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Union Soldier Comes Home, 147 Years Later

Pallbearers carry the coffin of an unknown soldier killed in the Civil War battle of Antietam during his burial ceremony at Saratoga National Cemetery in New York on Thursday.
Pallbearers carry the coffin of an unknown soldier killed in the Civil War battle of Antietam during his burial ceremony at Saratoga National Cemetery in New York on Thursday.

On Thursday morning at Saratoga National Cemetery in New York, a soldier who died 147 years ago was finally laid to rest.

The unknown soldier was killed at the battle of Antietam during the Civil War. Thursday marked the anniversary of that battle near Sharpsburg, Md., where more than 23,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or injured in 12 hours of fighting — making it the bloodiest day in U.S. military history.

Just after 10 a.m. on Thursday, wave after wave of Patriot Riders rumbled into the Saratoga cemetery on their Harleys, past long columns of white stones. This volunteer honor guard accompanied the soldier's remains from Maryland. A hiker found them last summer.

A squad of Civil War re-enactors dressed in Union blue lifted the soldier's flag-draped coffin from the hearse, easing it into a horse-drawn carriage.

Jim Hunt of Clifton Park, N.Y., wore the coat and cap of a Union captain. "To be able to identify him as a New Yorker and at least bring him back to New York state soil is a great honor," he said, "and something that I will remember for the rest of my life and cherish for the rest of my life as well."

Under a heavy gray sky, the cortege moved off through the cemetery. A crowd of some 200 people had gathered. The carriage was flanked by National Guardsmen and by members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A Horrific Battle

The remains of the soldier were found in a part of Antietam known as the Cornfield. Mike Aikey, head of the New York State Military Museum, said 300 New Yorkers are still missing in action from that single battle.

Aikey said the soldier was between 17 and 19 years old when he was killed. He was identified as a New York volunteer by the design of his buttons.

"Some of the buttons have been replaced, which would tell us — suggest to us — that he is a veteran campaigner — at the ripe age of 17, 18 or 19," Aikey said.

Antietam was a horrific battle, Aikey said. It was war at its most intimate and savage. One in four men who fought that day was killed or injured or taken prisoner.

Gen. Joseph Taluto, head of New York's National Guard, said Thursday's ceremony was more poignant because America is once again at war.
Brian Mann for NPR /
Gen. Joseph Taluto, head of New York's National Guard, said Thursday's ceremony was more poignant because America is once again at war.

'A Final Resting Place'

Gen. Joseph Taluto, head of New York's National Guard, said the long-delayed funeral for the unknown soldier felt especially resonant at a time when America is once again sending soldiers to war.

"We have a sense of comfort when someone comes home to a final resting place," he said. "And certainly this soldier's family is well past. But it still is a great sense of comfort for military family members."

This was the first unknown soldier to be buried at Saratoga. After the chaplain finished a prayer, the crowd passed by one-by-one, touching the simple pinewood coffin.

Copyright 2020 NCPR. To see more, visit NCPR.


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