February 14, 2010

Putnam group plans new home for Confederate grave

By Veronica Nett
Staff writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — During the height of the Civil War, Capt. Philip James Thurmond of the Confederate army was shot and killed during one of many skirmishes in Winfield.

His body was buried in an unmarked grave near what is now the Putnam County Courthouse complex, where it has remained for nearly 150 years.

Late next week, a Putnam County judge will hear a request to exhume the body and rebury it near the Historic Hoge House, within the complex.

Thurmond was buried near the edge of a creek embankment in October 1863, said Lee Casto, vice chair of the Hoge House Foundation.

"The hill is slipping and if something isn’t done, we’re going to lose him," Casto said.

Thurmond, from Monroe County, was part of Thurmond’s Raiders though not the group’s namesake. His brother was a Union solider and was also fighting in Winfield, which was then still part of Virginia, Casto said.

During the skirmish, Thurmond was shot in the stomach, Casto said.

When word got to Thurmond’s brother that he had been fatally shot, a cease-fire was called so the brothers could be together, Casto said.

"It was not uncommon," Casto said. "Almost every family has a story of brothers fighting brother, sons shooting fathers and neighbors frightening neighbors."

Thurmond died the next day, and James W. Hoge, the county’s first resident lawyer, agreed to bury him on his property with the understanding that when the war was over, Thurmond’s family would claim the body, Casto said.

To honor that agreement, the Hoge Foundation ran several ads in The Charleston Gazette and in the Monroe Watchman to notify any family who may want to claim Thurmond’s body.

No one has come forward, Casto said.

The Hoge Foundation has been working for nearly seven years on restoration projects to refurbish a one-room house that once served as the county’s first courthouse.

In 2003, the foundation relocated the 153-year-old building from its location near W.Va. 817 to a new site beside the county’s judicial building.

"We couldn’t move the house and leave Philip there; we just couldn’t do it," Casto said. "He is part of our history, of our county and the Hoge family."

The Department of Veterans Affairs has donated a marker for the new burial site, Casto said. Chapman Funeral Home will donate a casket and steel vault, and several local organizations including the Sons and Daughters of Confederate Veterans and the local American Legion Post 187 will take part in the reburial services, he said.

Local Union and Confederate re-enactors have also volunteered to accompany the casket to its new burial site, when the time comes, Casto said.

The reburial will be done with full military honors, Casto said. The plan is, once the body has been recasketed, a horse-dawn procession will lead the body to its new gravesite, he said.

"Union or Confederate, it doesn’t make a bit of difference, it needs to be done with respect and honor," Casto said.

"This gentleman gave his life for what he believed in. Both sides gave a whole lot, and we want to do this thing right and honor him."

The plans are in place, and if the request to exhume the body is granted, the next step is to find the remains, he said.

The foundation has a general idea of where Thurmond is buried from records, and verbal accounts from surviving members of the Hoge family, he said.

Cultural Resource Analysts Inc., a regional company with an office in Hurricane, has volunteered its services and equipment to locate Thurmond’s body and help exhume it.

"We may get there and all that’s left is buttons and a belt buckle," said Ronnie Matthews, Putnam County circuit clerk and an organizer in finding Thurmond’s remains.

There’s also the chance the body is no longer there, Matthews said.

"We’ll just have to wait and see," he said.

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