25 May 2015

Memorial Day - The Graves of Our Fathers

 “A man who would not defend his father's grave is worse than a wild animal.”
~ Chief Joseph

Number 91 on a weathered, lonely, blank headstone; a shared grave with two other men. Not much of a tribute for someone who was a POW and died for his country. For 140 years my family knew nothing of what happened to my great-great grandfather, John Meredith Crutchfield. We did know that Grandpa Crutchfield left the family farm, walked to Gauley Bridge, Virginia (West VA today) and enlisted with the 60th Virginia Infantry, Company F at the beginning of the war. He owned no slaves. He simply wanted to defend his home. He was wounded at the Battle of Piedmont in the Shenandoah Valley (just a few minutes from my home here in Augusta County), taken prisoner by the Federals and transported to the infamous POW Camp Morton in Indiana where prisoners received cruel treatment at the hands of Union soldiers.

Transferred to Chimborazo Hospital in March of 1865 in a prisoner exchange, my grandfather died there on March 28. There, the story ended – or so the family thought. John Crutchfield’s widow died years later not knowing what had become of him. Had he deserted? Had he run off with another woman? Had he been killed in battle? No one knew until the 1950’s when my great aunt discovered the information about the Battle of Piedmont and Chimborazo. But the family still did not know what became of his body. Where was he buried or was he buried? Then I wrote this piece for the Washington Times’ Civil War column detailing some of my grandfather’s story. (This story refers to a "James" Crutchfield. That was my mistake, John is the correct name. John had a son named James that was born in 1861.) The story was read by a gentleman in Richmond; a fellow Sons of Confederate Veterans member. He was working on the restoration of Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. This cemetery, where many Confederate veterans are buried, had fallen into shameful neglect in recent years. I was contacted by this gentleman and he told me that he knew for a fact that John Meredith Crutchfield was buried at Oakwood – family mystery solved. I love history. And I love the God of history who providentially shows us what we need to know to honor our fathers.

1 comment:

Eddie said...

Stephen Dill Lee --

To those who keep alive in loyal hearts the memory of the Confederate dead I would say these men chose the noblest part. This is the best life offers any man: to strive for the highest, the greatest, the bravest that he knows. Is it not better to achieve these things, even at the cost of life itself, than to purchase length of days by mean and sordid living, by cowardice or craft, by surrender of the fine ideals of manhood in base compliance to dishonor? In the heart of every man the everlasting has made answer. If the cause failed, the men were not lost. Looking beyond the little span of human life into the white light of eternity, what better could we have wished for the Confederate soldier than to have played his part as he did? He has left heroic memories that chasten and purify the hearts of all who shall come after him. He has lifted life above the low level of the commonplace into the realm of precious and immutable things, which abide above all change, beyond the reach of years.