed and lost his pay for two months. On February 2, 1864, he deserted “on the march from Newberne, North Carolina.” It is not known when, if ever, he returned to the regiment, only that he died on Davids Island on July 2, 1865.
Since desertion was a huge problem to both Union and Confederate forces, it is not unusual to find the word “deserted” mentioned so frequently in the files of the men buried at Cypress Hills. It appears in the files of more than a tenth of the men buried there.
At least one man, Joshua Byrd (buried under the name of Joshua Bird), of the Third North Carolina Heavy Artillery, appears to have violated an even more serious law… His file contains references to the fact that he was being held in confinement at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, in July, 1862, and on October 3, 1862, he was “Sentenced to be Shot Dead.” General Daniel H Hill commuted his sentence on June 5, 1863 and Birdserved at Fort Fisher for the rest of his career. Confederate court martial records are very incomplete, most of them having been destroyed by the Confederate Army itself when Richmond was evacuated, and no record of what his offense was has been found. He was captured on April 1, 1865, having escaped from Fort Fisher when it fell in January of that year. Sent north to Hart’s Island, he died there of Typhoid Fever a month and a half later. The more I researched these men, the more I learned of the little things that made them unique. One of the few identified as being foreign born was George Zweigler, German born, Tenth Louisiana Infantry, alphabetically the last name on the cemetery records. Another, Michael McCarty, First Virginia Infantry Battalion, had been hospitalized prior to being captured for treatment of venereal disease. Simon Long was a “Steamboatman” prior to entering the service. Another, James Little, had been company cook for most of his career.
And there is one who served in a Choctaw regiment from the Indian Territory. His name was James P Willis, He served in Deneale’s Regiment of Choctaw Warriors during the first six months of 1862, Later that year he was reported in the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles. No other records are found about him until his name appears on the burial records under the date of May 12., 1863. How he, as a member of a unit that served its entire career in the Indian Territory, Arkansas, and Missouri, ended up buried in Brooklyn, New York, is, perhaps, the greatest mystery of all the Confederate
Two men are listed as being buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery “or elsewhere.” Both were executed by the United States Army in early 1865. John Yates Beall was tried for “Violating the Rules of War” and “Acting as a Spy” because of his operations on Lake Erie in attempting to free Confederate prisoners on Johnson’s Island, near Sandusky, Ohio, and for subsequently attempting to sabotage the railroad between Buffalo and Dunkirk, New York. Robert C Kennedy was tried as a spy for his part in the setting of numerous fires in New York City in November, 1864. Places burned by him and others
(who were never tired) included a number of hotels and Barnum’s Museum. They were executed (Beall on February 24, 1865, Kennedy on March 25, 1865) on Governor’s Island. Some reports indicate that Beall’s body was taken to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn but there are no records of his being buried there. Kennedy was buried in an unmarked grave on the island in New York Harbor. All of the bodies buried on the island were disinterred in the late 1870’s and re-buried in Cypress Hills. It is probable that both he and Beall are buried in unmarked graves in the National Cemetery.
Story after story could be told about the Confederates buried in Brooklyn. Two, however, are so poignant that their inclusion here are imperative. Jacob Gotte, First South Carolina Artillery, took the Oath of Allegiance on June 17, 1865, at Hart’s Island and was to return to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. He made it no further than the Transit Hospital in Manhattan, however. He died there on June 28, 1865.
Finally, a letter in the file of Samuel M Thompson, Twelfth Texas Cavalry, to Federal authorities, reads in part: “My son…was captured by a portion of your forces last September in the state of Louisiana….I wish to ascertain where he is imprisoned in order that I might write to him….My son is a mere boy…” It was signed by Charles W Thompson and dated December 20, 1864. Two days before be penned the letter, however, his son, seventeen years old, died of Chronic Diarrhea at Fort Columbus and was buried in grave number 1817.
They died from causes ranging from Bronchitis to Typhoid Fever, from Pneumonia to Variola, from Gunshot Wounds to Diarrhea. They came from places like Lightwood Hot Springs, South Carolina, Riggsbee’s Store, North Carolina, Stone Wall, Mississippi, New Market, Virginia, Tallahassee, Florida, and Wilkinson, Georgia. Some were married. Most were farmers. Quite a few could not sign their own names. Almost none of them appear to have known each other in life; yet, together, they sleep forever in the rolling hills of a cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, their graves intermixed with those of Federal dead.
The Execution of John Yates Beall, C.S.N.
(as transcribed from an article in the
“Richmond Examiner” of Wednesday, March 1, 1865.)
We received yesterday Northern papers of the 25th instant, from which we gather the following summary of news:
EXECUTION OF CAPTAIN BEALL.
