‘Honoring a Fallen Soldier’
Knights of Columbus in Louisiana provide a proper burial to a Civil War veteran killed in 1864
By Andrew Fowler 5/30/2022
An American Civil War veteran finally received a proper burial this past winter thanks, in part, to the efforts of Bishop Charles P. Greco Council 1134 and Msgr. Anthony Piegay Assembly 328 in Alexandria, La. More than 100 people attended the ceremony — including Knights of Columbus and representatives from local veterans’ organizations — to honor the fallen soldier at Old Rapides Cemetery in Pineville on Feb. 18.
The veteran’s name, and whether he was part of the Union or Confederate Army, remain unknown, but he was identified as a casualty of the Battle of Monett’s Ferry in Natchitoches Parish, April 23, 1864. Only bone fragments from his skull, along with personal effects — bits of clothing, buttons, a boot and a collection of seashells the soldier carried in his pockets — were found with the remains.
“The whole ceremony was about honoring a fallen soldier,” said Michael Wynne of Council 1134, who spearheaded the project.
After retiring from his job as a parole officer, Wynne followed his passion of studying and researching central Louisiana’s history. He connected with state authorities, including Louisiana’s state archeologist, Dr. Charles McGimsey, who alerted Wynne about the fallen soldier.
The soldier was discovered by a cotton farmer while plowing his fields in 2011. After an investigation, local authorities determined the remains didn’t belong to a murder victim. The Louisiana State University Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services Laboratory conducted studies that linked the bones to the Civil War, and from there, the unclaimed remains sat on a shelf for more than 10 years due to a lack of state funding for a reburial. Dr. McGimsey asked Wynne if he could help, and he agreed, but the financial burden and mounting logistics — acquiring permits and a death certificate, securing a grave site, tombstone and coffin, as well as providing military honors — proved to be more challenging than he initially anticipated.
“It’s much easier to dig up a body than it is to rebury it,” Wynne said. “But how many times is this ever going to happen again?”
In need of assistance, particularly with the expenses, Wynne turned to his brother Knights in Council 1134. They enthusiastically agreed to help cover the cost, and received additional assistance from a local funeral home. Msgr. Anthony Piegay Assembly 328 arranged for an honor guard to attend the burial ceremony.
“Be it North or South, it didn’t matter to me,” said Donnie Bolton, grand knight of Council 1134. “He was a soldier. He was an American, and it needed to be done right.”
Father Anthony Dharmaraj, chaplain of Council 1134, officiated the ceremony together with Father Thomas Kennedy, parochial vicar of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Church in Alexandria. Phil Chatelain — faithful navigator of Assembly 328, and a retired U.S. Air Force A7 master sergeant — carried the coffin with Bolton and laid it to rest. Moved by the experience, Chatelain believed the burial aligned with the Order’s principle of patriotism.
“The Knights of Columbus help wherever we can, not only in the Church, in our parish, but wherever we’re asked to,” Chatelain said. “We always say that all veterans deserve a proper burial. That was one of the things in my mind during the ceremony.”
Wynne added that he was impressed by the outpouring generosity and charity of his brother Knights who fulfilled the corporal work of mercy of burying the soldier.
“I don’t know of another organization that holds together as a team, and is more interested in doing right, for not only the organization, but for the community,” he said.
Learn more about the Knights of Columbus