Today, we’re pleased to offer the second of a two-part guest post by Tom Schobert. Tom is the president of the Buffalo (NY) Civil War Roundtable. A retired healthcare administrator, Tom is life-long student of the Civil War and has been a reenactor for more than 25 years.
Since learning the story of my great-great-grand uncle, Pvt. Frank Krug, I have wondered how his family must have felt not knowing where his remains ended up and whether they had some sort of memorial or funeral for him. There is no evidence of this, no obituary that I have ever been able to find.
Uncle Frank served in the 53rd Pennsylvania Infantry and was killed during the fighting at Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864.
As a reenactor, I portrayed an infantry private for a number of years as a way of honoring his memory. I even had a tintype photo taken, wearing the uniform as he did in his photo and making the same pose, right down to the cigar in my mouth.
Fast forward to 2013.
I no longer portray an infantry private. The aging process has made that physically difficult, and the gray hair and white beard look out of place in the ranks. I do still put on the uniform now and then and have done various alternate portrayals over the years. Surgeon, Confederate private in Gettysburg, even (dare I say it) General Robert Edward Lee for living history portrayals. I’ve also been involved with the Buffalo Civil War Roundtable, currently serving as president.
At a meeting of our Roundtable board of directors in the fall of 2013, I mentioned my ancestor’s story to one of the other officers. He asked me if I had considered obtaining an “In Memory Of” marker from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA). I had not. In fact, I was not even aware such a thing was possible. Armed with this newfound knowledge, I went online and discovered that I could indeed request a marker for my ancestor and immediately initiated the process. As a United States military veteran whose remains were in a mass grave with no other marking, Frank Krug was eligible for a veteran’s marker, the same as one sees at national military cemeteries, with the exception that the words “In Memory Of” would precede his name, company, regiment and birth and death dates.
Where to start? Well, the first thing I needed to do was to decide where the marker would be placed. He enlisted when living in Coudersport, but while he was away the family pulled up stakes and moved to Erie. (Ironically, there is a monument in Coudersport that pays homage to, and lists the names of, the locals who fought in the Civil War, but Frank Krug is identified on it as “Frank Crook.”)
In Erie, members of his immediate family are buried at Trinity Cemetery, the place where my grandparents and other relatives are interred. His sister (my great-grandmother) and two of his brothers are buried there. They are the only members of his immediate family whose final resting places I know of. The family plot has several unoccupied graves so this seemed to be the logical location. I had no problem enlisting the support of the cemetery manager, who was more than happy to endorse the application and declare their willingness to accept and install (at nominal expense) the marker.
I completed the proper form (VA Form 40-1330, for those contemplating a similar endeavor), entered all the pertinent data, and submitted it to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. I included a copy of Frank Krug’s enlistment papers, his military death certificate and an article from a National Park Service blog that described the way the majority of remains of men killed at Spotsylvania were hastily buried following the battle and then disinterred and reburied after the war.
Much to my surprise, I received a response from the DVA shortly after submitting the application. They acknowledged his service and eligibility, but stated that they needed a written letter from an official of the Fredericksburg NMC proclaiming that Frank Krug’s remains are, in all probability, in a mass grave there. Not having a specific contact there, I sent an online “contact” message to their website. Their response was even quicker than the DVA, and it was from no less an official than John J. Hennessy, chief historian at Fredericksburg.
Mr. Hennessy explained that he had prepared a letter on their official letterhead, which was being mailed to me. I had mentioned in my original correspondence that I was in possession of my ancestor’s image. Mr. Hennessy asked if I would be willing to have a copy of Pvt. Krug’s image and a short biography added to their display of soldiers at the Chancellorsville Visitor’s Center. Deeply honored for my ancestor, I of course agreed and forwarded a copy of the tintype.
The letter that Mr. Hennessy sent was remarkably detailed. He took the time to review the nature of the fighting that took place that fateful day and the role of the 53rd Pennsylvania in it. He went on to describe the hasty burials and the impossibility of identifying the remains of the vast majority who died during that campaign. He speculated that Pvt. Krug’s original grave might possibly have been marked in some fashion, but even if it had, the elements would have obliterated it before Union burial crews arrived the next year.
He concluded his letter: “In any event, it’s highly likely that Private Krug lies today among the 12,000 unknowns in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. If not there, his body remains on the field itself, which is preserved intact.”
I forwarded the letter to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and soon received word that my application had been approved. Frank Krug’s marker was to go into production. During late January, I was informed by the manager of Trinity Cemetery that the marker had arrived and would be installed in the spring. I cannot adequately express the emotion I felt when I realized that at long last my ancestor would have a proper memorial and that we could now “bring him home.”
Our ceremony was held on Sunday June 15 at Trinity Cemetery in Erie, Pa. A Roman Catholic Deacon offered prayers and blessed the marker; Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper presented a Presidential Memorial Certificate from Barack Obama; “Abraham Lincoln” delivered the Gettysburg Address; I sprinkled soil from Spotsy on the marker and at its base; and my reenactor brothers fired the traditional rifle salute, followed by a moment of silence and the playing of “Taps.” One of the renactors was a fellow from Lancaster, Pa. who is a member of the 53rd PVI reenactment group, and he not only spoke on behalf of the 53rd, he also brought with him the 53rd’s colors.
I visited Spotsylvania sometime around the 150th anniversary of the battle. When no one was, watching I scooped up a tablespoon or so of soil from the Bloody Angle. That’s what I took back to sprinkle on his marker in Erie. My thought is that it may still contain traces of the blood of the men who died there on May 12, 1864. Perhaps some of Pvt. Frank Krug’s blood is still in that soil.