I have corresponded with the Fredericksburg Battlefield National Park personnel in reference to John K. Alexander of the 36th MA. Below is what they noted to me. This adds color to the story “The Tomb Is Empty.”
I appreciate your desire to locate the burial sites (both initial and final) of these soldiers.
The dead from Meade’s and Gibbon’s divisions at Fredericksburg are difficult to track. Very few of the remains were identified during the reinterment process. Specific locations for the initial gravesites are undetermined, as their descriptions are generic in the records and no maps reminiscent of Antietam or Gettysburg exist to my knowledge. Most of the graves from the south end of the Fredericksburg battlefield were relocated to a section of the national cemetery adjacent to the Humphreys Monument (denoted by light blue on the attached map).
Regarding John K. Alexander, it appears your efforts to investigate the location of his grave have led to a revelation. I noticed the entry on our cemetery register for grave #996 (John S. Alexander, 6th MA),seemed suspiciously similar to John K. Alexander. We must consider that information on the register was derived from crude headboards or makeshift grave markers that were subjected to the elements for years. Thus, record keepers for the reburial parties had to interpret what they perceived from the writings/etchings they found. Examining these records, I have found prolific misspellings, incorrect units, and even a few Confederates misidentified as Federals. Therefore, I took a closer look into John S. Alexander, and found no such soldier existed. The 6th Massachusetts was never assigned to the Army of the Potomac, nor deployed to Spotsylvania. Additionally, a roster of soldiers who died at Spotsylvania maintained by our park includes only two Union soldiers with the surname “Alexander,” those being James M. and John K. It seems certain the occupant of this grave is not John S. Alexander of the 6th MA (see attached page from our cemetery register with entry for Alexander near the bottom).
I then attempted to determine the likelihood of John K. Alexander as the occupant of the grave. Research indicates the probability is high. First, it is reasonable to conceive that a hastily crafted grave marker for “John K. Alexander, 36th MA,” could be garbled upon transcription to “John S. Alexander, 6th MA.” Second, the location of the grave makes sense. Most of the 36th MA who died on May 12th were initially interred at either the McCoull or Beverly farms. The grave in question was exhumed from the McCoull Farm, which is the closest Union burial site to the Mule Shoe Salient. I feel all this constitutes enough evidence to identify the grave as the probable final resting place of your wife’s ancestor. I will amend our cemetery roster accordingly and submit requests to edit his entry on Find A Grave.
This is quite a remarkable discovery you have initiated. Of the many job duties I perform, facilitating the proper identification of fallen soldiers is one of the most meaningful, so thank you for reaching out to enable it. You have made it possible for Corporal Alexander to receive proper recognition after 150+ years. I only wish we could do the same for Lewis Murray. Hopefully someday new information will allow his grave to also be located. Otherwise, f eel free to contact me directly with any additional questions.
P.S. A notable burial at our national cemetery, Sergeant Jerome Peirce, was also a member of the 36th killed in action on May 12th. You might find this video about his story interesting: www.facebook.com/FredericksburgSpotsylvaniaNMP/videos/176953373680714 .
Peter MauglePark Ranger & Education CoordinatorFredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park