In a quiet cemetery in the center of what was once Georgia’s capital, a monument has stood for more than a hundred years commemorating the life of Private Edwin F. Jemison, a young Confederate soldier killed in battle. To honor his memory, his parents erected the monument at Memory Hill Cemetery in Milledgeville, Georgia. Most people have long believed this to be Private Jemison’s final resting place. Clues found at the cemetery plot itself, however, as well as in his obituary, seem to indicate that Memory Hill is not actually the burial place of the soldier with the famous youthful face.
Private Jemison came from a long line of distinguished ancestors. His mother, Sarah Stubbs Jemison, was the daughter of a merchant and justice of the peace, and the granddaughter of a Revolutionary War hero. His father, Robert, was a man of means, a landowner, lawyer and newspaper editor. His line included a Revolutionary War hero, a Georgia congressman, and prominent doctors and lawyers. In fact, both the Jemisons and the Stubbs were among Georgia’s founding families. Shortly after the birth of their third child, Robert and Sarah moved their family from Georgia to Monroe, La.
With the secession of Louisiana on Janu-ary 26, 1861, and the subsequent fall of Fort Sumter on April 14, young Edwin enlisted in the 2nd Louisiana. Shortly after he signed on, his regiment was transported from New Orleans to Richmond, where it came under the command of Maj. Gen. John Bankhead Magruder. Other than an encounter in April 1862 at the Battle of Dam No. 1 along Virginia’s Warwick River, the 2nd Louisiana did not see action until Malvern Hill.
The July 1, 1862, Battle of Malvern Hill was one of the bloodiest up to that point in the war; 5,500 Confederate soldiers became casualties, nearly twice the Union losses. One of those soldiers was Private Jemison, who lost his life to a cannonball. On July 2, the Confederates buried their dead on the field.
Even though Jemison was undoubtedly buried with his comrades on the field of battle, it was not unusual for Confederate soldiers to be exhumed and sent home for reburial. Milledgeville’s first battle casualty of the war, who had been killed at Pensacola, Fla., was returned to his hometown and buried on November 30, 1861. After the war, more bodies were disinterred and brought back to the town. In March 1866, the remains of a soldier who had been killed at Knoxville, Tenn., in 1863 were returned to Milledgeville. In November 1866, the remains of a soldier killed at Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862, were also returned to the town.
An article titled “Disinterment of Dead Bodies” in the August 13, 1862, issue of the Georgia Journal & Messenger</i> vividly described the problems involved in shipping bodies home during wartime: “Our attention was called particularly to this subject, while on a visit to our Cemetery one day last week. A body had been brought here by railroad, we believe, from Atlanta, on its way to Dooly County, and had become so offensive that further transportation was refused. After remaining at the depot some time, a guard was detailed from Col. Brown’s encampment for that purpose and the body buried.”
The article went on to further elaborate on the topic by quoting from the Richmond Dispatch “We daily observe at the railway stations boxes containing the bodies of deceased soldiers, which have been disinterred by their friends, under the belief that they can be sent off without delay either by mail train or express. This, however, is an error. Freight trains only carry them, and the detention frequently causes the bodies to become offensive, when their immediate burial by the wayside is a matter of necessity. It would be better to postpone disinterment until cold weather, when it can be accomplished with less trouble and more certainty of getting the remains of the departed to their destination. Metallic coffins are difficult to obtain, and wooden ones can only be procured by the payment of a large sum. In these the dead bodies are packed with sawdust, and in warm weather their transportation to a distant point is uncertain, if not absolutely impossible.”
The Journal & Messenge editors weighed in on the depressing topic and claimed to offer a simple solution to the problem of transporting dead soldiers: “To the above we have to add (and that from personal knowledge), that nothing is more easy, convenient, or cheap than transporting bodies at any season of the year, to any distance. Any common coffin will answer. Have a piece of cotton osnaburg or other cloth of the necessary size — dip it in boiling tar, and wrap the coffin in it and it is sealed tighter than it can be done in a metallic case. Place it in a box with some kind of packing to keep it from moving, and the work is complete. No charcoal, or disinfectant is necessary.”
Assuming those directions were followed, Private Jemison’s body could have been taken from a burial site on the Malvern Hill battlefield to Milledgeville after several years, even if it was not moved directly from the battlefield. The question remains, however, whether either of those steps was taken — and if Edwin Jemison’s body is actually under the obelisk on Memory Hill. That obelisk stands over a single grave and carries the name of Edwin’s older brother, Henry, who died in 1859, carved into the north side, while Edwin’s name is carved into the south side.
