Unknown soldier buried at Sumter Cemetery site

By SAMMY WAY
Posted 3/4/18

Reflections remembers the writings of Caroline S. Coleman as she reported on several historic events. Joseph Reedy's most interesting account of her jaunts into states to the north includes an item concerning the Unknown Soldier of the 1860s whose …

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Unknown soldier buried at Sumter Cemetery site

The Sumter Cemetery plot where the unknown soldier is buried, along with others who died during the Civil War, is seen recently.
The Sumter Cemetery plot where the unknown soldier is buried, along with others who died during the Civil War, is seen recently.
MELANIE SMITH / THE SUMTER ITEM
Posted

Reflections remembers the writings of Caroline S. Coleman as she reported on several historic events. Joseph Reedy's most interesting account of her jaunts into states to the north includes an item concerning the Unknown Soldier of the 1860s whose grave was marked at Old Falls Church near Arlington, Virginia. She recalls the story told by Dr. A. L. Blanding of the unknown soldier buried in Sumter. The written material and photos used to prepare this story were taken from The Item archives. We are fortunate to have a copy of Ms. Coleman's account of this event and will reprint it with some editing because of its length.

Dr. Blanding, a resident of Fountain Inn, stated, "Probably the first unknown soldier ever to be buried with his grave marked as such was interred in the Presbyterian churchyard, Sumter, S.C., though few people know of that fact."

Many Sumter churches were used as hospitals during the War Between the States, with the First Presbyterian as this area's main hospital because of its centralized location. It was reported that "46 Confederate soldiers died in these hospitals and were buried in the soldiers' plot in the Sumter Cemetery. All the graves were marked save one - which held a soldier whose name was never known."

The story relates that "when Gen. Potter (northern commander) entered Sumter after the Battle of Dingle's Mill, one of the wounded soldiers died in the church without having given his name. In the excitement, there was no time to take the poor boy's body to the cemetery, and he was hastily interred in the churchyard, where later the kind people of the town erected a marble slab at the head of the grave, marked 'An Unknown Confederate Soldier.'" Following the war, the grave was annually decorated with flowers as a part of the Confederate Memorial Day celebrations.

With the construction of the new Presbyterian church, part of the soldier's burial site was partly covered by the facility. Few people in Sumter were aware that this historical site was being covered. The story of this event was later published in southern newspaper pointing out the significance of the burying of an unknown soldier, and as far as was known the burial place in South Carolina "was the first to be marked 'To an Unknown (Confederate) Soldier.'" Dr. Blanding's recollections of the Unknown Soldier, his death and burial, are consistent with the reminiscences of older residents who lived here and endured the hardships and sorrows of war and reconstruction. "However, Dr. Blanding was mistaken in his conclusion that the new Presbyterian Church was erected over the grave site. The body of the unknown soldier was removed from its resting place at the church and taken to the Sumter Cemetery and re-interred in the Confederate plot among two score or more fellow confederates who died in hospitals in Sumter or were killed in the Battle of Dingle's Mill. At the same time, under the sponsorship of the Sumter Memorial Association and local Daughters of the Confederacy, the bodies of all other Confederate soldiers buried elsewhere in Sumter and in other plots in the cemetery were removed and reinterred in the Confederate plot."

"There now rests the Unknown Soldier, with the original marker, from the Presbyterian Church at his head. One other slight and immaterial error in Dr. Blanding's recollection is the exact site of the Unknown Soldier's grave. It was not where a part of the new church now stands but near the Calhoun Street boundary of the church lot and close to the driveway leading from Calhoun Street to the back of the church. These facts have been verified by consultation with several life-long residents of Sumter and members of the Presbyterian Church."

Curious readers would be able to locate the markers of these fallen soldiers in Sumter Cemetery among the graves circling the large granite monument honoring local casualties.