More than 150 years after his death, the memory of one Confederate soldier will no longer be forgotten.
While the resting place of Isaac Sumner may never be known, thanks to the love and intense research of his great-great grandson, Sumner’s headstone has finally come home to Carroll County, where it will forever be displayed at the final resting place of his grandchildren.
Barry Cox, Sumner’s great-great grandson, helped reunite Sumner’s memory with his grandchildren when he placed the Confederate soldier’s gravestone at Independence Cemetery in Fancy Gap on Oct. 31.
“Everybody is really happy about it and glad they have gotten a little bit of closure,” said Cox. “We don’t know where his body is. It’s probably in a mass grave in Hopewell (Virginia) or Baltimore, but by putting his headstone there in the cemetery, he won’t be forgotten anymore. He’s been forgotten for several generations, but now he has been brought back into the fold again.”
Taking up arms for his family
Born to William and Catherine Sumner in October of 1823 in Grayson County, Isaac Sumner was the third generation of his family in the United States. The fifth of 14 children, Sumner was the son of a farmer.
After meeting and courting Teresa Hanks, the couple married in March of 1847 in Surry County, N.C. when Sumner was 22 and she was 15. The family was blessed with many children, starting in 1848 with Matilda, then James in 1850, Mary in 1853, Delia in 1860, John Cooper in 1861, and finally Charlie in 1863. Isaac and Teresa loved and raised their family by farming and working for others in the community.
“The Civil War started in 1861 and eventually found its way to Southwest Virginia. Issac, being a family man and wanting to protect them and their way of life, enlisted with four brothers – James, Jonathan, Josiah, Thomas, and one nephew, Robert,” Cox said. “The Sumners enlisted at Mount Indian in Grayson County in March of 1863 and were assigned to Company E of the Virginia 45th Infantry Regiment – the Rough and Readys. They saw action by Aug. of 1863 in White Sulphur Springs, then on to Cloyd’s Mountain in May of 1864 where Isaac’s nephew, Thomas, was wounded, shot in the arm.”
From there, the family trudged on to New Market and then over to the Battle of the Piedmont in the Staunton-Waynesboro area in May and June of 1864. It was there at the Battle of Piedmont where Isaac was captured along with 600 soldiers who could not or would not retreat. Isaac was sent by train to the POW Camp in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“I’m sure his wife Teresa was sick with fear, for the news arrived by his brothers that he had been captured, and the kids – aged from a newborn to 15 by this time – missed and cried for their sweet dad nightly wanting him home and safe with them,” Cox said. “The Northern federal government would allow Confederate soldiers to swear allegiance to the Northern states and allow them freedom if they would don the Blue uniform and fight against the South. Grandpa would never agree to such as it would be fighting against his brothers.”
As time went on, Isaac fell ill due to poor food, terrible living conditions, little clothing for the cold and poor to no medical care. While records don’t show what illness Isaac was stricken with, Cox believes his great-great grandpa probably came down with the flu, croup and dysentery. The official record said “It was a bad dose of the sickness and he was heading for death.”
Isaac, therefore, was included in a POW exchange in City Point, Virginia (now known as Hopewell), and in Feb. of 1865 he was moved to Baltimore by train and was heading south, either by ship around Chesapeake Bay or by train to City Point.
“Both accounts were recorded as a naval blockade was in place near Richmond. Isaac died on March 7, 1865. Records show he died on the road to City Point, resting place known by no one except God, just a month before the war ended,” Cox said. “As time passed, kids grew, courted, and married with no daddy to give the girls away, so the brothers stepped up to fill in for dad. The hurt healed, memories lingered, then faded, and Isaac was forgotten with no one in the family knowing for sure of his resting place.”
A Mission for Closure
Five years ago, Cox began using a metal detector on the battlefield of Cloyd’s Mountain in the Lillydale area of Dublin. There, along with his friend Ron White, Cox stood on the same ground where his great-great grandfather and the 45th Virginia Infantry stood their ground against Northern Aggression on May 9, 1864.
“It’s such a feeling you get that your great-great grandpa was standing in the exact same spot and was in that exact same field fighting for his freedom,” Cox said. “So it was there I decided to attempt to learn more about Isaac and the 45th Virginia Infantry. We found Minié balls, cannon balls, shrapnel, etc., so those finds kept the fire alive while I researched my grandpa Sumner.”
Cox went on to tell his twin brother, Gary, about a re-enactment that would take place on the Dublin battlefield on the land of Mary Catherine Stout and her husband in April of 2014. With the brothers sharing the same enthusiasm, they jumped at the chance to film the docudrama, Battle of Cloyd’s Mountain (log on to http://battleofcloydsmountaindvd.com/index.html for purchasing info).
Cox credits distant cousin John Midkiff of Bedford for helping Isaac’s headstone make its way to Carroll County. Midkiff sent Cox the family tree, which he used to add to as he dug up more history from the Civil War archives in the basement of the Virginia Tech library and the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
“To wrap this saga up, after two years of research, letter writing, records searched and national military archives nosed through, our good National Veterans Affairs Department agreed that no known resting place was logged for Grandpa Isaac and a white marble headstone was afforded and sent for his memory,” Cox said. “I placed it in the Independence Cemetery at Fancy Gap. Cousin Alice Dalton and cemetery Trustee Gerald Stockner and my buddy Jerry Rotenberry arrived to point out the final resting place of Isaac’s headstone. Welcome Home Grandpa, you finally made it, your memory will never be forgotten again.”
Cox chose Independence Cemetery because Isaac’s grandson, William Henry, and other grandchildren, are buried there. He is hopeful to have a dedication ceremony for Isaac during Memorial Day weekend 2016.
“We want to have some kind of flag or something over the stone and dedicate it to show to everyone. We hope to have a couple of Civil War re-enactors there and do some photographs,” Cox said. “This whole story hits home when you think he was only 41 years old. He went through a lot and he was only 41. He had the flu, the croup and dysentery, so he was a sick man. But that determination to get home to that house full of kids really drove him. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.”