Ceremony to honor 8 Confederate soldiers
June 24, 2011
Eight of Saline County’s 278 Confederate soldiers who died far away from home defending a cause they believed in will be memorialized a special event Saturday.
Monuments for the eight whose bodies were not returned to their families for burial will be dedicated in a ceremony at Glidewell-Leech Cemetery off Dogwood Drive in Benton.
The public is invited to the 10:30 a.m. event.
Members of the David Owen Dodd Camp 619, Sons of Confederate Veterans, are sponsoring the dedication of the newly created Confederate memorial section at the local cemetery. This is one of several observances being held in conjunction with the Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration.
Anthony Rushing, spokesman for the SCV, said the David Owen Dodd Camp hopes to acquire markers for all of Saline County’s Confederate veterans who did not receive a proper burial.
He noted that three of the soldiers to be memorialized — who were brothers — are: 1st Sgt. Coke Witten, who was killed in the Battle of Dug Gap, Ga., on May 8, 1864; Staff Sgt. Wilkerson Witten, who died of illness in Hudson, La., on April 30, 1863; and Pvt. Benton Witten, who died of illness in a hospital at Point Lookout, Md., on Nov. 13, 1863.
“A fourth brother fought with Union forces and survived the war,” Rushing said of that situation that often was the case in this war that divided family loyalties.
Others to be honored in Saturday’s grave-marking tribute are:
•Sgt. James M. Forsythe, who died in Corinth, Miss., on Nov. 10, 862; Pvt. Henry S. Forsythe, who died in a POW camp in Douglas, Ill., on Aug. 23, 1862; and Pvt. William M. Forsythe, who was killed in the Battle of Pilot Knob, Mo., on Sept. 276, 1864.
•Pvt. Thomas J. Elrod, who died in Panola, Miss., in June 1862; and Pvt. George Dixon, who died in Shubuta, Miss., in July 1863.
Rushing said a descendant of the Wittens, Mary Lewis of Norman, Okla., will be attending Saturday’s ceremony.
Rushing is a descendant of the Forsythes.
Information about the soldiers and events taking place in their lives was gleaned from letters exchanged among the brothers and other relatives, Rushing said.
“There are 150-200 letters that were written starting before the Civil War to the 1900s between all these brothers and cousins and other relatives,” Rushing said.
“Martha Roark, a sister of the Witten brothers, was the great-great aunt of Mary Lewis, and she had saved many of the letters,” Rushing said.
All of the Wittens and the Forsythes lived in what is now the Sardis community, Rushing said. “They settled in Hurricane and Owen townships,” he said.
“Roark gave the land for the Sardis United Methodist Church,” he said.
“Later, Mary Lewis got some of the letters the soldiers had written and other relatives had other relatives,” he said.
Rushing previously chronicled the correspondence of many of these soldiers in an account published by The Saline, the publication of the Saline County History and Heritage Society.
“I took digital copies of the letters with me when I served in Iraq with the National Guard and worked on them in my spare time,” Rushing said.
A history buff all of his life, Rushing’s interest in this project is heightened by the fact that the three Forsythes are his great-great uncles. “They were brothers to my great-grandfather, Wiley Forsythe of this area,” he said.
Rushing expressed appreciation to Ruth Mitchell, who owns the Glidewell-Leech Cemetery site in Benton.
“She’s allowed us to put these markers up,” Rushing said. “We hope to make it look something like a national cemetery because we’re trying to get a marker for every one of the Saline County men who fought for something they believed in, but died somewhere else. They are either buried far from their homes in unmarked graves, maybe buried in a mass grave or maybe never were buried anywhere.
“Their families didn’t ever get their bodies returned to bury as they chose,” he added. “It was a different day then.”