a man named Finley wrote a letter home to his wife after the Seven Days Battles in July of 1862 telling her in detail about his exploits as a Confederate officer involved in just one of the numerous attacks that were made that day of flesh-and-blood-men against an iron-wall of shot, shell and canister thrown up by highly trained Union artillery batteries less than a half-mile away from the Rebel’s formation area. it is now, in 2014, that what he recounted in the letter is just as amazing as the sketch he made in the days afterward of the field north of Malvern Hill across which his unit attacked that he sent with the missive to the missus. And we are confronted with the fact that a map, locked away in a series of containers over the intervening 150 years, now provides us with a sudden reality check into the culture of Olde Ante-Bellum Virginia.
the map shows in rough, but accurate detail, very much like an old surveyor’s notebook, the unvarnished truth about the Land, the People, the Culture.
General Lee had visited this terrain many times in his younger years. he knew the Malvern Hill plantation was situated on not just one hill, but a series of undulating ridge-lines and gullies that ran east-west between two streams that eventually emptied into the James River as it goes through a multitude of huge meanderings in eastern Henrico County. he probably thought, from his vantage point, that his attacking columns of troops would have plenty of low spots in their attacks on the Yankee line to re-group and rest before going over the next ridge, exposing themselves to murderous cannon and rifled musket fire. THE REALITY: Emory Upton did not discover until May, 1864, the right way for massed assaults against fortified positions to succeed without horrendous casualty rates making it impossible to hold onto those positions if they were actually carried. Lee’s attacks all ended in dismal failure, as did almost every frontal assault he ever ordered in the War. Lee was operating from the mentality he acquired in the Mexican War, when rifles used by the combatants typically were smooth-bored and the ammunition was a spherical ball of lead and this system of fire was not as accurate or as deadly as the rifled musket using the Minie’ designed conical bullet. The technology of mass killing was dramatically changing during this period of the Industrial revolution, and a gunsmith named Dreyse has already designed and built a bolt-action rifled gun which, if…
Finley made the map primarily to give his wife, living back home at a plantation near Clarkesville Virginia, a picture to go by as he described his own unit’s efforts that day. What he showed her was a really good picture of the industrial farming and slave production of Virginia too.
in the foreground of his map, he shows us the forest in which his regiment was positioned prior to being ordered to move forward on the run toward the Union army. In front of the southern line of these woods, were about twelve Confederate artillery pieces that were woefully inadequate for their task, due the small caliber and light weight of the gun barrels. These three gun batteries had been ordered up to this position by Generals Longstreet and Magruder, so the men fired as long as they could, to the best of their abilities and courage until losses from the returning fire made it imperative to pull the pieces back into the wooded shelter. They never really threatened the Yankee gunners, whose heavy field guns were described by Finley as ‘splendid’. After the Confederate troops entered the open field, they first had to expel Berdan’s Sharpshooters from a barn and a cemetery.
A cemetery….not a graveyard near a church building, but a cemetery standing alone on a small hillock just southwest of the last artillery gun on the Confederate right flank. It was not very far from the barn, which would be holding the summer’s field produce in another 10 weeks. The persons buried in the cemetery were most likely to have been, and still are, the men and women who worked in these fields from 10 to 16 hours a day…they were the slave-labor force of the plantation, and their bodies, without coffins or boxing of any type, were laid in the ground right here, just 400 yards from where they had died…
if we look up the Finley map at the ridge on which the Union guns were in-place, we can see that the gunners were shrewd enough at the art of gunnery to know that hiding between wooden structures carried both risks and rewards. The latter, the rewards, accrued from being able to keep the enemy spotters from seeing the gun and the crew, from having returning fire aimed at the covered gun, and enabling just a few guns to get a clear shot to that target. The risks were that if a Confederate solid shot could hit a building corner just right, the wood splinters from the impact would kill or wound everyone in the Union gun crew in an instant. In that event, the building being wrecked would be one of the ‘out houses’ that Finley labeled for his wife. “Out houses” may be the living quarters of some of the families of the plantation slaves, and may be simply buildings that stored various pieces of farming equipment.
