Being a fan of local history, things that take place after nightfall, and good mysteries, I was incredibly intrigued by a story I read last year in the N&O. In it, Josh Shaffer (my favorite local journalist), tells the tale of a person or persons who for the last 20 years have decorated the tombstone of a rebel soldier buried in the Confederate Cemetery of Oakwood:
Each April, a stranger creeps into Oakwood Cemetery and drapes a single gravestone with a black sash. He lights a candle in tribute to a doomed Confederate hanged for firing a last-ditch shot at Raleigh’s Yankee occupiers. … After 20 years, the soldier’s secret admirer remains a small-time legend among history buffs who like to guess at his identity. The guessing begins anew each April 13, the death date of the hotheaded Texan with no known first name.
As I’ve come to know it, Raleigh surrendered to Union troops without a fight. Despite this, the city and the surrounding area are rich in Civil War history, in addition to the Confederate Cemetery. One example is the Richard B. Haywood House, where Raleigh resident Dr. Haywood toasted the end to the war with Union Generals Francis P. Blair and Tecumseh Sherman in the alcove of the house.
Considering that no major battles took place here, I’ve always been puzzled by the number of Civil War dead buried here. Not just in the Oakwood Cemetery, but in the Federal Cemetery on East Davie St. and Rock Quarry Road as well. Can anyone shed light on why this is?
Although I wasn’t able to solve the mystery of the stranger decorating the grave, I have to say that it was pretty exciting to see the decorated tombstone in person, for the first time. It’s possible I missed the person(s) by a matter of minutes, or hours.
On the off chance that the person(s) responsible stumble across this article, I’d like to say thanks for doing something interesting to stir peoples’ interest in local history.
For information on the story of Lieut. Walsh’s last stand (and subsequent execution) for his shots at Union sholdiers, check out the article from last year in the News & Observer.