Battle and violence are essential elements of war, and as a result many men become casualties. These deaths were often sudden, gruesome, and disturbing and many occurred with little note taken of them. Each grave in the cemetery obviously represents a death, and each deserves attention. However, there are a few extraordinary stories that demonstrate both the courage of soldiers and the horrible nature of war.
In the center of the cemetery stands a large monument to Humphrey’s Division whose mainly green troops made a bayonet charge against the Marye’s Heights during the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, 1862. On the corner of one of the four sections that join at the central spot lie two graves for members of the 4th Michigan, Company D. Both men were young, only nineteen when they died. Both hailed from the same town, Ann Arbor, and both held ranks above private. Frederick F. Wildt was the corporal of Company D and James E. Clark rose from private to first lieutenant. Clark had been promoted to first lieutenancy and adjutant of the full regiment only a few days before the battle, and kept an eye on his company during the advance on Marye’s Heights. A comrade started to warn him to stay down or he would be hit, but the words were barely out when a bullet hit James on the third button of his overcoat, glanced off, and went directly though him. Wildt was also killed instantly, almost in the same place as Clark. Comrades brought both of their bodies to the rear and buried them side by side in marked graves on a knoll. They lie side by side still, placed together when they were reinterred in the National Cemetery in graves #2863 and #2864.
First Sergeant William Jones of the Company A, 73NY (grave #2448) was killed in action on May 12, 1864 and was posthumously awarded the medal of honor for capturing the flag of the 65VA before his death. Interestingly enough there was no 65th VA at the Battle of Spotsylvania so it is unclear whose flag Jones actually captured. The twenty-five year old Irish stevedore left behind a wife and two children, four year old Susan and William who was born on April 17, 1864, less than a month before the demise of his father.
Many of the actions remembered by fellow soldiers about their fallen comrades were actions of selflessness. Francis O. Lombard (grave #4100) was killed on November 27, 1863 at New Hope Church during the Mine Run Campaign. He and a fellow cavalryman named Doran volunteered to try and get a wounded man of the 1st NJ Cavalry of the field. According to the regimental roster, Lombard reached his target but was killed “while heroically endeavoring to bear away [the] wounded soldier in his arms.” Nineteen year old Morris Ritter (grave #5079) perished in a similar feat on May 8, 1864 at Spotsylvania. His regiment, the 140th NY, attacked at Laurel Hill led by their Colonel, George Ryan, who rode ahead and advanced to within three rods of the Confederate line before taking a bullet in the chest. The attack broke so quickly that most of the dead and wounded were left on the field, including the still-breathing Ryan. Ritter was one of five men who volunteered to retrieve their colonel. All five where shot down before they completed their mission; Ritter made it to Ryan but was killed while attempting to carry him back. Ryan also did not survive.
Some of the most severe combat in the Fredericksburg area was the action of May 12, 1864 at Spotsylvania’s Bloody Angle and Mule Shoe. A physical representation of the more than twenty hours of fierce and close combat that day is the death of Paul Kuhl. During the attack he was shot through the leg but was able to improvise a tourniquet out of his ramrod and a handkerchief. He would not be able to escape the storm of bullets, however, and when friends found his body after the battle they described it as “riddled” and said he had been “shot repeatedly until his body was a veritable sieve.” He was fortunately buried beside the regiment’s lieutenant instead of being rolled into an unmarked mass grave; this mostly likely is the reason he is buried in grave number #3077 as an identified soldier instead of resting in a grave marked unknown.
Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated from Siena College in May 2010 with a B.A. in History and a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies. She earned her M.A. in History from West Virginia University in May 2012. Her thesis “A Question of Life or Death: Suicide and Survival in the Union Army” examines wartime suicide among Union soldiers, its causes, and the reasons that army saw a relatively low suicide rate. She is currently pursuing her PhD at West Virginia University with research on mental trauma in the Civil War. In addition, Kathleen was a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park from 2010-2014 and has worked on various other publications and projects.