If you wander onto the Malvern Hill Battlefield today you can walk around the perimeter of the main venues of the conflict that hot July afternoon, as delineated by the Park Service. The Confed batteries are the northernmost spot you can visit on the walking tour. Heading down the grass-mowned pathway toward the South and the Union position, going about 235 paces, you can see to your right this small hillock covered with broom straw and some briers. Turn off the pathway and hike up to the topmost point of this ground-swell. In the broom-straw, you will see small indentations of matted down straw and grass where a herd of deer have a habit of spending the nights quietly resting upon the bodies of dozens of dead men and women, their bones probably no more than four feet below the ground surface of the modern days. They were possibly only three feet below at the time of the battle in 1862.
The pedestrian visitor at this point would logically ask the question: why are there not any of the elongated depressions in an east-west alignment that are encountered so very often in old cemeteries in the woods and fields of the Virginia countryside? There are several explanations on this issue.
1.In the aftermath of the battle, due to a live water spring being just down the hill to the south, this spot would have been an ideal, coveted place for a Confed regiment to encamp for the next day or two, as the Army of Northern Virginia went into a bivouac to await the next moves of the hated Yankees. The Rebels would not have suffered many qualms about being on top of a slave cemetery, and during just a few days the thousands of foot-falls of men walking about the camp would have packed the ground as solid as a highway, and would have evened out the level of the surface almost as flat in most places on the hillock.
2.During the battle, Finley shows us there was a field here; in the USGS map of the DeLorme program on my computer, we see a forest on this spot over the interim; the visitor notes that now, in 2014, the hillock is once again clear of trees. Whenever the Park Service had this spot cleared of trees, the officials of the organization did not know of the anthropological importance of this site, and allowed the contractor to use the typical clear-cut technique known to environmentally conscientious people as ‘land rape’ in getting the ‘timber’ out. ‘TIMBER’ is a commodity the modern American has not seen in several generations since the clear-cut process does not allow for the development of trees of sufficient age, diameter and health to be rated as ‘timber’, plus the periodic burn-offs necessary to develop real ‘timber’ are rather frowned upon by these same enviro-friends. Thus, the Park Service inadvertently ruined the cemetery even more than the Confederate Army, creating numerous small, shallow pits and a few deep holes in the ground surface.
THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST SHORT STORIES EVER WRITTEN BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR
Subject: Burial At Sea
Powerful stuff. Please take time to read all of this. I wish each American could read this one. I feel too many of us fail to grasp what our young troops have done for us for so long, the freedoms they have protected for us. To only those who would and could appreciate it. This account is one of a kind…a powerful one that touches your heart. Read this slowly and to the end. Tough duty then as it is now.
Burial at Sea
by LtCol George Goodson, USMC (Ret)
In my 76th year, the events of my life appear to me, from time to time,
as a series of vignettes. Some were significant; most were trivial.
War is the seminal event in the life of everyone that has endured it.
Though I fought in Korea and the Dominican Republic and was wounded
there, Vietnam was my war.
Now 37 years have passed and, thankfully, I rarely think of those days
in Cambodia, Laos, and the panhandle of North Vietnam where small teams
of Americans and Montangards fought much larger elements of the North
Vietnamese Army. Instead I see vignettes: some exotic, some mundane:
*The smell of Nuc Mam.
*The heat, dust, and humidity.
*The blue exhaust of cycles clogging the streets.
*Elephants moving silently through the tall grass.
*Hard eyes behind the servile smiles of the villagers.
*Standing on a mountain in Laos and hearing a tiger roar.
*A young girl squeezing my hand as my medic delivered her baby.
*The flowing Ao Dais of the young women biking down Tran Hung Dao.
*My two years as Casualty Notification Officer in North Carolina,
Virginia, and Maryland.
It was late 1967. I had just returned after 18 months in Vietnam.
Casualties were increasing. I moved my family from Indianapolis to
Norfolk, rented a house, enrolled my children in their fifth or sixth
new school, and bought a second car.
A week later, I put on my uniform and drove 10 miles to Little Creek,
Virginia. I hesitated before entering my new office. Appearance is
important to career Marines. I was no longer, if ever, a poster Marine.
I had returned from my third tour in Vietnam only 30 days before. At
5’9", I now weighed 128 pounds – 37 pounds below my normal weight. My
uniforms fit ludicrously, my skin was yellow from malaria medication,
and I think I had a twitch or two.
