Monday, April 20, 2009

Lost Confederate Cemetery Section Discovered: 72 Graves Uncovered

By Richard Brown, David Chaltas & Don Shelton (originally published in the Winter 2006 issue of The Lost Cause)

On January 7, 2006, sixteen men and women braved the cold to cut, clear and remove underbrush in an abandoned and overgrown section of the Westwood cemetery located at the mouth of Sandlick River, in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The cemetery was on property that had belonged to John Caudill (Colonel Ben Caudill's father) during the War for Southern Independence; John Caudill's gravesite is on the ridge next to the abandoned portion of the cemetery that was being cleared. Several years of research by the Colonel Benjamin Caudill Camp #1629 had led this group to believe their efforts at clearing the thickets might uncover a long-hidden mystery.

Several records, such as Edward Guerrant’s diary, George Mosgrove’s book, Kentucky Cavaliers In Dixie, and General Humphrey Marshall’s Adjutant General Reports all made mention of the treatment and deaths of Confederate solders in a hospital in Whitesburg. Guerrant described Whitesburg as a town “with a few houses and one large hospital,” and documented the hospital as being “at the confluence of the Sandlick Branch and the Kentucky River”. Official Records of the 5th Kentucky Infantry named at least ten soldiers that had died in Whitesburg and recorded the dates of their deaths. General Marshall’s reports stated that several men of the 29th Virginia Infantry and the 1st Kentucky Cavalry had died there as well, and other soldiers from units stationed in and around Whitesburg were thought to have been treated, and some to have died, at the hospital.

If so many had died in Whitesburg, though, where had they been buried? Certainly not all had been reinterred elsewhere. Attempts to solve the puzzle had gone on for several years; about five years ago Cmdr. David Chaltas was involved in a comprehensive survey with the Letcher County Historical society where over 20,000 area gravesites were plotted. While the hospital cemetery was not revealed in this effort, Chaltas said “the location of the Westwood cemetery was the one area we fell back to”. 

While not related to serious research, there were ghost stories from the area, as relayed in the records at; the “Woods of Westwood,” supposedly once called “Graveyard Holler,” had given rise to claims that if one went into the woods “you can sometimes hear noises like gun shots firing when no one is in the woods, then see what looks to be civil war soldiers running and disappearing.”

The researchers had several real clues for looking at Westwood, though. First was location; the Westwood cemetery is approximately 1000 feet northeast of where the mouth of Sandlick Creek empties into the North Fork of the Kentucky River, as Guerrant had described. Second was the fact that the property was owned by the father of Col. Caudill. Also, it was an existing cemetery; “we thought it strange that a prime piece of real estate was abandoned and no other graves were placed right in the heart of the cemetery”, said Chaltas. Finally, when interviews with some older members of the community revealed that they remembered being told Westwood was indeed the old hospital cemetery, it appeared to be the spot to look.

Armed with this information, the sixteen men and women endured the cold and wet weather on January 7th to begin clearing the thicket surrounding and covering the abandoned area of the Westwood Cemetery. Tons of underbrush was cleared and removed to a side road. County Judge Executive Carroll Smith promised to have the debris hauled off. As the brush and briars were removed from the area, several old tombstones and rock markers began to appear!

The graves were in six military style rolls, three feet apart with the rolls running through a new section of the cemetery back into the other section that had been abandoned.  On the north edge of the clearing was the grave of Lieutenant James Fitzpatrick, on the west side was the grave of Private Joseph E. Cornett, and to the south was the grave of Private Stephen Caudill, all of Caudill’s 13th Kentucky Cavalry. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the tombstones and rocks did not contain names or dates on them. In all, 72 unmarked gravesites were found along with a few forgotten stones marking the resting place of someone's loved one of yesteryear.  72 flags marking the grave locations were placed that day.  Adjutant Richard Brown organized the cleanup and worked beside the following individuals to confirm years worth of research: David Brown, Glenn Brown, Chad Brown, Danny Wright, Sandy Wright, Katie Cowden, Brook Cowden, Okie Blair, Tim Blair, Tabby Back, Willie Cornett, Willis Strong, Debbie Back, and John P. Back. The mission terminated with congratulations and a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude for the rediscovery of the gravesites was offered by Kentucky Division Chaplain Chaltas.

On Saturday, January 28th, several Caudill camp members and their families returned to the cemetery to continue cleaning and searching the area. With most of the cemetery then cleaned, all clues provided by the tombstones along with the previously obtained information were proof that this was, indeed, the long-searched-for resting place of the forgotten Confederate soldiers who died at the Whitesburg hospital!

Research by Faron Sparkman has revealed the names of ten men from the 5th Kentucky Infantry buried at this site, and the research continues to find the names of the others, including planned attempts at ground-penetrating sonar and archeological research.

The Caudill Camp is actively designing a memorial stone to place at the location of these Southern heroes. This stone will honor both the known and unknown soldiers. The stone will also provide information about the nearby Confederate hospital that provided care for the unfortunate soldiers so many years ago. Hopefully the combination of Confederate tombstones and the monument will prevent the story of these long forgotten soldiers from being lost again.

For further information and updates, go to 
During the years of searching for this site, David Chaltas wrote the following article and adjacent poem in expression of the deep desire to locate these soldiers:

The Potters’ field is a Biblical term referring to a plot of ground for those who could not afford a place of burial. While researching the medical and death records of our area, my friend Richard Brown and I could not help but note the number of Civil War soldiers that had died in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Since we were from the area and knew it extensively, the research brought forth several questions: Where was the hospital? Why were they brought to our area to receive medical attention? Was there more action in the area than previously thought? If so many died, what did they do with the bodies? Did they send them home, and if so, how? If they buried them, where was the Potters’ Field? Somewhere within the confines of Whitesburg, Kentucky, lie the remains of numerous soldiers, and it has become our passion to locate their burial site. If any of you are aware of any information please contact us to help us mark the remains of all those asleep in a Potters’ Field.

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