Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Boy Scout Documents Confederate Graves

Scout documents 268 Confederate graves
By Jeff Bishop

The Times-Herald

Thomas Sumner has grown up in a house with links to the Battle of Brown's Mill, so when it came time to earn his Eagle Scout badge, he immediately knew what he wanted his community service project to be.

"My family lives in one of the oldest homes in Newnan," said Sumner, the third son -- and third Eagle Scout -- born to Michael and Leah Sumner. The LaGrange Street home, Buena Vista, is one of the popular stops on tours of Newnan.

"The owner of the house in the 1860s was a captain in the Coweta Rangers and served in the Confederate army during the Civil War," said Sumner, a Life Scout in Troop 47. "Our house was used by General Joe Wheeler as his headquarters during the Battle of Brown's Mill. So I have always had an interest in local history."

Sumner decided to document each of the 268 Confederate graves at Oak Hill Cemetery -- from W.S. Alexander of the 63rd Tennessee Regiment to Joel Young of Co. E, 17th Alabama Infantry.

"A few years ago my grandmother helped create a history guide for her local cemetery," said Sumner. "When my family visited her in Moultrie, she took us on a tour and I realized that there was a lot of history and information in a cemetery.

"So when the time came to choose a project, I thought this would be a very interesting one," he said.

"It was also one I could share with other people and hopefully provide some interesting information," said Sumner.

In 1868, the Ladies Memorial Association of Newnan began marking the Confederate graves at Oak Hill. In 1950 new markers were made for the graves.

Most of the soldiers died in Newnan war hospitals, although some were killed in the Battle of Brown's Mill.

Newnan was described as a "hospital town" during the war, and wounded soldiers were shipped in on the Atlanta and West Point Railroad, said Sumner.

Only two graves are labeled "unknown." Every state of the Confederacy is represented in the cemetery.

"There are also two Revolutionary War soldiers buried there, and one from the first World War," said Sumner.

The new guide is organized by last name of the soldier and also by state, and is available on CD. The city's Main Street program hopes to soon have the file available on its Web site -- www.mainstreetnewnan.com -- as a PDF download.

"It's wonderful, and a great complement to the brochure we just did for Oak Hill," said Linda Bridges-Kee, city Business Development and Main Street director.

"I've seen a lot of people walking around the cemetery since we developed the tour. I think it helps that it hasn't been so miserably hot this summer," she said.

"I think it's great that we have some young folks who are showing some interest in local history, because it's not taught in schools," said Elizabeth Beers, who helped develop the tour and brochure.

Tom Redwine, Lt. Commander with the William Thomas Overby chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he was happy to see Sumner and his fellow scouts working at the cemetery on Confederate Memorial Day.

"I didn't know he was going to show up that particular day, but we looked at his project and it's just outstanding," he said.

Some interesting facts emerged during the research, Sumner said. One soldier buried at the cemetery didn't actually die during the war at all.

"But they buried him there, after living a full life, because he was a Confederate veteran," said Sumner.