I straightened my shoulders, walked into the office, looked at the
nameplate on a Staff Sergeant’s desk and said, "Sergeant Jolly, I’m
Lieutenant Colonel Goodson. Here are my orders and my Qualification
Sergeant Jolly stood, looked carefully at me, took my orders, stuck out
his hand; we shook and he asked, "How long were you there, Colonel?" I
replied "18 months this time." Jolly breathed, "you must be a slow
learner Colonel." I smiled.
Jolly said, "Colonel, I’ll show you to your office and bring in the
Sergeant Major. I said, "No, let’s just go straight to his office."
Jolly nodded, hesitated, and lowered his voice, "Colonel, the Sergeant
Major. He’s been in this job two years. He’s packed pretty tight. I’m
worried about him." I nodded.
Jolly escorted me into the Sergeant Major’s office. "Sergeant Major,
this is Colonel Goodson, the new Commanding Office. The Sergeant Major
stood, extended his hand and said, "Good to see you again, Colonel." I
responded, "Hello Walt, how are you?" Jolly looked at me, raised an
eyebrow, walked out, and closed the door.
I sat down with the Sergeant Major. We had the obligatory cup of coffee
and talked about mutual acquaintances. Walt’s stress was palpable.
Finally, I said, "Walt, what’s the h-ll’s wrong?" He turned his chair,
looked out the window and said, "George, you’re going to wish you were
back in Nam before you leave here. I’ve been in the Marine Corps since
1939. I was in the Pacific 36 months, Korea for 14 months, and Vietnam
for 12 months. Now I come here to bury these kids. I’m putting my letter
in. I can’t take it anymore." I said, "OK Walt. If that’s what you want,
I’ll endorse your request for retirement and do what I can to push it
through Headquarters Marine Corps."
Sergeant Major Walt Xxxxx retired 12 weeks later. He had been a good
Marine for 28 years, but he had seen too much death and too much
suffering. He was used up.
Over the next 16 months, I made 28 death notifications, conducted 28
military funerals, and made 30 notifications to the families of Marines
that were severely wounded or missing in action. Most of the details of
those casualty notifications have now, thankfully, faded from memory.
Four, however, remain.
MY FIRST NOTIFICATION
My third or fourth day in Norfolk, I was notified of the death of a 19
year old Marine. This notification came by telephone from Headquarters
Marine Corps. The information detailed:
*Name, rank, and serial number.
*Name, address, and phone number of next of kin.
*Date of and limited details about the Marine’s death.
*Approximate date the body would arrive at the Norfolk Naval Air
*A strong recommendation on whether the casket should be opened or
The boy’s family lived over the border in North Carolina, about 60 miles
away. I drove there in a Marine Corps staff car. Crossing the state line
into North Carolina, I stopped at a small country store / service
station / Post Office. I went in to ask directions.
Three people were in the store. A man and woman approached the small
Post Office window. The man held a package. The Storeowner walked up and
addressed them by name, "Hello John. Good morning Mrs. Cooper."
I was stunned. My casualty’s next-of-kin’s name was John Cooper!
I hesitated, then stepped forward and said, "I beg your pardon. Are you
Mr. and Mrs. John Cooper of (address.)
The father looked at me-I was in uniform – and then, shaking, bent at
the waist, and vomited. His wife looked horrified at him and then at me.
Understanding came into her eyes and she collapsed in slow motion. I
think I caught her before she hit the floor.
The owner took a bottle of whiskey out of a drawer and handed it to Mr.
Cooper who drank. I answered their questions for a few minutes. Then I
drove them home in my staff car. The storeowner locked the store and
followed in their truck. We stayed an hour or so until the family began
I returned the storeowner to his business. He thanked me and said,
"Mister, I wouldn’t have your job for a million dollars." I shook his
hand and said; "Neither would I."
I vaguely remember the drive back to Norfolk. Violating about five
Marine Corps regulations, I drove the staff car straight to my house. I
sat with my family while they ate dinner, went into the den, closed the
door, and sat there all night, alone.
My Marines steered clear of me for days. I had made my first death
Weeks passed with more notifications and more funerals.. I borrowed
Marines from the local Marine Corps Reserve and taught them to conduct a
military funeral: how to carry a casket, how to fire the volleys and how
to fold the flag.
When I presented the flag to the mother, wife, or father, I always said,
"All Marines share in your grief." I had been instructed to say, "On
behalf of a grateful nation…." I didn’t think the nation was grateful,
so I didn’t say that.
