Caring for an unknown soldier

Published 1:32 pm Tuesday, September 2, 2008

As we drive along Shelby County roads and highways we often see signs noting historic markers. There’s a story behind every one of these.

About 10 miles west of Montevallo on County Road 10, just before Happy Hollow Road, there’s such a sign, with an arrow directing visitors to a beautiful little cleared space in the forest where there’s a simple grave with a headstone engraved “Unknown Civil War Soldier.”

A few phone calls revealed that Patty Holsomback was the lady with the story. She was happy to go with us to the site and tell the story that had been told to her by her grandmother who had heard the tale from her own grandmother.

First and perhaps most meaningful is the fact that this is the grave of a Yankee soldier who was killed during the Civil War. Patty’s great-great grandmother and a couple of her friends were walking through the woods when they discovered the bodies of the soldier and his horse. These women knew all about the suffering accompanying the losses inflicted by that dreadful war. They understood, too, that this was the body of some mother’s child, and they simply could not leave it there for the wild animals to devour.

Most of the men in that little Pea Ridge community were away fighting the Yankees, so these kind ladies took on the job of burying that soldier. They dug a shallow grave, covered the body with pine straw, leaves and rags, so that the covering dirt did not touch his face. When they finished they lay a small pile of rocks to mark the spot. Presumably those are the same rocks there today.

Gracious ladies of the community have tended that grave for the last 150 years or so. Patty Holsomback ordered and installed the headstone. She and ladies from Antioch Church regularly add flowers and a flag to the site.

“My ancestor was killed in Gettysburg,” Holsomback explained. “I would like to think that someone would care for his grave and I believe this soldier’s family would be thankful for our care.”

The unknown soldier’s grave is a true symbol of the love and understanding concern of women throughout history who have given up their sons, husbands and fathers to war.

Catherine Legg can be reached by e–mail at