Rebel Stranger for the first time.
GRAY, May 29, 1956
The Battle Flag of the Confederacy flutters over the grave of Gray's unknown Confederate soldier for the first time today. Buried here, among those he once fought, the Reb in gray has been remembered by this Yankee stronghold since the first Memorial Day. This year, however, the small American flag which flanks the granite slab marked, "Stranger" will be next to two Dixie banners. They were sent here by A. MacGregor Ayer of Fairfax, Va., and Mabur Jones of Columbia, S.C. who read about the soldier stranger in a news dispatch last year. Town officials also received a letter from a former Georgia resident, now living in New York, who reported that a Union soldier is buried in a cemetery near Gray, Ga. The writer's name by coincidence, is Mrs. Nema Gray Scott. She writes, "I am reasonably sure that his grave is honored by our country's flag on Memorial Day, whether on April 26 (Confederate Memorial Day) or May 30. The unknown Confederate's tombstone lists him as "Stranger." But he has been among friends ever since his body was shipped here by mistake in the autumn of 1862. The error was one of the common tragedies of war according to local historians. The body was supposed to have been that of Lt. Charles H. Colley, Co. B., 10th Maine Vol. In those days, the family had to pay the government for embalming and transportation. The Colley family had done this. When his body arrived they opened the casket in farewell. Instead of their son, they found a fully uniformed Confederate soldier. They were grief stricken but finally decided to bury the lad in Gray Cemetery. That no ill will was borne the soldier was evidenced by the erection of a tombstone over his grave shortly after. Inscribed on the slab was, "Stranger-a soldier of the late war. Erected by the Ladies of Gray." The group was made up of mothers whose own sons had been killed, wounded or were missing. In their sympathetic hearts, they knew the agony of war. No one knows for sure how the mistake was made. Lt. Colley's body arrived shortly after. He is buried about 100 feet southwesterly. Local historians guess that both Lt. Colley and the Confederate might have been wounded in the same battle, hospitaliced together and both must have died about the same time. And there's always the possibility that the Confederate soldier may have been named Colley.. Similarity in names could have accounted for the error. Members of Gray's GAR continued the custom of decorating his grave after organization of their post in the 1870's. It was continued by the Sons of Veterans. In recent years, the Ladies Relief Corps, an auxilliary of the GAR, places flowers while the Legion Post marks the graves with flags. The Unknown Soldier's marker differs from those of GAR Post 78, however. On its star is inscribed, "Veteran, 1861-65." Ayer, asked that a Confederate flag be put "on your unknown boy's grave as a token form those of us who cherish the memory of the men in Confederate graves." Mrs. Scott wrote that "such gestures as yours at Gray have gone far toward healing the grievances that grew out of our Civil War-grievances that were felt so personally for such a long time during the 91 years now since Appomattox." She said she read the account of the stranger in an Easton, Pa., newspaper and sent the dispatch to the Union-Recorder, a weekly at Milledgville Ga. The story was reprinted in that paper, she said.
by Harry A. Packard
Grit Magazine May 26, 1968
Due to a strange mistake during the dark days of the Civil War, flags of both the North and South will fly again this Memorial Day over the grave of an unknown Confederate soldier in the village cemetery at Gray, Maine. The problem arose after the battle at Cedar Mountain, August 9th, 1862, where both sides lost heavily. Bodies of many Union soldiers were shipped to their home towns, if their families were able to pay the costs of shipping. Lt. Charles L. Colley, of Gray, Maine, died in that battle. His family accepted the government's terms, and the body was shipped home. Then, when the undertaker received the sealed casket, he decided to open it to make sure the government had shipped the right body. The casket contained the wrong soldier-a Confederate casualty! After a hurried consultation, funeral plans were stopped and a wire dispatched to the War Department. Back came the message that the government had no provision to pay for returning the southern soldier. And the Colley family had no funds to pay shiping costs. "The grave has already been prepared," the lieutenant's mother said, "and somewhere there is a mother just as I who has lost her son. Use the grave already prepared for my son, and, in God's grace, she may do the same for me. Charlie would want it that way, I am sure. The headstone was marked simply, "Stranger. A Soldier of the War." As long as the Colley family continued, descendants decorated the Confederate soldier's grave with the same type of flag used for Maine's war dead. In recent years, the Daughters of the Confederacy have sent a flag each May to fly beside the banner of the North. A happy sequel to the story: The body of Lt. Colley was later sent home and was buried next to the grave of the unknown stranger from the South.
