Monday, October 12, 2015

Illegally removed remains of soldier at Wilson's Creek to be buried this weekend

Flat marker that will go over grave (Springfield National Cemetery)

The soldier’s identity went with him to a shallow grave following the second major battle of the Civil War. More than four years after part of his remains were illegally removed by a relic hunter, the soldier will be reburied Saturday

The Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct the public service, in conjunction with the National Park Service, at 10 a.m. CT at Springfield National Cemetery in Missouri

Re-enactors and staff members at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield will perform honors, including the firing of a cannon and a 21-volley salute. A marker will state the identity of the soldier remains unknown.

“I just want to honor this soldier and give him proper burial rites,” Wilson’s Creek Superintendent Ted Hillmer told the Picket.

Gary Edmondson of the cemetery said the soldier will be buried among Confederate fallen and veterans who served during more recent conflicts.

Officials are not certain which side the man -- believed to be at least 20 years old -- fought with, but they believe he may have been a Confederate because of the manner and haste of burial.

An NPS investigation found the skeleton was about 29 percent complete. The recovered bones were from the knees and below. There was not enough of the right material to test for DNA, Hillmer said. “There is no confirmation or history of the family.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the western district of Missouri, Coy Matthew Hamilton, then 31, of Springfield, admitted to removing remains from the Wilson's Creek battlefield.

Hamilton said he and a friend found the remains on Feb. 27, 2011, while paddling down Wilson's Creek, looking for archaeological artifacts.

Recent heavy rains had eroded parts of the riverbank, and during the early afternoon, Hamilton saw a bone sticking out of an eroded embankment by the creek,” prosecutors said in a November 2012 press release. “Hamilton attempted to remove the bone, breaking it in the process. He then began digging into the embankment, removing additional bones. Ten days later, Hamilton, through an intermediary, turned the bones in to the National Park Service.”

Confederates won a victory at Wilson's Creek (NPS)

A subsequent excavation of the remaining skeleton found eight handmade, machine-tooled buttons made of bone, near the ankles. They were manufactured between 1800 and 1865 and consistent with buttons used during the Civil War.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, on Aug. 10, 1861, resulted in a Confederate victory after its forces made multiple assaults on Union lines. Eventually, Federal troops retreated to Springfield.

“The remains were found in a location that would have been in an area of intensive fighting,” federal prosecutors wrote. “Mounted, infantry, and artillery units were in and near the vicinity of the find, which was just north of a road crossing the creek. The shallow grave suggested an expedient but respectful interment, head to the west in concert with Christian practices of the time.

Hamilton avoided federal prosecution for disturbing and removing items from an archaeological site by agreeing to pay $5,351 in restitution to the NPS and performing 60 hours of community service.

Hillmer, who said the park was involved in a similar burial in 2003, has invited the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to take part in Saturday’s event. 

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