Sometimes, my emotions got the best of me and I couldn’t speak. When
that happened, I just handed them the flag and touched a shoulder. They
would look at me and nod. Once a mother said to me, "I’m so sorry you
have this terrible job." My eyes filled with tears and I leaned over and
Six weeks after my first notification, I had another. This was a young
PFC. I drove to his mother’s house. As always, I was in uniform and
driving a Marine Corps staff car. I parked in front of the house, took a
deep breath, and walked towards the house. Suddenly the door flew open,
a middle-aged woman rushed out. She looked at me and ran across the
yard, screaming "NO! NO! NO! NO!"
I hesitated. Neighbors came out. I ran to her, grabbed her, and
whispered stupid things to reassure her. She collapsed. I picked her up
and carried her into the house.. Eight or nine neighbors followed. Ten
or fifteen minutes later, the father came in followed by ambulance personnel.
I have no recollection of leaving.
The funeral took place about two weeks later. We went through the drill.
The mother never looked at me. The father looked at me once and shook
his head sadly.
One morning, as I walked in the office, the phone was ringing. Sergeant
Jolly held the phone up and said, "You’ve got another one, Colonel." I
nodded, walked into my office, picked up the phone, took notes, thanked
the officer making the call, I have no idea why, and hung up. Jolly, who
had listened, came in with a special Telephone Directory that translates
telephone numbers into the person’s address and place of employment.
The father of this casualty was a Longshoreman. He lived a mile from my
office. I called the Longshoreman’s Union Office and asked for the
Business Manager. He answered the phone, I told him who I was, and asked
for the father’s schedule.
The Business Manager asked, "Is it his son?" I said nothing. After a
moment, he said, in a low voice, "Tom is at home today." I said, "Don’t
call him. I’ll take care of that." The Business Manager said, "Aye, Aye
Sir," and then explained, "Tom and I were Marines in WWII."
I got in my staff car and drove to the house. I was in uniform. I
knocked and a woman in her early forties answered the door. I saw
instantly that she was clueless. I asked, "Is Mr. Smith home?" She
smiled pleasantly and responded, "Yes, but he’s eating breakfast now.
Can you come back later?" I said, "I’m sorry. It’s important. I need to
see him now."
She nodded, stepped back into the beach house and said, "Tom, it’s for
A moment later, a ruddy man in his late forties, appeared at the door.
He looked at me, turned absolutely pale, steadied himself, and said,
"Jesus Christ man, he’s only been there three weeks!"
Months passed. More notifications and more funerals. Then one day while
I was running, Sergeant Jolly stepped outside the building and gave a
loud whistle, two fingers in his mouth……. I never could do that…
and held an imaginary phone to his ear.
Another call from Headquarters Marine Corps. I took notes, said, "Got
it." and hung up. I had stopped saying "Thank You" long ago.
Me, "Eastern Shore of Maryland. The father is a retired Chief Petty
Officer. His brother will accompany the body back from Vietnam…."
Jolly shook his head slowly, straightened, and then said, "This time of
day, it’ll take three hours to get there and back. I’ll call the Naval
Air Station and borrow a helicopter. And I’ll have Captain Tolliver get
one of his men to meet you and drive you to the Chief’s home."
He did, and 40 minutes later, I was knocking on the father’s door. He
opened the door, looked at me, then looked at the Marine standing at
parade rest beside the car, and asked, "Which one of my boys was it,
I stayed a couple of hours, gave him all the information, my office and
home phone number and told him to call me, anytime.
He called me that evening about 2300 (11:00PM). "I’ve gone through my
boy’s papers and found his will. He asked to be buried at sea. Can you
make that happen?" I said, "Yes I can, Chief. I can and I will."
My wife who had been listening said, "Can you do that?" I told her, "I
have no idea. But I’m going to break my ass trying."
I called Lieutenant General Alpha Bowser, Commanding General, Fleet
Marine Force Atlantic, at home about 2330, explained the situation, and
asked, "General, can you get me a quick appointment with the Admiral at
Atlantic Fleet Headquarters?" General Bowser said," George, you be there
tomorrow at 0900. He will see you.
I was and the Admiral did. He said coldly, "How can the Navy help the
Marine Corps, Colonel." I told him the story. He turned to his Chief of
Staff and said, "Which is the sharpest destroyer in port?" The Chief of
Staff responded with a name.
