10 December 2007 by Published in: General musings No comments yet

Many thanks to old friend Harry Smeltzer for bringing this to my attention. From Saturday’s issue of the Hanover Evening Sun newspaper, addressing the burial site of Col. Isaac E. Avery, which I wrote about here late last month:

Man discovers grave experts knew was there
Evening Sun Reporter
Article Launched: 12/08/2007 04:05:28 AM EST

While folklore often describes Confederate Col. Isaac Erwin Avery as writing his dying letter in…
Confederate Col. Isaac Erwin Avery etched one of the most dramatic stories of the Civil War – in his own blood.

Avery, according to the Dec. 14, 1909 issue of the Gettysburg Compiler, served admirably until Union soldiers shot both Avery and his horse as he led his regiment’s charge on the heavily fortified Union position on Cemetery Hill during the second day of the battle.

Pinned under his steed, Avery urged his men to go on, and as he lay dying, he pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and wrote: “Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy.”

The Compiler described the note as written in pencil and blotched with the soldier’s blood, but later accounts embellished the story to suggest Avery dipped a stick in his blood to improvise a writing implement.

Hagerstown history buff Richard Clem thought he added another chapter to the story when he recently discovered Avery’s final resting place in Hagerstown’s Rose Hill Cemetery.

Clem’s story caught the attention of The Associated Press and newspapers nationwide, but it turns out he didn’t add a chapter to Avery’s history.

“(Clem)’s not a hero up here,” said Licensed Gettysburg National Military Park Guide Jim Clouse. “We already knew about it.”

Clouse said despite the story’s drama, he usually omits the spot where Avery died from his tours.

That location is not disputed, Crouse said. Avery died on land that now serves as the football field for the Gettysburg Area High School, near Lefever Street, so he rarely takes his tours there.

The few he does take there, he said, usually ask to see the death site because they saw it on an Internet list of often-obscure battlefield locations known as “140 places every battlefield guide should know.”

Other guides at the park shared similar stories, but whether or not guides frequently tell Avery’s story, the location of his grave in Hagerstown’s Rose Hill Cemetery has been in publication for at least 17 years, according to the park’s records.

The park’s library also contained a 1973 letter from an R.L. Brake that concluded – as Clem had – that Avery was buried in a grave mistakenly marked as Col. J. E. Ayer.

That conclusion made it into print in the 1990 book “Wasted Valor: The Confederate Dead at Gettysburg” by seasonal Gettysburg ranger Gregory Coco.

National Park Historian John Heiser said Clem’s discovery didn’t compare to finding King Tut, but “whether the actual family knew (where Avery’s body laid) is up for debate.”

And Clouse said that it was good that Clem brought the grave to the attention of Avery’s family.

After Clem alerted Avery’s descendent, Bruce Avery, of the grave’s location, Bruce Avery dedicated a granite marker there.

Oops. I hate it when that happens.

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