The Saga of Six Soldiers

The Saga of Six Soldiers

Below is information about what was found in each grave, plus historian Dalton Rector's conclusions:

GRAVE 1: In this grave was a soldier, 17-20 years old. He'd been shot through the head and had a bit of blue cloth over his face. After examining his teeth, Rector concluded that, "as a child, he'd probably suffered from malnourishment." Research led him to identify this soldier as William Smart, 20, of Company G.

"From a genealogical study, we learned that, in the 1840s — when he was about 7-8 years old — his father was sued three times for nonpayment of debts," said Rector. "And if he couldn't pay his debts, he probably couldn't feed his family, either." He also determined that, like the soldier in grave 3, he was killed at close range.

GRAVE 2: This grave contained the youngest of the six soldiers, 16-18 years, and also the tallest — 5 feet 8 inches. Most of his skeleton had deteriorated and, since eight glass buttons were found in his upper-body area, Rector said he was wearing a shirt when he was buried. He identified this man as Albert Wentworth, 17, of Company H.

GRAVE 3: This soldier was 28-35 and barely 5 feet 6 inches. His skeleton was in fairly good shape, but he had a gaping bullet wound in his head, and Rector determined that it was fired from a downward trajectory. Both uniform and glass buttons were found in his grave, plus an Indian Point stone estimated by Fairfax County archaeologist Mike Johnson to be 800-1,000 years old. Rector said the soldier was carrying it in his pocket.

He also called him "the most historically important" of the six soldiers because of what was learned from the bullet wounds in his skull. "He was shot from the right rear side, and the bullet went out near the left eye," said Rector. "I believe he was killed by a buck-and-ball shot — composed of a .69-caliber musket ball and three .31-caliber buckshots."

Since three lead fragments were found inside his skull, Rector concluded that all this ammunition couldn't have gotten inside the soldier's head unless he was killed at point-blank range. "The muzzle of the gun was right against his head, or very close to it," he said. "He wasn't standing when he was killed, and Northern newspapers said the Confederates were killing the wounded on the battlefield. Therefore, the wound from the back of the head makes sense — this was a battlefield execution."

Rector identified this soldier at Thomas Roome, 30, of Company G. Records list his death as July 18, 1861 at Bull Run (right next to Blackburn's Ford). Said Rector: "Historic documentation and forensic reports place only him, and no others, in this grave."

This soldier was also missing some bone from his lower jaw — severely fractured several months before he died — and it hadn't mended properly. Roome was born in Nova Scotia, but census reports place him in Maine prior to 1860. "I believe he got the broken jaw there," said Rector. "He had family in Boston, and I feel that he moved there so his family could take care of him. By spring 1861, war has broken out, so he joins [a unit from Boston]."

GRAVE 4: This soldier's coffin was turned around and buried backwards. He was 22-26 and 5 feet 6 inches, with well-developed hands and shoulders. The only artifact from his grave was a piece of a glass button. Therefore, said Rector, he was buried in his long johns. "You'd have to be there in person to see his expression," he said. "It will always haunt me."

Although this soldier could be James Murphy, 23, said Rector, he believes it's more likely to be George Bacon, 24, because the bullet passed through his body, which corresponds to Bacon's death. Bacon had three children, ages 5, 3 and 7 months, when he died.

GRAVE 5: At 29-36, this man was the oldest of the six soldiers and stood 5 feet 7 inches. He was found with a tree root growing through his head. Four glass buttons and a ball of thread were found in his grave. His lower center-front tooth had been missing for years, and his teeth were tobacco-stained and showed wear from a smoking pipe.

He was a sergeant of Scottish ancestry, and Rector believes he's Gordon Forrest, 32. His jacket was missing and, said Rector, "He may have been stripped on the battlefield; that sergeant's jacket would have made a great souvenir."

GRAVE 6: This soldier, 19-24 and 5 foot 8, was the only one wearing shoes. Part of his coffin lid was there, some buttons and a .69-caliber, unfired musket ball that he carried in his left-front pants pocket. Also found was part of a uniform jacket of pure wool, plus buttons with an "I."

His shoes had a leather sole, brass grommets for shoelaces and no heel. "The rest of his shoes were made out of canvas," said Rector. "It was a sports shoe, not a military shoe — and a shoe associated with Massachusetts." He identified this man as James Silvey, 23, of Company G and noted letters he'd written to his parents. He said that, in 1856 at age 18, he left his family in Brooklyn and moved to Boston.

"He wrote that he liked playing ball with his friends in Boston," said Rector. "He had athletic shoes — I think they buried him with his shoes on because they knew that's how he would have wanted it."