Memorial Day seems like a good time to remember the story of the "Stranger" buried in Gray, Maine. The Gray Historical Society has been trying to identify this Civil War soldier for years. Perhaps a modern-day genealogist can help.
During the U.S. Civil War, Lt. Charles H. Colley of Gray was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. His body was sent home for burial. However, when the casket arrived home, it contained the body of an unknown soldier in a gray Confederate uniform. Unable to correct the mistake, and believing that the young man's family would want him to have a proper burial, the soldier was laid to rest in the town cemetery, and a group of local townswomen arranged to have a stone placed on his grave. Shortly after, the body of Lt. Colley arrived in Gray and now lies in the Colley family lot, not far from the Stranger's grave.
The people of Gray could have sent the Stranger away. They had reason to. The small town of Gray sent proportionally more sons to the Civil War than any other town in Maine. More than 178 Union soldiers are buried the Gray Village Cemetery. But touchingly, there is also one Confederate, the Unknown Soldier, brought into the heart of the town in the midst of that terrible war. The people of Gray always remember the grave of the Stranger on Memorial Day with a Confederate flag.
Perhaps you can give the Stranger a name after all these years. The Battle of Cedar Mountain was fought on August 9, 1862, in Culpeper County, Virginia, with estimated 2,700 casualties, 1,300 of whom were Confederate. Lieutenant Colley died at the Alexandria Hospital in Virginia. The Confederate soldier may have had a similar name, or simply died nearby to Colley in that hospital, or perhaps the family of the Stranger sent for his body, but in the chaos, the army put his casket on the wrong train. No one has ever understood the source of the mistake, but perhaps a family historian out there could finally know the final resting place of some long-dead mother's beloved, long-lost son.
If anyone out there has any clues, please contact the Gray Historical Society (http://www.graymaine.org/history.htm).
My thanks to Jennifer Godwin and Louise Knapp of the Gray Historical Society for this story.