The Daily Press Sunday May 27, 1973
Norfolk, Virginia By Howard Goshorn
Tomorrow when President Nixon lays a wreath at the marble shaft erected at the tomb of the Unkown Soldier of World War I in Arlington National Cemtery, he will be, in a sense, duplicating a custom that began in the village of Gray, Maine during the war between the North and South. If you could be with some of the townpeople in the village of Gray, Maine, tomorrow, you would find them carrying flowering geraniums to their cemetery. You would see them move among the graves of their soldier dead, distrubuting the bright plants, and then come to a grave where they would pause. "I don't suppose you know about this one," one of them might say. And after a while, bit by bit, you would hear the story of why Gray, Maine, each year on Memorial Day, remembers the fighting between North and South long ago in the Shenandoah Valley campaign in Virginia. Among the young men going from this small northern town to join the Union Army, they would tell you in Gray, was Charley Colley, known to the army as Lt. Charles H. Colley, Company B, 10th Maine Volunteers. He was the son of Amos and Sarah Nash Colley and after he left their farm the days seemed to them to run all together, bleak and empty, lighted only once in a while by Charley's letters. "Hel'll be back by the end of the year. It'll be all over by then, " Amos used to say sometimes. But he did not really believe it, nor did Sarah his wife. Charley Colley saw the tides of war rise and ebb and on August 9th, 1862 he found himself with the 10th Maine Volunteers at Cedar Mountain in Virginia. In about 10 minutes one day -August 9 in the late afternoon- the 10th Maine surged forward and lost half its men in killed, wounded and missing. Charley's father and mother did not hear of this. They could only wonder why their son's letters stopped coming. Then, like so many others in all the wars, they received the message of crushing finality. Lt. Charles H. Colley, seriously wounded August 9, 1862, at Cedar Mountain, had succumbed to his wounds September 20 at Alexandria, Virginia. "Do you want him brought back home Mama?" Amos Colley asked his wife and she nodded. He wanted the boy back, too, and they made the usual arrangements. It was late in the fall when the plain pine coffin, sent up from Virginia, arrived in Gray. Amos Colley had it brought to the farm. Relatives and neighbors came in. The top of the coffin was pried open. Sarah Colley walked over to it. She had said earlier that she didn't think she could. But she did, and she must have known that this was the overwhelming moment, the final realization of her loss. Bending forward she looked down into the coffin. For an instant she was rigid, breathless, and then she cried out, "Why, that's not Charles. It's-it's a Confederate boy. Look at his uniform!" She was right. The boy in the coffin was clothed in Confederate gray but there was nothing on him to identify him. Town officials, knowing that both communications and transportation lines were disrupted by the war, decided that they would have to take the stranger in. They saw to it that he had a proper burial and about a week later the body of Charley Colley -this time the right man- arrived. He was buried in the same cemetery, about 100 ft. from the Confederate. At that time, of course, the war was far from over. But the women of Gray -many of them mothers whose sons had been killed, wounded or who were missing in action- felt that the Confederate boy, so far from home, deserved more than a barren grave. They raised funds for a tombstone like the stones above their own dead boys, and they had it inscribed,
a soldier of the late war
Erected by the Ladies of Gray
How the mistake that brought the Confederate to them happened, they never learned. George E. Hill, Gray historian now, suggest several theories. Probably both boys were wounded at Cedar Mountain. They could have died the same day in the improvished hospital at Alexandria. In the confusion there, the mistake in identity could easily have happened. No hint of the stranger's name ever reached the "enemy" town that buried him, as decently as it buried its own. He has been an "unknown soldier" since the days when streams ran red in the Shenandoah. If you should visit the people and the town of Gray tomorrow, you would see gifts -a small American flag and a flowering geranium- on Charley Colley's grave. And, bright and impartial, the same on the grave of the Confederate boy. "We feel it's only right," the people of Gray would say. "His father and mother never knew what became of him."
