Thousands of Confederate soldiers lie buried in Ohio

May 28, 2011

In a small cemetery in Utica, a thin white headstone marks the grave of Cpl. John J. Wilson, a veteran of the Civil War. Wilson is not the only Civil War veteran buried here. There are several others. But a closer look at the inscription on his stone reveals something unusual. Wilson is a long way from home — a Confederate soldier buried in Union soil.

Local lore says Wilson was a prisoner of war on a train headed for Johnson’s Island Prison Camp at Lake Erie. He died while the train was passing through Utica and was buried in the cemetery near the railroad tracks. Like many stories passed down through a community, this one seems a little unlikely but it is hard to prove or disprove.

It’s probably more likely Wilson was an Ohioan who served in the Confederate Army. After the war, he might have come back to Ohio, lived out the rest of his life and was interred here. If this is the case, Wilson might not be such a long way from home after all.

There are many such isolated Confederate graves in cemeteries scattered across Ohio. Some are the graves of men who were born in Ohio but fought for the Confederacy. Others might have been native Southerners who, for one reason or another, settled in Ohio after the war. A few of the graves contain the remains of soldiers actually killed in battle in Ohio.

The largest concentrations of Confederate graves in Ohio are at the sites of Camp Chase in Columbus and Johnson’s Island Prisoner of War Depot in Lake Erie. When prisoners died, they were buried in the prison cemetery. These two cemeteries have more than 2,400 Confederate graves.

But there might be as many as several hundred individual Confederate burials in other cemeteries around the state. Some of these graves have been documented and marked while others remain forgotten.

"There are around 140 some graves that we know of," said Mark Wells, adjutant of the Ohio Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans.

The SCV was organized in 1896 and is the oldest hereditary organization for male descendants of Confederate soldiers. The group strives to preserve an accurate history of the citizen-soldiers who fought for the South. Several members of the Ohio Division actively search for Confederate graves.

Curtis Early, co-author of the book "Ohio Confederate Connection," thinks the number of Confederates buried in Ohio cemeteries could total 1,000 or more. Early and his co-author and wife, Gloria, have done extensive research in northern Ohio cemeteries.

"We found 13 Confederate graves in Lake County alone, and it’s the smallest county in Ohio. I’d bet that Ohio’s southern counties have even more," he said.

Some Confederate graves in Ohio are well documented. The cemetery in Old Washington near Cambridge, for example, contains the graves of three Confederate soldiers killed near there by Union troops on July 24, 1863. The men were part of a raid by Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his cavalry.

Another of Ohio’s Confederate graves is that of Capt. William Quantrill. Quantrill was born in Dover, and he — or at least part of him — is buried in Dover’s Fourth Street Cemetery.

He fought for the Confederate Army and perhaps is most remembered for his raid on Lawrence, Kan. Called the "Lawrence Massacre" by northerners, Quantrill and his men looted, set fires and killed almost 200 of Lawrence’s inhabitants.

Quantrill is considered a folk hero by some; a pathological killer by others. He died in a Union ambush in Kentucky in 1865. Hatred for him was strong, and his corpse was treated with little respect. After more than 150 years, it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction, but Quantrill’s grave in Dover supposedly contains only his skull and leg bones. Two other graves in Kentucky and Missouri are said to contain the rest of his remains.

The most unusual of all the Confederate veterans buried in Ohio would have to be Capt. Martin Van Buren Bates. Bates was a true giant. He reportedly stood 7 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 470 pounds. He entered the Confederate Army as a private but quickly rose to the rank of captain. He was severely wounded near the Cumberland Gap but survived the war.

Although Bates was a native Southerner, in later years he and his wife, Anna, who also reportedly was more than 7 feet tall, settled in Seville. The Bates’ infant son was, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the heaviest baby ever born. He weighed more than 23 pounds at birth but died soon after. The Bates family is buried in Seville’s Mound Hill Cemetery.

Copyright © 2011

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