Historic discovery

During a trip to a Virginia cemetery about two weeks ago, the local Civil War Round Table stumbled onto a trove of local soldier’s graves they didn’t expect to find.

It was during a walk to City Point National Military Cemetery in Richmond, Va. that they noticed the unexpected information on some grave stones.

Campus Martius Museum Historian Bill Reynolds, also a co-founder of the round table, said the members found the graves of three Williamstown brothers.

“It’s the first thing you see,” he said. “You think, ‘What is this?’ And then, ‘Holy cow; they’re from Williamstown!'”

Scott Britton, director of The Castle and co-founder of the round table, said the memorial markers for the brothers weren’t even in the cemetery; they were around a tree outside of the gates.

The three brothers, Philip, John and Jacob Smith, served on opposing sides of the Civil War.

Britton said whether or not a family had members serve on opposing sides during the Civil War depended on location.

“In certain cases, families split,” he said. “In Washington County, there are three cases of that. (In one family), three brothers fought for the Union and one brother was out of town in New Orleans (and fought for the South). It isn’t extremely uncommon, but it’s a little uncommon around here in Washington County. In Wood County, it’s a little more common to have split loyalties.”

Reynolds said in addition to the three Williamstown brothers, graves of about 13 other soldiers from the area were found.

“There were 13 people from Southeastern Ohio, in either the 148th Ohio or U.S. Colored Troops that had members from this area,” he said.

Britton said one of the troops there hit close to home with his work at The Castle.

“There’s a site at City Point where the 148th Ohio were stationed,” he said. “It’s a little bit special for me. Joseph Clarke, he was someone who grew up in the house, was killed there in City Point in an explosion.”

Reynolds said that while on the trip, the round table members put flags and markers on each of the graves.

“”We did a memorial and reproduction 148th Company F flag that they carried during the Civil War,” he said.

Britton said while visiting Fort Gregg, the group learned about Freeman Thompson, who was from Caldwell and served in the 116th Ohio. He said another soldier, Milton Holland, of Albany in Athens County, served in the 5th U.S. Colored Troops (CT). Both soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor.

Holland was awarded the medal for taking over after most of the officers of his regiment had been killed.

“He was a slave who came to Ohio,” Britton said. “He was educated in Albany, around Athens. He took over command of the entire company…Not only did they have a terrible battle in the morning, they attacked another (regiment) in the afternoon.”

“This is kind of our Medal of Honor tour that has connections in Southeastern Ohio,” Britton said.

The trips the round table takes are to famous battlefields are are unique experiences, he said.

“These are little fun trips, specifically to famous battlefields,” he said. “You hear about local people and hear about places from back home; you might even recognize some names. The last three trips, there have been people whose ancestors fought there. We read the ancestors’ diaries there. It gives a whole different meaning to the trip.”