While it is not known exactly when the monument was erected, a rough idea of when it was put up can be gained from the inscription of the stone carver’s name on its base, “J. Artope & Son, Macon.” The Macon City Directory listed the company as using that name between 1860 and 1872, and the other monuments in Memory Hill that carry that same name have death dates from the 1860s. Burials from the 1840s and 1850s have monuments that bear the company name “J. Artope, Macon, Ga.” By 1877, the company was listed as “Tom B. Artope,” and the monuments in Memory Hill erected after that year reflect that name change. It can therefore be assumed that the obelisk was erected between 1860 and 1877.
In 1896, Milledgeville had Confederate soldier markers placed on appropriate gravesites, and one such stone bearing the inscription “E.F. Jemison” is set in the ground west of the main obelisk. The main obelisk stands on top of a stone slab that covers the grave and measures 3 l/2 feet wide by just over 6 l/2 feet long. Like many in Memory Hill, the grave consists of an underground brick vault the length of the grave and about 3 feet wide, big enough to hold one coffin. The vault’s arched roof comes almost to the surface of the ground, and the stone slab that forms the base of the monument rests on the top of the vault much like a capstone. A coffin would be lowered into the ground after the vaults were built. A brick mason then would construct the vaulted roof and seal the entire underground structure with brick and mortar, leaving no door or opening. The tops of the vaults are so near the surface that their dimensions can be determined by inserting a thin metal probe into the ground and maneuvering it around the structure, and the vault under the Edwin and Henry Jemison obelisk appears to be of normal size for one burial.
Since Henry died first, it would appear that only his body is in the vault. The possibility, however, of Private Jemison’s remains being placed in a grave alongside the vault or nearby is worth consideration. The grave to the north side of the Jemison monument is that of Robert Small Pratt, who died in 1857 and was the first burial on the lot. To the west is a pallbearers’ path containing no graves. On the south side is the grave of W.B. Stubbs, who died in 1864. To the east is the grave of Robert W. Jemison, who died in 1879.
Each burial spot surrounding the obelisk, therefore, is occupied, and there is only one other possible place for Edwin to be buried adjacent to the Jemison obelisk. That is an unmarked grave to the north of Robert Small Pratt, covered with bricks that today are barely visible above the soil. In the 1930s, however, when the cemetery was first indexed, the bricks were thought to cover an infant’s grave.
In all likelihood, if Private Jemison was buried at Memory Hill in his own grave, his family would have given him a monument separate from his brother Henry’s. The obelisk dedicated to the brothers has loving inscriptions to Private Jemison carved on it from his mother and father. The one from his father states in Latin, “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country,” while the one from his mother says: “A more dutiful son never lived. A braver soldier never died. Peace to his ashes.” If Private Jemison was buried in the unmarked grave to the north of Robert Small Pratt, or in any other plot for that matter, it is quite probable that those loving words would be placed on top of that grave, and not the one for Henry.
Another piece of evidence that indicates Private Jemison’s body remains elsewhere is his obituary. During the Civil War, the newspapers of Milledgeville printed few obituaries, and the ones that were printed were very short, mostly for officers. It is somewhat surprising, therefore, to find a long obituary for Private Jemison. Regarding his burial, the obituary states, “May He who maketh wars to cease, comfort the sorrowing parents whose boy lies, buried by loving hands, on the battle field near Richmond,” making it clear that at the time of his death, Private Jemison was buried with his fellow soldiers.
The obituary in itself is not conclusive evidence of the private’s remains not being in Memory Hill. As mentioned, some bodies, even several years after the war, were disinterred and shipped home. No record, however, of such a shipment or reburial has been discovered in the Milledgeville newspapers. Such events were unusual, and several cases were mentioned in the local newspapers.
In addition, the Richmond National Battlefield Park, the national park that includes Malvern Hill, has no records of Confederate soldiers being systematically removed from their graves on that battlefield, although it is known that Union soldiers were removed for reburial between 1865 and 1866. While some Southern troops may have been individually relocated, it is doubtful that there were more than a few.
That fact, in conjunction with the lack of newspaper coverage in Milledgeville for a burial at Memory Hill, the lack of space in the cemetery plot and a single monument dedicated to both Jemison brothers, strongly suggests that Private Edwin Francis Jemison is, in all probability, buried under an “unknown” marker still on the “battle field near Richmond.”
This article was written by Alexandra Filipowski and Hugh T. Harrington and published in the May 2004 issue of America’s Civil War magazine.For more great articles be sure to subscribe to America’s Civil War magazine today!