Updated: May 27, 2019
“A man who would not defend his father's grave is worse than a wild animal.” ~ Chief Joseph, Nez Percé
Number 91 on a weathered, lonely, blank headstone; a shared grave with two other men. Not much of a tribute for someone who was a POW and died for his country. For 140 years my family knew nothing of what happened to my great-great grandfather, John Meredith Crutchfield. We did know that Grandpa Crutchfield left the family farm, walked to Gauley Bridge, Virginia (West VA today) and enlisted with the 60th Virginia Infantry, Company F at the beginning of the War Between the States. His government wanted to maintain slavery, but he owned no slaves. He simply wanted to defend his home. He was wounded at the Battle of Piedmont in the Shenandoah Valley (just a few minutes from my home here in Augusta County), taken prisoner by the Federals and transported to the infamous POW Camp Morton in Indiana where prisoners received cruel treatment at the hands of Union soldiers. After the war, one of the prisoners recalled some of the acts perpetrated on fellow POW’s:
“During the winter, when the thermometer was below zero, I saw this fiend [Union guard] strip a man and give him a bath in a tub of water, using a common broom to scrub him with, and this fiendish deed was repeated the second time.” The prisoner later died. Transferred to Chimborazo Hospital in March of 1865 in a prisoner exchange, my grandfather died there on March 28. There, the story ended – or so the family thought. John Crutchfield’s widow died years later not knowing what had become of him. Had he deserted? Had he run off with another woman? Had he been killed in battle? No one knew until the 1950’s when my great aunt discovered the information about the Battle of Piedmont and Chimborazo. But the family still did not know what became of his body. Where was he buried or was he buried? Then I wrote a piece for the Washington Times’ Civil War column detailing some of my grandfather’s story. The story was read by a gentleman who was working on the restoration of Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. This cemetery, where many Confederate veterans are buried, had fallen into shameful neglect in recent years. I was contacted by this man and he told me that he knew for a fact that John Meredith Crutchfield was buried at Oakwood – family mystery solved. I love history. And I love the God of history who providentially shows us what we need to know to honor our fathers. Though I've had grandfathers who were veterans (WWI and WWII), John Crutchfield is the only one who died as a casualty of war.
Enjoy your cookouts, but remember the fallen on Memorial Day.