The Admiral called the ship, "Captain, you’re going to do a burial at
sea. You’ll report to a Marine Lieutenant Colonel Goodson until this
mission is completed."
He hung up, looked at me, and said, "The next time you need a ship,
Colonel, call me. You don’t have to sic Al Bowser on my ass." I
responded, "Aye Aye, Sir" and got the h-ll out of his office.
I went to the ship and met with the Captain, Executive Officer, and the
Senior Chief. Sergeant Jolly and I trained the ship’s crew for four
days. Then Jolly raised a question none of us had thought of. He said,
"These government caskets are air tight. How do we keep it from
All the high priced help including me sat there looking dumb. Then the
Senior Chief stood and said, "Come on Jolly. I know a bar where the
retired guys from World War II hang out."
They returned a couple of hours later, slightly the worst for wear, and
said, "It’s simple; we cut four 12" holes in the outer shell of the
casket on each side and insert 300 lbs of lead in the foot end of the
casket. We can handle that, no sweat."
The day arrived. The ship and the sailors looked razor sharp. General
Bowser, the Admiral, a US Senator, and a Navy Band were on board. The
sealed casket was brought aboard and taken below for modification. The
ship got underway to the 12-fathom depth.
The sun was hot. The ocean flat. The casket was brought aft and placed
on a catafalque. The Chaplin spoke. The volleys were fired. The flag
was removed, folded, and I gave it to the father. The band played
"Eternal Father Strong to Save." The casket was raised slightly at the
head and it slid into the sea.
The heavy casket plunged straight down about six feet. The incoming
water collided with the air pockets in the outer shell. The casket
stopped abruptly, rose straight out of the water about three feet,
stopped, and slowly slipped back into the sea. The air bubbles rising
from the sinking casket sparkled in the in the sunlight as the casket
disappeared from sight forever….
The next morning I called a personal friend, Lieutenant General Oscar
Peatross, at Headquarters Marine Corps and said, "General, get me out of
here. I can’t take this anymore." I was transferred two weeks later.
I was a good Marine but, after 17 years, I had seen too much death and
too much suffering. I was used up.
Vacating the house, my family and I drove to the office in a two-car
convoy. I said my goodbyes. Sergeant Jolly walked out with me. He waved
at my family, looked at me with tears in his eyes, came to attention,
saluted, and said, "Well Done, Colonel. Well Done."
I felt as if I had received the Medal of Honor!
A veteran is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank
check made payable to ‘The United States of America ‘ for an amount of
‘up to and including my life.’ That is Honor, and there are way too
many people in this country who no longer understand it.’
A BIT MORE ABOUT THE COLONEL:
THE STORY THAT APPEARED IN THE MARINE CORPS GAZETTE
Whitney Houston’s death, while a sad thing, was the direct result of very unwise life choices. It dominates the news.
Charlie Sheen is 45 and his story is all over the news because he is a substance abuser, an adulterer, sexually promiscuous and obnoxious.
Lindsay Lohan is 24 and her story is all over the news because she is a celebrity drug addict and thief.
Something as frivolous as Kim Kardashian’s stupid wedding [and short-lived marriage] was shoved down our throats.
Justin Allen, 23
Brett Linley, 29
Matthew Weikert, 29
Justus Bartett, 27
Dave Santos, 21
Jesse Reed, 26
Matthew Johnson, 21
Zachary Fisher, 24
Brandon King 23
Christopher Goeke, 23
and Sheldon Tate, 27…..
Are all Marines that gave their lives last month for you. There is no media for them; not even a mention of their names. Honor THEM by sending this on.
The Medal of Honor is a Valor medal and says this on the Medal itself. it is bestowed on men and women in the military who, in moments of extreme danger, have been willing to sacrifice everything they have to save the life or lives of other persons. it does not belong to the recipient of the Medal. it belongs to everyone BUT the recipient. it belongs to the People of the United States of America as a tribute to the extreme and continuing value that we still place on Honor….a set of Beliefs and Values and Faith that the Nation was founded upon and that will live forever…and the recipient has been recognized by The People of this Country for acting on those Beliefs, those Values and that Faith ‘above and beyond the Call of Duty’.
the owners of the Frenchman’s Rough Map:
the Second (maybe Third) Cittie of the Colony:
the folks with the records:
those whom the POTUS has to salute:
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