I had discovered multiple records contemporary to the death of my 2xg-grandfather in 1865 saying he is buried in Chalmette National Cemetery. The records list him by name, rank, company, and regiment; date of death, original burial site, and new grave location by number and section. Yet no current records, including those at Chalmette list him by name.
The next day I called Chalmette National Cemetery, now a part of Jean Lafitte National Park, and told the Ranger who answered the phone my predicament and asked for the email address of the party I needed to address. She politely gave me the email addresses of the cultural anthropologist and the curator.
I gathered my documentation, wrote a long email, attached all the documentation and emailed it. The next day the anthropologist replied politely, thanking me and informing me the curator would need to see this and she was out of the office for a week. While I waited I found more documentation the soldiers are at Chalmette, funny how once your questions are answered the floodgates open. I continued to forward copies to the curator. I emailed the original ranger I talked to on the phone and asked her to run out to the cemetery and look for those graves by number. She replied those grave numbers don't exist.
After about a week I received a very nice email from the curator, telling me pretty much what I already knew -- the men are not recorded in any contemporary databases. She agreed with my documentation and asked for the formal bibliography of sources because she had never seen those records, and she required them at Chalmette in her capacity.
Another week passed. I received the nicest email from the curator. She researched everything about the regiment, the soldiers, the train accident, etc. into one large file, sending me a copy. (She even used this blog as a source.) It was a nice gesture, but for me it was nothing more than a trip down memory lane, for all that she had included, I had already collected and read at sometime over the last decade.
So, what's the delay?
The problem is that at some point during the last century and a half, the graves were all renumbered. The one hundred and fifty-year old records I found have the original numbering for the graves of these soldiers, which does not match what is currently in use.
The section number is presumed to still be correct. My ancestors and his comrades from Company A are recorded as having been buried in Section 86. The curator informed me that of the ninety-six known graves in section 86, forty-six are marked "Unknown." She is of the opinion I have "identified" some of the "Unknowns." I am not the first to have done this, it has happened before. I politely reminded her they were not "unknown" when they were buried there.
Keeping Moving Forward
It has been a little over two weeks now. I know the wheels of government turn very slow, and am practicing patience. The nice curator told me she had now started files for all the men so that they will have answers for any future inquiries.
But I have every intention of identifying the grave of my 2xg-grandfather Henry Martin Walker, Sr., and the graves of his comrades. These are men who gave their lives in service to the national cause and deserve personal recognition and not gravemarkers reading "Unknown." The location of the graves are identified by the original set of numbers, and on the burial ledger in the possession of the National Archives (NARA). I am sorry that somehow, someway their records got misplaced along the way. I wonder how many other "Unknowns" can now be identified with these new old records the curator will have in her possession? It is now just a matter of the park service doing the painstaking research.
I told the nice curator, "The 33rd Regiment had two nicknames, first the 'Normal Regiment' and second, the 'Brains Regiment.' Most of the soldiers were from the 'Bloomington-Normal' area of Illinois, thus the 'Normal' nickname. Normal, Illinois is the location of Illinois State University, where many of the boys were enrolled, thus the 'Brains' nickname."
So far I could not be happier with the treatment I have received from the three ladies (the ranger, the anthropologist, and the curator) I have dealt with at Chalmette. But I told the nice curator "this might make an interesting story for the local paper down there, the highly respected Bloomington Pantagraph? And maybe even the local congressman might want to get his hands involved in making right this injustice?" I will keep it moving. You can be sure of that.
My dream is to fly down for the new gravemarker dedication if and when it occurs.
Copyright © 2015 by Kevin W. Walker