He Was a Good Soldier by Morgan Gates
A certain lady called the other day. She was in Vicksburg’s Cedar Hill Cemetery, in the section reserved for the Confederate dead, and she was having trouble finding a certain marker. I was out at the time so she talked to my long suffering wife/bookkeeper/receptionist/CFO/love of my life. She seemed quite upset that she could not find this particular grave. She had already called the Military Park desk and they didn’t know, they had referred her to me. She seemed genuinely disturbed that my wife could not help her either!
This is not in and of itself surprising, as there are literally thousands of unknown soldiers buried around Vicksburg and more than a few lost graves! The Confederate Cemetery, “Soldiers Rest”, has about 1600 tombstones (out of 5-6,000 bodies that were actually interred there during the siege) inscribed with names and units, all standing in neat orderly rows, but not a one (that I am aware of) actually marks a particular grave. They are memorial stones, for the actual bodies were interred in pits. When you are picking up a hundred or more dead men a day, as they were during the height of the siege, the niceties of individual graves are dispensed with. The particular soldier she sought, does have a stone with his name and unit engraved on it! It was placed there long after the war as a memorial stone, but his body is not interred in any of the pit graves either!
This soldier, like many in that era, was not born in the U.S. but emigrated as a young adult, arriving in Texas in 1855. He found work as a laborer with the U.S. Army, in west Texas and the desert southwest, before the War. When succession came he joined the Confederate cause. By the summer of 1862 he was in northern Mississippi and became part of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry. He served at Iuka, and Corinth, and of course the Vicksburg Campaign. During this bloody campaign, the 43rd had one of the highest casualty rates of any of the Confederate regiments at Vicksburg, and this soldier was one of those casualties. He was felled by a Union sharpshooter, not a particularly unusual way to die at that moment in time!
The reason this lady could not find his marker was that the 43rd has its own little plot about 100 yards south of the rest of the Confederate markers. In this little plot there is indeed a marker for this soldier, but his body does not rest anywhere within this cemetery. For you see with the rest of the 43rd nearing starvation, this good soldier made the ultimate sacrifice--his body was cooked and eaten by his famished regiment! ----------- Oh, but wait! I need to tell you one or two more important facts about this good soldier before we end his tale! First his name “Old Douglas” and that … Old Douglas was a Camel--part of a failed experiment to use camels as pack animals in the desert southwest before the war. For the 43rd Mississippi called themselves the Camel Regiment and Old Douglas was their mascot and he was indeed a very good, maybe even delicious, soldier!
Battle flag picture from Flickr