By Donna Kraus Chasen
Date published: 3/18/2006
SUNDAY, MARCH 12, dawned unseasonably warm in Vir- ginia. In Nelson County, people from several areas of the state were gathering to make the long drive to Dutch Creek to honor four brothers who served the Confederacy in the Civil War, three of whom perished at Sharpsburg in the 1862 Antietam Campaign. Some of those in attendance were descendants of the soldiers.
This was the first meeting to clear the long-overgrown Johnson family cemetery where the Kidd brothers–Nathan, Preston, Robert K. and William "Jenks"–rest. Fortunately, an earlier meeting was postponed due to the forecast of near-freezing temperatures. The second date provided a more comfortable setting for the occasion.
The group’s work was the direct result of the effort of Devin Miller of Bumpass in Louisa County, a descendant of the brothers and a member of the Fredericksburg Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. She not only researched and found the pertinent information that enabled her to order official Confederate gravestones for them but also organized all of the efforts to clear and clean the cemetery and organize the dedication ceremony scheduled for late August of this year.
The Kidd brothers all enlisted to serve their beloved Confederacy and, as a result, their family would never be the same again. Nathan most likely was killed in a skirmish just prior to the Battle of Sharpsburg, and Robert K. perished during the battle. Preston was wounded and lingered for two weeks before succumbing to his wounds on Oct. 1, 1862. William "Jenks" was wounded and lost a portion of his left leg as a result of his injuries.
Ironically, Preston and William found themselves side by side in a barn that served as a makeshift hospital after the battle. William wrote home to their mother stating that they were both being well taken care of. He returned home and took over the care of his brother Nathan’s two orphaned children before marrying and raising a family of his own.
On the day of the cleanup, the crew got a slightly delayed start after discovering that there were actually two "Dollar" (Dollar General and Super Dollar) stores in the little town of Lovingston. Once we realized that half of us were at one store and the other half at the other, we joined forces and began the journey up the mountain.
The road to the site goes through the railroad town of Shipman and meanders along, over and under the tracks until it reaches the base of one of the many mountains in the area. It then continues up the mountainside and along steep drop-offs until it reaches the group’s destination. Turning off into a field, the group made their own road to the site of the cemetery. The trucks and cars "circled" and everyone piled out–ready to work.
The crew was composed of members of the Fredericksburg Chapter UDC, Fredericksburg-area Sons of Confederate Veterans camps, as well as SCV camps from the Charlottesville area. Once at the cemetery, the group made an assessment of the job. Teams were set up to organize the sets of duties and the work began.
The first order was to set up the beloved flag of the Confederacy to fly over the grave sites. A light breeze waved the flag and kept it gently unfurled over the graves. Devin Miller recalls, "Chills ran down the spines of all. It seemed almost as if the boys were sending their final salute to those gathered around to honor them."
It didn’t take long for the large, tangled cemetery to show amazing results. Chainsaws roared, trees fell, fallen trees became much more manageable logs, and thorn bushes disappeared. The mood was jovial and the group worked very well together. Relatives’ graves were discovered and stories were shared. Chains were formed to move debris from the site.
Soon, it became time for the real purpose of the day. A truck with its somber load made its way up to the cemetery. Two volunteers were at the ready to remove the first of the four stones from the back of the truck. Each stone weighed 230 pounds and was lying on a wooden stretchers.
Nathan’s stone was the first to come off of the truck. I must admit that it was a moment that took my breath away. It brought to mind the real purpose that we were there–to honor these fallen heroes who had lain unrecognized for far too long. The stone was placed above the hole that had been prepared for it and several men rushed to gently set it into its place. Great care was taken to ensure that it was level and placed properly.
Preston’s stone was the next to be taken off the truck. This time, four men took their places to bring his stone to its destination. Once again, great care was taken in its placement and alignment, and two stones were upright.
The stone for Robert K. was the next. The large Confederate flag was moved to stand behind the row of stones in honor of the brothers’ sacrifices for their home state.
Lastly, the stone for William "Jenks" was taken off the truck. William’s grave had previously been marked by a stone that fell over some time ago and was hidden under the layers of twigs and leaves that had formed a carpet of sorts over the cemetery for many years. This stone and its base had to be moved back in order to place the four stones in a straight line, so his placement took quite a bit more time than the other three graves that had only fieldstones to mark their places.
By 1 p.m., the four stones were in place and photographs were taken. First, those who were directly related to the brothers were lined up behind the newly placed stones for a series of photographs, and then all who gave their time and efforts to bring about the clearing of the cemetery and placement of the stones took their places for photographs. Quite a lot was accomplished in a very short time due to the efforts and compatibility of those who took time out from their busy lives to bring the proper honor and recognition to Preston, Nathan, Robert K. and William Kidd.
This event was the result of the research of Devin Miller, the priceless knowledge of Fred Willoughby (who is the gem of Nelson County, as he has a vast wealth of knowledge of the local history and legends of the people who once lived there) and the numerous members of Confederate organizations throughout the state. Those who attended were Joe Wright, John Sawyer, Jonathan Lucado, Tim McLeod and Randy Whitehead from the Capt. William L. Day Camp SCV; Greg Randall from the Gen. Fitzhugh Lee SCV Camp 1805; George Randall from the John M. Gordan SCV Camp 581; Devin Miller (family member), Sandra Wright and Ann Sawyer from the Fredericksburg UDC; Jacob and Zachary Miller from the Nannie Seddon Barney chapter of the Children of the Confederacy; Charles A. Embrey Sr. and John M. Embrey Jr. from the Military Order of the Stars and Bars; and Chip Dawson and Larry Bethea from SCV Camp 1493 in Charlottesville. Also present were family members Fred Willoughby and Donna Kraus Chasen.
Copyright 2006, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co.