On June 3, 1862, Pvt. David N. Brink, 1st Michigan Cavalry, Company A, died in Washington Street Hospital, Alexandria. He was buried in the newly opened Alexandria National Cemetery, which predates Arlington National Cemetery.
There was only one problem. His gravestone had the wrong name, as did some of his military records. The tombstone read David P. Frink. Another reference in military records referred to him as David N. Drink.
On Saturday, June 30, that mistake was corrected — 145 years and 28 days later. That correction was honored by a contingent of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Lincoln-Cushing Camp #2 who rededicated his gravestone and gave Pvt. David N. Brink full military honors for his service to his country.
"Last year I was contacted by our national headquarters notifying me that a Mrs. Betty Bridgewater of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was trying to get a tombstone corrected," said Keith Young, past camp commander and past commander, Maryland Department, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
"That stone had been here for 144 years and it required the Veterans Administration's History Department to rule on changing it. Their policy is that can only be requested by a veteran's spouse or children," he said.
"In this case Mrs. Bridgewater was well removed from that. Her great-grandfather was David Brink's brother," Young said. "But, with perseverance we got it approved and the new, and correct, gravestone was put in place by the Veterans Administration in November 2006."
Thus began a most unusual ceremony at one of the very first gravesites of casualties of the so-called "War Among The States." It was also America's bloodiest war that pitted brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, and divided families that had settled in different areas of this nation.
In opening the ceremony, Camp Commander Calvin G. Zon, said, "May we, as we stand here by this grave remember ... to honor the men who stood shoulder to shoulder on the bloody fields of battle, who guarded so faithfully, so honestly and so well the sacred bonds of statehood and who fought for liberty and the dear old flag."
IN ANSWERING THE QUESTION "Who Knows Private Brink?" Young gave the following details of this young soldier who was born in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and who moved west, as did so many of his generation. "When the war clouds of Civil War loomed large he enlisted for three years in the 1st Michigan Cavalry, Company A, at Detroit, Michigan on Aug. 21, 1861," Young stated.
"He was mustered into Federal Service with his regiment on Sept. 13 and, before the month was out, the regiment had departed for Washington, D.C. The First Michigan Cavalry was employed in wide-ranging activities in Northern Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley starting in Feb. 25, 1862," according to Young.
"I do not know why or when David Brink entered the Washington Street Hospital in Alexandria, but there he was when he died about 6 p.m. on the evening of June 3, 1862. His death certificate states the cause of death was peritonitis," according to Young.
"This was commonly caused by an infection after a wound in the trunk of the body. It is possible that his death could have been related to a wound sustained in battle; however, his service record saying nothing about David being in battle or being wounded," Young related to his fellow members.
According to military records, Brink's regiment had been involved in several skirmishes and minor engagements in Northern Virginia. One of those was the First Battle of Winchester on May 25,1862.
"He was buried on June 4, 1862 in the New Military Cemetery that became the Alexandria National Cemetery. His grave is number 41 in a cemetery that had been receiving burials for only a few days," Young reported.
That grave now is adorned with a wreath placed on the gravestone by Senior Vice Camp Commander Michael Virts, a single white rose laid at the foot of that stone by Vice Camp Commander Robert Pollock Jr., and a small American flag placed to its right side by Zon. It has also received a divine blessing as invoked by Camp Chaplin, Father Charles H. Nalls.
Standing in the bright, hot sun of this late June afternoon, dressed in 19th century woolen uniforms of the Union Army, surrounded by hundreds of white tombstones, these 21st century sons of the fallen could only imagine what sort of man was this 22-year-old, five foot nine inch, former ax maker who had a light complexion with hazel eyes and dark hair. What they did know is that David N. Brink answered his country's call and never returned.
For 144 years his grave was erroneously marked David P. Frink. "Today it is most fitting that we should take the time to remember him and to dedicate his new, corrected gravestone in this field of our honored dead," Young said.