By Steve Libby
Gray Maine 1981
The Memorial Day procession to the cemetery here gets smaller every year. But in Gray there's a special meaning to the day and a special feeling, a feeling that began in the early days of the Civil War in a little white farmhouse on Colley Hill overlooking this little village. Amos and Sarah Colley lived there, as they had since their marriage. And when the telegram was delivered, that day in September, 1862, they were grief-stricken. Their son, Lt. Charles H. Colley, had been killed. On receipt of sufficient funds for preparation of the body, for a plain pine coffin and for shipping costs, the message read, the corpse would be returned to Gray. The money was sent. Some 3,500 men had been killed or wounded at Cedar Mountain during the Shanadoah Valley campaign. Eight thousand Union troops, including Company B, 10th Maine Volunteers, attacked 20,000 Confederates. Many, like Lt. Colley, were rushed to Alexandria Hospital. There, on Sept. 20, 1862, Colley died. In due course a coffin arrived at the railhead and began it tortuous trip by horse-cart up Colley Hill to the home of Amos and Sarah Colley. But when the coffin was opened, the body was not that of Charles Coley, but of a completely uniformed Confederate soldier. The stalwart Colleys and their friends and neighbors quickly agreed that this young man, enemy soldier though he was, would be buried in the Gray cemetery with full honors. So moved were the members of the Ladies Relief Corps of the G. A. R. that they promised to maintain the grave, including annual decoration with flag and flowers. The Stranger was buried and eventually a white stone erected reading thusly:
A Soldier of the late war
Erected by the Ladies of Gray
For more than a century, every Memorial Day, the grave of The Stranger in Gray has born a flag and flowers. Some times it was difficult to find a Confederate flag, so the Stars and Stripes was substitued; often people from the village came to place a geranium, or some wild flowers, by the stone. A few weeks after The Stranger had been buried, another coffin arrived for the Colleys. There was no mistake this time. Sarah and Amos followed their son's coffin to the cemetery and buried him about 30 paces from The Stranger. And so on this Memorial Day, as during the past 113 years, people will come and visit, leaving mementos and remembering. Ladies of the American Legion Auxiliary, who some years ago replaced the diminishing ranks of the aging members of the Relief Corps, will take charge of the flags; other will bring flowers. Some will merely come to watch the small ceremony directly across from the exit of the Maine Turnpike, with its speeding thousands passing by each day. There's be an easy way to find the grave of The Stranger in Gray. For flying proudly above his grave will be a flag of the Confederate States of America and as long as the elements allow it to retain its colors, this Battle Flag will wave in this Maine graveyard as a tribute to The Stranger.
By Elizabeth H. Holland 1981 GRAY UPS
On a windswept hill ringed by rolling countryside is a graveyard, the resting place of 178 Union soldiers and one lonely Confederate, mistakenly shipped north from Virginia in a pine box 119 years ago. The white marble headstone, reflanked each Memorial Day by an American flag and the Confederacy's Stars and Bars, only tells part of the legend. The large letters at the top of the tombstone spell out, "Stranger." Beneath is a smaller inscription, "A Soldier of the Late War. Died in 1862. Erected by the Ladies of Gray." It is a paean to the people of Gray who gave the unknown soldier an honorable burial, hoping that their sons -fighting on blood-soaked battlefields- would be treated in kind if found dead on enemy soil. The Stranger's story, scarred by tears of tragedy and triumph, began with the death of Lt. Charles H. Colley, the 29 year old son of Amos and Sarah Colley of Gray. Colley dashed to join Federal forces when the war began, and was placed in Company B of the 10th Maine Volunteers. He was one of about 200 other soldiers from Gray, a tiny town of 1,500 people that sent proportionately more of its native sons to battle than any other Maine community. Colley was wounded at the Battle of Cedar Mountain, Va. -by most historians accounts- a minor skirmish in a war that killed 529,332 (sic) men. Of those, 364,511 were Union soldiers and 164,821 were Confederates (sic). (Total deaths were over 620,000, about 360,000 from the North and 260,000 from the South) At Cedar Mountain August 9, 1862, there were 3,500 casualties. The Union forces battled against heavy odds. Twenty thousand Rebels led by Gen. Stonewall Jackson, under Robert E. Lee's orders stopped the Yankee advance on Richmond. By dusk, General Banks and his men were routed, sustaining heavy losses. Colley died September 20, 1862, in an Alexandria hospital of wounds suffered at Cedar Mountain. His parents, notified by the War Department, sent money for their son's body to be shipped home. The casket arrived. By intuition or because Amos and Sarah wanted one last look at their son, the sealed box was opened. Inside lay a uniformed Confederate soldier. He may have fallen beside Colley in the battle, may have a similar name, may have died near the Gray native in that Alexandria hospital. But he was here, hundreds of miles from Southern soil, a stranger accustomed to semi-tropical climate, rather than the severe cold of Maine. They could have returned him to the South. They could have rejected the notion of burying him alongside their own for after all, he and his fellows would be the enemy for three more years. But these grief-stricken Mainers who would send more than one third of the town's men 18 year old and up to war, instead donated land in the cemetery for the Confederate, chipped in for a headstone and gave the Rebel a proper burial. War Department authorities were notified of the mistake. Colley's body was located and returned, buried a stone's throw from his Southern counterpart on the same breezy knoll. The identity of the stranger, a mystery to the townspeople then, as he is unknown today. The two flags, taut and stiff in the spring wind, reappear each year. The Daughters of the Confederacy sent the Stars and Bars for several years, as did other people who had heard and were moved by the Stranger's story.
|The end of the story? Maybe not. See the update on the Gray Maine Historical Site.|