Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Belle Boyd and the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin

            This is a warm story about Confederate girl spy Belle Boyd and a forgotten Wisconsin monument in Virginia.

The rectangular granite stone stands on a slight rise of ground near what is the Richmond-Henrico Turnpike in Hanover County. The marker is 10 feet tall and is overgrown with weeds, brush and honeysuckle vines. The inscription reads: “This monument has been erected by one of their comrades, Charles A. Storke, in memory of the members of Companies B, E, F and G of the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry who fought here on the first day of June 1864.” Around its sides are carved the names of the 137 soldiers who were captured, wounded or killed in the battle. Storke’s name is one of the 137. He was 18 when he was captured during an attack on the Confederate lines. He was a member of Company G and later wrote an account of the attack in his memoirs. He remembered 44 men were killed or mortally wounded, 60 suffered from serious wounds and 33 were captured. Storke was captured and spent time in various Confederate prisons before being released in 1865.

Storke moved to Santa Barbara, Calif., after the war where he was district attorney and mayor. He later started the Santa Barbara News-Press newspaper. In the early 1900s, Storke revisited the site of his capture and began to make arrangements to buy the land. “I tried to look up their graves and could not find a trace of them,” he said. “I determined then to put up a monument where they had received their wounds.” The project was completed in October 1924 and the plot deeded to Hanover County. However, County officials said later they knew nothing of the deed and that it was apparently lost in the files. The monument stood mostly forgotten.

Then in the 1930, something changed. A neighbor, Lucile Luck, said in a newspaper interview in 1987 that a group of ladies would come out every year on June 1 and had some sort of service. She identified them only as an “auxiliary.”

            While touring battlefields near Richmond in 1956, I was taken to the Thirty-sixth Wisconsin monument by a contingent from the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The lead was Mrs. T.J. Nelson of Richmond, a kind gentlewoman with a keen since of the past. She proudly proclaimed her chapter of the UDC placed flowers at the Wisconsin stone each year after learning that a Grand of the Republic chapter had taken up the task of annually marking the grave of Belle Boyd, the famous spy of the Confederacy who is buried in the cemetery at Wisconsin Dells. She had died their while on a speaking tour about the turn of the century.

Mrs. Nelson also told of how she and several other UDC members traveled to Wisconsin one year to take part in the Wisconsin memorial for Belle Boyd and how much she was moved by the ceremony. The UDC delegation brought a container of Virginia soil to be spread over the gravesite to Belle would be buried beneath ground from home.

Is it not curious how the past can tie us together?

My, my…

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