On route 80, bordering the boundaries of Breaks Interstate Park, as you begin the ascension up the beautiful mountains of Appalachia from Kentucky into Virginia, rests a soldier only known to God. The plaque reads:
“Known But To God”
“Here rests the body of a soldier of the Confederacy, struck down by an unknown assassin in May of 1865-apparently on way to home in the South. He was buried in a coffin made of boards rived from a great oak by four men of this community. After the turn of the century, a rose bush marked this final resting-place of a soldier who is “Known but to God”.”
When I initially encountered the roadside marker, my Confederate American blood became saddened with a longing that I have rarely encountered. I wondered who was this individual that now walks upon the wind? I imagined the families’ broken heart as the mother sat on the porch every evening looking for her son. I could feel her anxiety whenever a person was seen walking over the horizon, as she wondered was that her boy or the bearer of tragic news. I heard the last words of the pitiful little mother and forlorn father as they wondered where their son had fallen. But I could have sworn I heard on the whisper of the wind the joy of the reunion across the shore of that great river between this world and that one that knows no sorrow. My longing has compelled my search in finding more about this man and his family in hopes that closure will be afforded one soldier “known but to God”.
The families of Richard Potter, Henry Potter, George Potter, Zeke Counts and Lazarus Hunt have preserved and passed down the story of this unknown Confederate on his way home. The families were the descendants of the original settlers in the area and possessed a deep pride in their beloved Kentucky and Virginia. The story portrayed a lonely soldier in May of 1865 that stopped at the home of Richard Potter and asked for a drink of water. Mr. Potter obliged the man, as was (and still is) the custom of hospitality in Appalachia. As they talked for a few moments it was revealed that he was making his way home to Carolina (whether North or South Carolina has been lost over the years). After a period of time, the man thanked Mr. Potter and continued on his journey. Shortly George Potter, Henry Potter, Lazarus Hunt and Zeke Counts came to Richard Potter’s home stating that a Confederate soldier had been bushwhacked down the road apiece.
As was the custom of the day the body was brought to someone’s home and the ladies cleansed and prepared the corpse for burial. A watch, cap and a handkerchief were all of the man’s earthly possessions and a kindly old lady was entrusted with the watch in hopes that, “One day his family will come and you are to give them his watch when they do.” One of the misfortunes of the time was that upon the kindly grandmother’s death, vandals entered her cabin looking for loot and then burnt it to the ground. Ironically the path of this heroic lady crossed the same level of low life that assassinated the unfortunate soldier trying to make it home. The sainted ladies washed his shirt as the good Samaritans felled an oak tree to make the planks for the unfortunate man’s coffin. The funeral was attended by those that not only mourned the passing of an unknown man but the passing of the South. “The families that lived in the Flats were the mourners for this unfortunate son of the South. It is for this reason that he became one of our own. He was entrusted to us for the care and maintenance of his memory.”
The care of the gravesite has been passed down from generation to generation. In 1900 Harve, the son of Henry Potter planted a rose bush as a memorial to the unknown soul. On every visit that I have made to that beautiful area, I have noted that a memorial wreath, flower or flag has been placed at the location. To me this is not only a tribute to that unknown man of the South but also one to the family and descendants of those brave men and women that offered a lasting mark of respect of their character as true Confederate Americans. Lest we forget, we must honor all of the brave men and women of yesteryear. Their names and memories must be preserved.
We will never know where he served or with whom. We can only imagine that he served bravely with his partners and was returning to the sanctuary of his home with dignity and honor. Such a tragedy to have endured the horrors of war only to be struck down by the vultures of society as he tried to make it home to his loved ones.
During the perilous times of today we must also reflect upon the sacrifices of yesterday’s warriors. We are duty bound to pause for a moment and remember those that have gone before. As we pray for today’s warriors on a foreign battlefield, we honor each one of those brave hearts by honoring the graves of those of yesteryear. Let us rally around the sacred ground of this soldier in remembrance of those that did not make it home.
Defending the Heritage
(Article courtesy of The Southern Comfort, Private Samuel A. Hughey Camp 1452, President Jefferson Davis Chapter Sons of Confederate Veterans, Military Order of the Stars and Bars, Vol. 45, Issue #10, October 2021 ed.)