Bury Him Properly

They were traveling together toward the fight, all from Mobile and all headed toward Corinth. The whole region crackled with the news, and casualty reports and rumors were already swirling. The battle was still raging, and in fact, the tide had already turned. With reinforcements swarming off of Pittsburgh Landing, Grant and Sherman were already counterattacking and pushing themselves away from imminent destruction and toward victory and careers that would ultimately end the Civil War.

“What say you, Reverend Miller?” Kate said. “There are many of Mobile’s boys from its finest families in the fight. That’s what I hear, anyway.”

Reverend Benjamin Miller stared out the window at the slow-passing countryside. “I hear the same, ma’am.”

“I trust in our God that He will give us the victory,” said Kate. She wore a long, dark dress, and her dark hair was pulled back tightly. “And I pray that the rumors are not true, that not so many have fallen as we have heard.”

From across the aisle, a white-haired man they had not noticed before cleared his throat. “I believe the rumors are true, ma’am.”

Reverend Miller, his wife, and Kate turned. “You do?” said Kate. “I’m sorry to hear that, Sir. Mister, uh,–“

“Skates,” the man said. “Bartholomew Skates.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Mr. Skates. You are from Mobile?”

“Indeed, ma’am.”

“I trust you have not had bad news yourself,” said Mrs. Miller, as she leaned forward to peer around her husband.

Mr. Skates lowered his eyes. “I am given to understand that my son, Edward, was among the killed yesterday. I am told it was a grand charge and that the vandals were nearly swept into the river and with the grace of God, they will meet their fate today. Edward will only be with our boys in spirit, though. So I am told.”

A heavy silence fell over the group. Kate glanced out the window and then back to Mr. Skates. “You have other children at home, Mr. Skates?”

The older man nodded. “Edward has two brothers and six sisters, though we lost one of his sisters in January.”

Kate felt a tear slip from her eye. “May God give strength to Edward’s mother and sisters mourning him and his lost sister.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” said Mr. Skates. “I aim to bring him home if I can. Bury him properly with his sister.”

“Of course,” said Reverend Miller.

Mr. Skates looked at the floor of the train. “His brother has sworn vengeance, has said that he is enlisting. They were close, the two of them. Henry and Edward.”

“Older or younger brother?” said Mrs. Miller.

“Henry is older by not-quite-a-year.”

“Indeed they are close,” said Mrs. Miller. “I am sure Henry will fight with honor for his brother and for his country.”

Mr. Skates cleared his throat again. “Do you all have relatives in the service?” Kate nodded. “My brother is with Ketchum’s battery, but I have heard no news. We are not going for him, though. We aim to assist in the hospital. Surely, the need will be great.”

“Will they permit a lady to serve?” said Mr. Skates.

“She will not be denied,” said Reverend Miller. “And I will vouch for her.”

“God bless you in your ministries,” said Mr. Skates.

As a member of the 21st Alabama, Edward Skates fought in Braxton Bragg‘s Corps, which assaulted the center of the Union lines in the early daylight hours of April 6. The fight eventually devolved into the brutality known as the Hornet’s Nest, where between eight and ten Confederate charges were made before Union General Prentiss surrendered. Edward was killed somewhere in those hours, his body left on the field.

Bartholomew Skates failed to recover his son’s body. On April 8, General Grant ordered burial parties to tend to both sides’ dead. Confederates were buried in as many as twelve burial trenches with bodies sometimes stacked as many as seven deep. In the cases of most other battlefields, bodies were removed either after the battle or after the war and relocated to cemeteries nearer to soldiers’ homes or in national cemeteries. Such is not the case for the Confederate dead at Shiloh, the vast majority of which were never moved or reinterred. Today, the locations of only five burial trenches are known, making the Shiloh battlefield a significant cemetery with unknown grave locations throughout. Edward is believed to be buried in the Confederate Burial Trench, while his father, sister, and others are buried in a family plot.

Edward’s brother Henry served in the 3rd Alabama throughout the War and survived. In 1867, his wife gave birth to a boy that they named Edward.

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