Friday, July 18, 2014

Asberry A.T. Copeland - an unknown soldier of the confederacy

Family lineage:  Son of Robert Hatten Copeland  1, Charles Mabry Copeland  2, 
Charles Thomas Copeland, Sr. 3, Charles Thomas Copeland, Jr. 4

1838 – 1863

He was the 4th son of Robert (aka“Snake Man” ) Hatten Copeland who had been featured in a previous post. At age 21, Asberry married Martha Frances McDonald and two years later, the only child they would ever have was born.  Asberry died much too young at age 25 in Mississippi.

This is the legend of an almost-forgotten hero who died of his injuries in battle and - until 1999 - was buried among hundreds of other unknown young men of his generation in the Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi Confederate Cemetery.  It is comforting to know that even to this day, although their names are unknown, the graves of the unknown soldiers are tenderly and respectfully tended by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

From the time he first heard the story which had been passed down through the generations of his family, it had bothered Billy Copeland, a retired Army Colonel and Asberry's great-grandson, that after more than 100 years, this man was still buried in an unmarked grave and had never received the honors and recognition he deserved.

Billy eventually accepted the challenge to convince the "powers-that-be" that his ancestor was entitled to a gravestone engraved with his name and dates.  Along the way,  he discovered that there were more than 1,200 unknown Confederate solders buried there, and suspected that at  least a few of them had been Asberry's close and trusted friends.  Each of them had left his home, friends, and  family to defend a land, a way of life and a cause he believed in with all his being. Those 1,200 graves represent months and years of fear, agony, pain and longing suffered by all those who had waited expectantly for their sons, husbands, fathers or brothers to return.  They never went home. They stayed in  Lauderdale Springs, Mississippi.

Paraphrasing Col. Copeland's formal presentation:
“Asberry A. T. Copeland was one of the UNKNOWNS. But he hadn't always been unknown!  His roots were sunk deep into the foundations of this country. His forebears had been pioneers. They had settled this land. Just because of the time in which he lived, he had to be resourceful, brave, bold and daring. There's no doubt he was all of these things because life itself was harsh in those days, and one would not survive very long, either as a  pioneer or soldier, without these qualities. These people were eager to help settle this new frontier and, when the time came for the Revolution, they were just as eager to form a new country. So, following the example set by his ancestors like Revolutionary soldiers John Copeland and William Blakely (whose lives were described in previous posts), Asberry stepped forward too.”

Before volunteering to go to war on May 15, 1862, Asberry had been a shoemaker and, since he was a member of a large family with a widowed and disabled father, was probably very capable of doing whatever was needed when it was needed. But when war came, this young husband and father left his family and enlisted as a Private in the 56th Regiment of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry.

That Spring, his regiment was sent to East Tennessee, where it fought to recapture the Cumberland Gap and advance into Kentucky. Later that year, the regiment was sent to Mississippi with other regiments of the Division, where they suffered many privations ending with the surrender of Vicksburg. It must have been there that Asberry was fatally wounded because almost a year from the day he enlisted, he died in the Mississippi hospital.

Col. Billy Copeland spent a great deal of time researching the life of his great-grandfather and the family which had provided soldiers to fight for America during the Revolution. After so much effort, the day finally came when he could make a strong case that Asberry A.T. Copeland was buried in that cemetery as an unknown soldier, and deserved to have a headstone engraved with his name. What a great day it was when finally - 136 years later - a marker was placed on a grave in his honor and memory with great pomp and celebration.   Asberry Copeland is unknown no more!

This seems a good time to write a personal note of thanks for the support I have received over the last several years as I tried to learn about the Copeland side of our family and its journey through the generations.  As one of many frustrated Copeland researchers trying to overcome a very high so-called "brick wall", I met Billy on the internet.  At that time, I was trying to connect enough dots to get my husband accepted into the SAR (Sons of the America Revolution) through his heritage. That wall only started to crumble after Billy and two other family researchers, Bill Cash and Sue Copeland, generously shared their research on the Copeland family and set me on the right path to knocking down those pesky bricks. Thanks to these people my husband is now a proud member of the SAR and I have discovered some of the legends of this family which migrated to America in the early 1700s and gave so much to our country.