Louisville man fights to correct piece of Civil War history - Cincinnati News, FOX19-WXIX TV

Louisville man fights to correct piece of Civil War history

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Headstone with the name "Leonard Combs" Headstone with the name "Leonard Combs"
John Gatton John Gatton
Burial records of Leonard Jones when he was reinterred at New Albany National Cemetery (Source: National Cemetery Administration) Burial records of Leonard Jones when he was reinterred at New Albany National Cemetery (Source: National Cemetery Administration)
Adjutant General’s records of Private Jones’ service (Source: National Cemetery Administration) Adjutant General’s records of Private Jones’ service (Source: National Cemetery Administration)
Interment records of Leonard Jones (Source: National Cemetery Administration) Interment records of Leonard Jones (Source: National Cemetery Administration)

NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE) - A man from Louisville wants to make sure a Union Civil War soldier is remembered for who he was, not the mistake that happened after he died.

His headstone in a cemetery could be all that's left of Leonard Jones. Men like him didn't leave a lot of physical marks behind.

"Most Civil War soldiers didn't even take pictures," said John Gatton, a history buff and Vice Commander of the Sons of Union Veterans. "They were from the country and they moved around."

Gatton said Jones was 39 years old, and a farmer from Tennessee who crossed into the Bluegrass to become part of the 9th Kentucky Infantry, fighting for the Union.

"He was married, he had two sons, he went off to serve his country and he never came home and I just feel as an American he should have his right name on his tombstone," Gatton said.

But on Private Jones' tombstone at New Albany National Cemetery, for the last century and a half Leonard Jones has been remembered as Leonard Combs. Jones died from illness as the Army was on the move and was buried at Young's Farm near West Point in Hardin County.

"It was just a family farm cemetery and it was right off the road, so that's where they buried him," Gatton said.

After the Civil War, the body of Jones was moved to New Albany, Indiana and Gatton says that's where the problem occurred.

"When they were reburying him, they said, 'What's the name?' and somebody said, Combs instead of Jones and that's what stuck," Gatton theorized.

It may seem like a small battle, this name of a Civil War soldier who died generations ago, but Gatton says it likely matters very much to Jones' family and it should matter to all who have served in the name of this country.

"His wife died right after the war and she didn't even know where he was at," he said. "She knew he died in the war and didn't know where he was at. Hopefully we can bring closure to the family and one U.S. serviceman we can help him have the right honors from now on."

Gatton has not found Jones' descendants but he is planning a trip to Tennessee to track them down.

After WAVE 3 contacted the National Cemetery Administration, its historians did some research. They say it appears that Gatton is correct and Private Leonard Jones has been resting under the wrong name. However, that in itself, they say, is not enough reason to replace Jones' tombstone.

In an email to WAVE 3, Senior Historian at the NCA Sarah Amy Leach writes, "Due to similarities in first names, regiments, dates of death and location of the body, it appears that Leonard Combs and Leonard Jones are one and the same person. Someone from the Quartermaster General Office may have misread the surname engraved on the "large Beech tree" as Combs, rather than Jones, and the company as B rather than D, or perhaps the original inscriber got it wrong. It is impossible to tell at this point in time. Despite the indication in the ledger pages that no record for a Leonard Combs could be found, that name was inscribed on a headstone that appears to be an original one (ca. 1873) …

"We reviewed military service records for the 9th Kentucky Volunteers to ensure that there was not a soldier by the name of Leonard Combs; there is not. There was a Louis/Luis/Lewis Combs in Co. K, however, he survived the war so could not be the soldier buried at New Albany.

"Thus it appears that the US Army made a mistake with the soldiers' surname. According to NCA policy, the headstone cannot be replaced to "correct" this mistake. However, the History Program is now able to add this documentation to the BOSS record so that the correct spelling of the surname is retained. If in the future the headstone becomes illegible, it can be replaced with a headstone in which the surnames is spelled Jones rather than Combs."

As part of the same email, a portion of NCA Notice 2004-06 was included, "NCA furnishes headstones and markers for eligible veterans and dependents. Government-furnished headstones and markers, although used to mark individual graves, remain the property of the United States government. In recent months NCA has seen an increase in requests from the public to replace historic headstones or markers, predominantly from the Civil War era. These inquiries are often based on a desire to "correct" information inscribed during the 19th century, and/or to add new information found through modern research. Neither of these reasons is valid justification for replacing historic headstones or markers. The existing inscriptions were based on information available at the time the headstone or marker was furnished, and the existing headstones and markers are collectively part of a historic cemetery landscape."

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