Graves Of Union Soldiers Located In Sunnyside Cemetery Orangeburg
By Dr. Robert Moe
Orangeburg, South Carolina
In the center of the city of Orangeburg, South Carolina is the Sunnyside Cemetery. Once a private cemetery under the ownership of the Catholic Church, it was transferred to the City of Orangeburg in 1986. The property is bounded on three sides by city streets: To the east, Cemetery Road. On the north by Summers Street. And on the west by Park Street. The south and fourth side is adjacent to private property. It is on this south boundary, in the western corner, that the grave stones of sixteen Union soldiers are located. Actually they are the markers of sixteen soldiers and one civilian.
The story begins in April 1865, the same month that the Civil War ended with the surrender of Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee to the Commander of Union forces General Ulysses S. Grant, at the village of Appomattox Court House. Union troops were ordered to strategic locations throughout the former Confederate States to maintain order, prevent further hostilities and enforce the laws as set forth by the Military Command of the United States. In 1865 these troops were termed "Provost Troops". Today we would call them "Forces of Occupation". The first unit to be stationed in the Orangeburg area were companies of the 55th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (Colored) who at the end of hostilities found themselves at Charleston and Summerville, South Carolina. They were stationed between Columbia and Orangeburg, setting up district offices of the Freedman's Bureau. In August of 1865, the regiment was returned to Boston.
On May 25th a detachment of the 102nd Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops, was ordered to Orangeburg for provost duty and were further ordered to Winsboro, South Carolina on July 28th.
The third and last military unit connected with this story was the 54th Regiment, New York Infantry. Detachments of this unit under the command of District of South Carolina, Department of the South, were in Orangeburg from July, 1865 to April, 1866.
During the period from May to December, 1865, sixteen soldiers and one civilian attached to the Union Forces died in Orangeburg.
May 7 Pvt. Louis Dickerson Co K 55th Mass. "Homicide. Killed by a comrade in bivouac."
Jun 5 Pvt. William Matthews Co G 55th Mass.
Jun 19 Pvt. Jimri Lew Co F 55th Mass.
Jun 27 Pvt. Elijah Reed Co F 102nd USCT
Jun 30 Pvt. William Nelson Co D 102nd USCT
Jul 2 Cpl. August Sieber Co I 54th NY
Jul 5 Pvt. Wilson Walker Co D 102nd USCT "Homicide. Murdered by persons unknown by stroke of an axe."
Jul 25 Pvt. George Deutsch Co D 54th NY
Jul 28 Pvt. Frank Walker Co C 102nd USCT
Aug 1 Black civilian rescued from a Confederate prison, going by the name "Captain".
Aug 3 Pvt. William Mathews Co E 102nd USCT "Justifiable homicide. Shot by an officer while resisting arrest."
Aug 6 Pvt. John Shomden Co A 55th Mass.
Aug 6 Pvt. Elias Mathews Co B 102nd USCT
Aug 15 Pvt. Texter Jackson Co G 55th Mass.
Oct 23 Pvt. James O'Brian Co K 54th NY
Nov 2 Pvt. David Matthews Co H 54th NY
Dec 5 Pvt. Russell Stroup Co G 54th NY
In July and August of 1865, all colored troops of the 55th Mass., and 102nd USCT left the Orangeburg area and the 54th NY were all that remained. Of the above deaths not reported as "homicide", eight died of disease and seven of unreported causes.
In 1865 the seventeen were buried in the Catholic Cemetery beside the Catholic Church on the corner of Amelia and Green Streets. In the late 1960's the church was sold and the Parish moved to a new location on Riverbank Drive. All the remains in the Amilia Street cemetery were disinterred and moved to other cemeteries in the city. A dentist who was present at the time reported that the excavations yielded little in human remains. "A bit of bone, a hinge from a coffin, etc.." The high acid content of the low country soil and the method of excavations (back-hoe with little search effort) had destroyed almost everything. It was the custom in 1865 to cover a coffin with a dome of bricks before filling the grave. These domes of brick collapsed over the years as the coffins decomposed. It was these jumble of bricks that excavators used to locate a grave site. What little was found was placed in a cardboard box for reburial.
At the time the graves were relocated and the church property prepared for sale, a statue of the Sacred Heart was also relocated to the Sunnyside Cemetery. It was "in the vicinity" of this statue that the remains of the Union soldiers were reburied. (A witness remembers "to the right of the base".) It is ironic that there is a brass plaque commemorating the graves of Confederate soldiers that are not located at this site, while the graves of Union soldiers buried at the base of the statue go unmarked and forgotten.*
In may, 1977, a Civil War historian discovered the story of the Union soldiers graves and their move to an unmarked site. Working through the Veteran's Administration he obtained markers for each of the named individuals. Orangeburg's Boy Scout Troop 45 met in Sunnyside Cemetery and placed the markers in the location designated by the Orangeburg Parks and Recreation Department as a symbolic tribute to soldiers who died far from home and family a hundred and thirty years earlier.
*The grave of one Confederate soldier was also discovered at the same time. It was identified as "Confederate" by the CSA Cross of Honor that had fallen into the grave years before. It was identified as the grave of B. H. Malone and a marker was also provided by the Veteran's Administration but this grave site has not been located.
I would like to thank Mr. Mark Hughes, Kings Mountain, NC, National Archives researcher. for his contributions to the pieces of the puzzle.
Dr. Robert Moe, Orangeburg, South Carolina - February 2002