Divided by War, Joined in Death
The newly found Des Moines grave of a Civil War soldier brings together opposing sides.
In the end, they were all veterans.
Colleen Peterson of the Order of the Confederate Rose lays a rose on the grave of Mississippi soldier E.J. Goode at Woodland Cemetery Friday.
The commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Bruce Peterson, shakes hands with Sgt. Mike Rowley, right, with the 49th Iowa Volunteer Infantry near the grave of a Confederate soldier named E.J. Goode at Woodland Cemetery during a short ceremony Friday. The Mike Rowley wore the uniform of the Union, while Bruce Peterson donned the wool of the Confederate.
They stood on opposite ends of a newly found grave in Woodland Cemetery in Des Moines on a sunny, brisk Veterans Day morning.
Between them, E.J. Goode was buried here in 1901. He was a Confederate soldier from Mississippi whose grave was unmarked, just dirt and 150 years of a nation’s scars covering him.
Rowley’s ancestors fought in the Civil War, fighting for the Union. Peterson’s ancestors fought for the Confederates.
They joined company this day at a gravesite ceremony, where a new stone marked a long-dead soldier.
“One of the great strengths of Americans is that we are able to have conflicts, find solutions, come together and move forward,” said Rowley, a historian from Clive who specializes in finding and marking graves of military veterans.
Rowley received an email from Wilson Farnham of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Lawrence County, Mississippi. He too researched veterans’ history and gravesites and noted that every Memorial Day he places a flag on the lone Union veteran buried in a local church cemetery.
“I know this is a strange request,” he added, “but I thought you might consider helping me.”
A volunteer from his group had traveled to Iowa and found the grave in Woodland simply marked “Eddie.” They thought it might be Goode. Rowley gladly helped. He researched the records and found it was E.J. Goode’s son, Eddie, buried there. But in an unmarked plot right next to him, according to cemetery records, was E.J. A new gravestone was ordered with the Southern Cross.
Though the Civil War was said to be the most divisive conflict any nation has endured, with 600,000 casualties, including more than 13,000 Iowans, many Confederate soldiers and their families chose Iowa as a place to start over, Rowley said. Back then, cemeteries were segregated for many things — race, religion, or social status — but which uniform they wore in the Civil War may have topped them all.
“A lot of Confederate graves were not marked,” said Peterson, of Earlham. “They came here to get away from the divisions.”
E.J. Goode is only the second Confederate grave to be marked at Woodland. Only 207 Confederate graves have been located in Iowa. E.J. Goode was a lawyer in Mississippi who first formed a company called Goode Rifles, and then became a colonel in the 7th Mississippi Infantry. His fortune shattered by a lost war, Goode moved to Des Moines to start over. He continued to practice law and also owned the Des Moines State Leader newspaper.
But until this year his grave was never marked with the honor of a veteran.
Around us, Rowley said, are veterans who were born free or born into slavery, governors and the poor, prisoners of war and battlefield poets. “In the end, they were all Iowans,” he said.
Peterson threw dirt from Mississippi on the grave. Men wearing Confederate uniforms fired their rifles.
All apparently was forgiven, regardless of battlefield allegiance or nativity, though Rowley did hear grumbles from a couple members of Sons of Union Veterans about honoring a Confederate. Peterson remarked during the ceremony that Goode was known in Des Moines for a polite manner “that only a southerner can bestow on an enemy.” In the end, they were all veterans.
So they lowered their rifles, got in their cars and drove to Glenwood Cemetery, where another grave was recently found, the headstone arriving coincidentally the same day as Goode’s. It was to mark the grave of Newton Curtley, an African-American veteran of the Spanish-American War.