Thursday, July 21, 2022

In Search of Captain Lewis Watkins


Captain Lewis Watkins of the 85th Pennsylvania
Property of Ronn Palm Museum of Civil War Images
Gettysburg, PA

        A few years ago, I started a virtual cemetery on for those men who served in the 85th Pennsylvania infantry during the Civil War. Whenever I visit southwestern Pennsylvania, I try to visit a cemetery or two in search of more gravesites for members of the regiment. I want to point out that almost all of this work has already been done by intrepid genealogy lovers who have photographed and cataloged a high percentage of cemeteries around the country and the headstones for the people buried there. My job is to add to their good work, tracking down headstones for those whose cemeteries have been identified.

   Some headstones and burial sites have been difficult if not impossible to find. First of all, some men's final resting places has been lost to history. These are veterans whose bodies were not recovered after a battle, or perhaps were laid to rest by their comrades with just a temporary marker near the place where they fell. Others never married, were orphaned, or died during shortly after the war, their life records sparse or their headstones now impossible to read.

   This was a problem I faced recently in trying to track down the headstone of Private Christopher Anderson of Company B. Records indicate that he was buried in the Lone Pine Cemetery in Washington County, PA. Anderson served for three years in the regiment, but died at a relatively young age in 1877. I walked the entire cemetery and found this Civil War headstone, but the name was almost completely unreadable. I wished that I had brought a large piece of paper and a pencil to do an etching, but I did not. I strongly believe this is Anderson's gravesite. 

        This presumed headstone of Christopher Anderson clearly states "Co. B 85th PA. INF" across the bottom. Anderson was a member of Company B. The beginning of the lengthy name above the "8" seems to be the start of "Christopher." The last three letters of the surname above the "F" in "INF" seems to be "son," the end of Anderson. But not being reasonably sure, the next step is to contact the church across the street to see if they have any records to confirm the site of his burial.

       The next search for a veteran whose death occurred at least one and a half centuries ago was for the gravesite of Captain Lewis Watkins of Company E from Washington County. Watkins was severely wounded at the Battle of Second Deep Bottom near Richmond on August 16, 1864. The 39-year old sustained wounds in the arm and leg. He was taken to a hospital in Fort Monroe, Virginia, where he died about six weeks later on September 28, 1864.

Modern View of Confederate Earthwork 
Stormed by 85th PA in Battle of Second Deep Bottom
Where Captain Lewis Watkins was Mortally Wounded

       Unlike most soldiers who died in the Civil War, Watkins' body was shipped home for burial. He was interred in a family plot in western Pennsylvania in the community called Malden. This neighborhood is part of West Brownsville on the Washington County side of the Monongahela River. 

    Watkins enlisted in 1861 into Company E as a lieutenant. Just six months before his death, he married Mary Eliza Crissinger on March 31, 1864, presumably while home on a furlough. 

    Earlier on this blog, I wrote an article around a letter that Watkins had written in July of 1864 from Virginia. It was penned to U.S. Representative James Kennedy Moorhead and was published on August 17 in a Pittsburgh newspaper, the day after Watkins was severely wounded. 

   Records indicated where the Watkins' gravesite was located, but it was not in a cemetery but at a spot on private property.

Location of Watkins' headstone in Washington County, PA

      I had a personal reason for the search of Lewis Watkins' resting place. Watkins' descendant, Dr. John Pierce Watkins, had been my youth baseball coach. [Dr. Watkins great grandfather, John, was the brother of Lewis Watkins]. Furthermore, Dr. Watkins was the president of the college where I graduated in the 1970's. I still have the photo of Dr. Watkins shaking my hand and handing me my diploma on graduation day. Dr. Watkins, who passed away last year, was a fine man and dedicated educator. 

        Luckily, a member of my family came through in the search for Lewis Watkins' headstone. My sister and brother-in-law live in the community where Watkins was buried. My brother-in-law, Mark, said he had knowledge of a prominent gravesite in a neighbor's back yard, a few streets away from his residence. Mark and I drove to the sight and sure enough came upon an impressive ten-feet high obelisk that was clearly a burial site nestled in the backyard of one of the people in the Malden community. 

The writer at Watkins' gravesite

   Upon first glance, I thought I might not be able to confirm this as Watkins' burial place because the much of the markings on the obelisk had become nearly impossible to read over the the last 158 years.

"Watkins" and "Monroe" are visible

Near the top of the statue
         But at the bottom of the statue, I could make out Watkins' last name as well as "Monroe." This was clearly a reference to Fort Monroe where he died. Also, the name "Watkins" was legible near the top of the obelisk. There was also a G.A.R. marker and American flag at the site, probably placed their a few days earlier in remembrance of Memorial Day. In addition, there were other veteran markers there, including one for World War II, which indicated that there may be more Watkins' family members buried there.

    I took a few photos and added created an entry to the 85th Pennsylvania Virtual Cemetery for Captain Watkins. I actually had to create the "cemetery," called the Watkins Burial Ground, before I could entire Lewis Watkins photos and captions. Like his comrades, he was a brave soldier who deserves to be remembered.

     Rest in peace, Captain Watkins.

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