By Terry W. Ayers
Adjutant SCV Camp 2068, member SCV PR/Media Committee
There is such a thing as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. For Sgt. Ivy Ritchie, CSA, the problem is he has been in the wrong place for a long time.
According to Joel Fesperman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Ivy Ritchie Camp # 1734 Albemarle, NC the namesake of their camp, one of the last soldiers – and perhaps the last - to die in the battle of Appomattox Court House, has been lying in a grave at the National Park Service’s Poplar Grove Cemetery in Petersburg Virginia for almost 150 years with the name of a fictitious Union soldier, Sgt. J. Ritchie, Co. “H”, 14th New York Infantry, on his tombstone.
Ritchie, from Stanly County, North Carolina fought with the 14th NC in nearly every major battle of the war in Virginia. The end was in sight when he was killed on the morning of April 9, 1865.
Fesperman and members of his camp have been trying for years to get Sgt. Ivy Ritchie’s remains moved to North Carolina or at least get his tombstone corrected. They say that his remains were removed from Appomattox after the war and buried at a national cemetery for Union dead by mistake.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans feel that a DNA analysis is the best means of determining that the soldier in grave #4824 is Sgt. Ivy Ritchie. But the National Park Service has refused to exhume the remains.
Fesperman says despite the refusal, the National Park Service seemed to be cooperative. “We have a letter from them (NPS) telling us the stone would be changed. Then they decided to have (a) mock trial.”
According to Fesperman, without warning the NPS suddenly changed their mind and decided to invite three experts to hear testimony on whether or not Ritchie is buried with Union soldiers. So they scheduled a mock trial to be held on Wednesday February 13th at Dinwiddie Court House and both sides – Fesperman and the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Chris Calkins, a historian from the National Park Service, will present evidence to the three-man panel. Calkins has written a book that reveals that there is compelling evidence that Ritchie buried in that grave. Now Calkins has changed his mind, citing mysterious new evidence that he says he will reveal at the trial.
It all seems very suspicious to Fesperman and his SCV camp. He says he has a letter written by Ritchie’s brother positively identifying the remains as Ritchie and has a newspaper article that indicates the body was moved to Poplar Grove Cemetery. “It was him” the newspaper article says, according to Fesperman.
“We have done our research,” indicates Mr. Fesperman, a process that has taken years and many hours of time for the camp, the largest in the state of North Carolina. “We contacted the National Archives. There is no other Ritchie that it could be other than Ivy Ritchie. There are no spelling variations from New York, New Jersey or any surrounding states. We pulled all the records with an “I” or a “J’ in their name. Then we determined if they survived, when they were discharged and accounted for every one of them. The only “I” Ritchie it could be is him (Ivy Ritchie). We are convinced it has to be him.”
For Fesperman and the camp members, this is about more than just correcting a mistake in history. “This is personal. He’s my double cousin. Twenty members of our camp share blood (with Ritchie).”
So Joel Fesperman and members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1734 will don their Sunday best and attend the hearing on February 13 to plead their case. They are confident of victory but say “If they (the National Park Service) are playing games, it won’t stop at that courthouse. If we have to do an environmental study (the next step in the process) we’ll do an environmental study.” The study would cost an estimated $5,000 dollars but Fesperman and his camp are willing to do it.
“We’ve come this far, we’re not going to stop now. This is personal.”
The NPS mock trial is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday February 13th just west of Petersburg at Dinwiddie Court House. It is hoped that members of the Sons of Confederate Soldiers will show their support for their Compatriots in Camp 1734.