True to their cowardly instincts, the Yankees carried out their mad purpose of hanging Captain Beall on last Friday. The Yankees, it will be recollected, trumped up the charge against him of being “a spy and guerrilla,” but the truth is, he was merely a prisoner of war. Captain Beall is a native of Jefferson county, Virginia, and was about thirty-two years old. He was educated at the Virginia University, and at the breaking out of the war he joined the army and became a Captain in the Second Virginia Infantry, serving a part of the time under “Stonewall Jackson.” He remained in that branch of the service until last year, when he received a commission in the navy, and going to Canada, assisted, in September last, to seize the steamer Parsons, on Lake Erie. The steamer Island Queen was also seized by Beall and his party, all of whom had gone on board as citizens. They scuttled the Island Queen, and subsequently attempted to get possession of the United States steamer Michigan, with the design, as it afterwards appeared, of liberating the prisoners on Johnson's Island. This plan was frustrated, and Beall was afterwards arrested near Niagara Falls, and in February was convicted by a Yankee court-martial as a “guerrilla and spy.” For this gallant service for his country he met with a felon's doom. He was hanged off New York on last Friday. He met his fate with the most terrible courage. From a long account of his execution in the New York papers, we make the following extracts:
BEALL'S APPEARANCE AND CONDUCT.
Beall was of medium size; had light coloured hair and moustache, blue eyes, and his countenance wore a pleasant expression. He was a determined rebel. Though a person of much intelligence he was almost blindly devoted to the cause of Jeff. Davis, and did not scruple to help it forward by any means in his power.
After his conviction he was taken from Fort Lafayette, where he had previously been confined, and placed in the “garrison,” a prison in Fort Columbus, on Governor's Island. On Wednesday, before the time first appointed for his execution he was put into a cell and closely guarded.
During his imprisonment he has at no time been disorderly, but has treated the officers in charge of him with uniform courtesy, and sometimes conversed freely. He did not at any time waver, but declared that he had done right, and that his death would be that of a patriot.
On Saturday last Beall's mother arrived here from Harper's Ferry, near where the family resided, and obtaining a pass from General Dix, saw the prisoner. She remained with him for a considerable time; but it is understood returned southward immediately, and did not see him afterwards.
Three clergymen – two of the Roman Catholic church, and one of the Episcopal (Rev. D. Weston) – have visited Beall, by his request; and a few other acquaintances or friends have seen him.
It appears that Beall was a religious man; he belonged to the Episcopal church, and was once a lay member of the Diocesian convention of his state. Twice on Friday he took the sacrament, administered by Dr. Weston.
In the course of the morning Beall expressed a desire to have a photographic picture of himself made, and his wish was complied with.
PREPARATION FOR EXECUTION.
Shortly before one o'clock Friday afternoon Captain Talman, who had charge of the arrangements for the execution, United States Marshal Murray, who was present by request, and the executioner, entered the cell of the condemned man.
He promptly rose and said he was at their service. He added that he knew their errand, and said he wished the work to be done quickly.
A moment afterwards he remarked: “It is only a question of muscular power – I think I can bear it.”
His arms were then pinioned, a military cape was thrown over his shoulders, a black cap was put on his head, and the officers and the prisoner emerged from the cell and took their place between two lines of soldiers, who formed the guard to the place of execution.
THE MARCH TO THE SCAFFOLD.
Beall marched out of the garrison by the side of Dr. Weston, who read the commendatory prayer from the Episcopal liturgy.
The Marshal and executioner and two friends of the prisoner followed. Beall marched with a firm step in the direction of the gallows, which had been erected on the south side of Fort Columbus.
As he ascended the brow of a hill, from which the gallows frame was visible he looked hurriedly at the instrument and seemed to smile.
The preparations had not been completed, and a halt on the hill was ordered. At this point he talked with his spiritual adviser. Looking upward, he remarked that the day was a pleasant one. Immediately he added: “The sun shines brightly; I now see it for the last time.” He was, however, perfectly calm and composed. The order was then read by the Post Adjutant, Lieutenant Keiser, Second United States infantry.
When the Adjutant had finished, Rev. Dr. Weston intoned aloud the prayer for the dead, the soldiers listening with breathless anxiety, and many tears running down their cheeks.
THE LAST WORDS.
Marshal Murray and the Provost Marshal of the fort stepping up, asked the prisoner if he had anything to say, to which he replied:
“I protest against the execution of the sentence. It is absolute murder – brutal murder . I die in the defence and service of my country.”
Before the cap was drawn over his eyes, on being asked if he wished to say anything further, he said: “No, I beg you to make haste.”
At thirteen minutes past one o'clock the black cap was drawn over the culprit's face, the Provost Marshal drew his sword, a noise was heard from inside the box, and the form of John Y. Beall was dangling in the air. The only movement noticeable in the body was a convulsive movement of the right leg, a shrugging in the shoulders and a few twitches of the hand.
After hanging just twenty minutes the body was lowered down, when a medical examination by Dr. Connor, United States Army, proved that the neck was broken instantly, thus ending the earthly career of Beall without any agony. It was then taken to the hospital, whence it will be given to the friends of the deceased for interment.