Headstones and a Ceremony for Civil War Soldiers

Tennessee historians help Dave Kidd return and honor two Kidd great uncles, lost in the Civil War, to the family cemetery, south of Knoxville. Kidd, a Palisades resident, discovered the Veterans Administration provides headstones for any American veteran whose remains were never found.

Honoring a Family’s Civil War Soldiers


Special to Circling the News

On July 19, for the eighth year since 2005, my husband Dave and I flew off to join Kidd relatives in Tennessee. This summer was not the usual reunion. The occasion was a public dedication of headstones for two Kidd great-great uncles, soldiers lost in the Civil War.

Dave, an amateur Civil War scholar and our family genealogist, found the two relatives in a genealogy online. He confirmed Pvt. William and Pvt. James Kidd with their war records.

But Dave’s sister and her husband looked for their graves at the family plot in vain. On the hill of Mount Moriah, an abandoned cemetery near the Kidds’ ancestral home in Maryville, they found only the vine-covered headstones for siblings and for Mary and Randolph Kidd, the soldiers’ parents.

Dave pieced together his uncles’ war history using published accounts by fellow soldiers of Company A, 3rd Tennessee Cavalry. One summer we re-traced their travels and battles–their capture by infamous General Nathan Bedford Forrest, and imprisonment in South Alabama.

Then two years ago, by chance, Dave discovered that the U.S. Veterans Administration provides headstones for any American veteran whose remains were never found.

He sent for the VA application. He filled in James and William Kidd’s military records. For headstone choice he wrote “granite.” The destination was Mount Moriah Cemetery.

One obstacle remained: though restored by local history volunteers, the cemetery had no church. Who had the authority, and the brawn, to receive two 230-lb. granite headstones and set them up?

Across the country in California, Dave wondered if his project was stuck. He called our trusty Maryville cousin, Alma.

A few weeks later I picked up the phone flashing a Maryville area code. In a soft Tennessee accent, a man named Ken Cornett, the Blount County Historian, asked to speak to Mr. David Kidd. “I got your gravestones,” he said.

The two stones, 460 lbs. worth, were resting in the back of Mr. Cornett’s pickup. Ken said that before digging he’d get a dowser, “To make sure we don’t plant them on top of anyone else.”

“Sure thing!” Dave said. He looked at me over the receiver, astonished, grinning.

My mind was still cycling on “dowser.” (I thought those guys went out with snake-handling preachers and tent revivals.)

In May the stones were set up. Dave was busy on his laptop, and on the phone.

In July, a copy of the Maryville Daily Times appeared. On the cover of the LIFE section, above the fold, six columns wide, was a color photo of two new curved-topped headstones on the mowed Mount Moriah hillside. The trim, goateed County Historian stood between them, triumphant, holding a shovel.

The sidebar announced: “Dedication Ceremony of monuments for Civil War veterans, brothers James William Kidd and William Riley Kidd. July 21, 10 a.m. Public invited”

Y’all come.

My husband was having a party. Al fresco. Where would folks sit? July in east Tennessee. Should we arrange for water? Did we need a sound system?

“Don’t worry,” he said. In our hotel room, as I watched Dave unpack 3 x 5’ American flags with 10-foot poles, I swung the other way. After all his trouble, who, besides Cousin Alma, might drive all the way out to an orphaned country cemetery?

I needn’t have worried.

David Kidd spoke about his relatives, who had served in the Civil War, and his quest to have headstones placed on Mount Moriah.

In 2018, when we hear of Civil War monuments torn down in the South, on a hot July Saturday, some three-dozen people drove to a small hillside cemetery to honor men of the U.S. 3rd Tennessee Cavalry, and see two new monuments set up.

They came to hear of sons, dead in their twenties. William Riley died of typhoid while a prisoner of war in Cahaba, Alabama. He was one of 142 in that long-gone prison’s mass grave.

James William, with two other Kidd brothers, survived his imprisonment. In April 1865 he stepped aboard the Mississippi river boat Sultana. That night, overcrowded with returning Union soldiers, the boat exploded.

His older brothers survived, but James William was one of 1,184 killed as the boat burned and sank. His body was never found.

Dave threw his written speech away. He stepped to the microphone and spoke of his Tennessee grandmother who on their dairy in California told him his first stories of the Civil War.

He mentioned his dad, born in Texas, who told him to hang on to them all: Family is who you are. Dave thanked the Historian, and the commander of The Major William Anderson McTeer Camp No. 39, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. The uniformed Camp re-enactors presented the colors and fired a four-gun salute.

Re-enactors of Company E, 8th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, who collect original 1860’s gear, uniforms and firearms and regularly drill at patriotic holiday celebrations in Blount County, gave a gun salute.

The Mayor of Blount County delivered remarks (turns out he’s kin to the Kidds). Thirty-five-star flags waved. Chaplain McReynolds delivered a eulogy and prayers. A bagpiper marched up the hill playing “Amazing Grace.” Dave placed white roses on the headstones, and the re-enactors placed wreaths of victory. A bugler, uniformed as a 3rd Tennessee cavalryman, played “Taps.”

The day before, neither Dave nor I knew any of these folks. But they had come, a century and a half later, to welcome two lost Kidd boys home. Their parents’ headstones shone nearby. Four siblings’ stones glowed across the way. Girl Scouts, using Dawn, had scrubbed each one clean.

This was right; this was history. It was a good day.

(Editor’s note: Since the July ceremony, Kidd discovered another  relative that had been lost on the Sultana. The Sultana Descendants’ Association will confirm one more on its list of soldiers lost and hold a memorial for Pvt. James Franklin Kidd, aged 22, this fall.) 



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One Response to Headstones and a Ceremony for Civil War Soldiers

  1. Kim Clary says:

    What a wonderful, emotional story! Congrats to you and Dave. Thanks for sharing.

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