Local News

Three Unknown Soldiers Identified at Oakwood Cemetery

Posted September 23, 2007
Updated November 8, 2009

— Hundreds of history buffs came to Oakwood Cemetery on Sunday for a rare ceremony. Historians have identified three unknown soldiers buried there from the Civil War.

Private John Dolson of Minnesota, a member of Company A, 2nd U.S. Sharpshooters, was wounded in the second day of battle and died two months later. Before he was buried, his unit identification somehow was changed to 2nd North Carolina Infantry, and for more than 130 years, he has been the only Union soldier buried in the Raleigh cemetery, surrounded by nearly 1,400 Confederates.

The two Confederate soldiers were wounded, captured and later died in the U.S. Corps hospital at Gettysburg. Private William P. Wallace of Company C, 23rd North Carolina Infantry, was taken on the first day of the battle, while Private Drury Scruggs of Company D, 16th North Carolina Infantry was missing after Pickett's charge on the third and final day of the battle.

The Confederate Cemetery, located on the original two and a half acres of Oakwood Cemetery, was established in 1867. The historic cemetery is a short walking distance from the state capitol. 

Charles Purser, with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has dedicated 19 years of his life to studying the Confederacy. Never did he think he would get a phone call about a Union soldier buried with Confederate soldiers.

"He says, 'I think you have a Yankee down there in your cemetery,'” Purser said.

After Purser talked to a Civil War buff from New York state, he found records of a John Dobson from North Carolina and a John Dolson from Minnesota. Dolson was later determined to be the soldier buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

“It is a good piece of history,” Travis Gorshe said.

Gorshe drove 22 hours to bring Dolson's Confederate grave marker to Minnesota.

“He gave the ultimate price, the sacrifice of his life, for his duty and his job. They should have the proper recognition,” Gorshe said.

That recognition also came Sunday for two Confederate soldiers buried in Oakwood Cemetery. Hospital records were recently found, identifying Privates William Wallace and Drury Scruggs. There are still 231 unknown Confederate graves in the cemetery.

“All of them should get their identities and, hopefully, their recognition as American soldiers,” Purser said.

The three soldiers recently identified fought in the battle at Gettysburg. The two Confederate soldiers were North Carolina natives; one soldier was from Rutherford County and the other from Montgomery County.


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  • innocent bystander Sep 24, 2007

    NC, If I'm not mistaken, I believe we recovered our copy of the BOR in a sting operation because the current owner refused to give it back even though the state had asked him to do so several times, and I think even a judge ruled that the state of NC was the rightful owner. He was trying to sell it when we got it back in teh sting. That's an interesting thought about the MN soldier. I would bet that we'd return the remains to his native state immediately if they asked us to do so. No doubt, his grave is being well cared for with honor in Oakwood.

  • NC is my home Sep 24, 2007

    Perhaps the folks in Minnesota would like the remains of their soldier too, not just the marker. Afterall, the Yankees finally returned our copy of the Bill of Rights that they stole.

  • Lyle Sep 24, 2007

    floyd, you are a flame-baiter and a dunce. Kindly refrain from displaying your imbecility.

  • innocent bystander Sep 24, 2007

    Denita, your dad is an honorable man who is doing honorable and important work. It's nice to see such positive comments on this story.

  • NETDEE Sep 24, 2007

    The war is over,period. We need to show respect for all our soldiers, whatever side they fought for. They lie in peace and for our unknowns, having their idenity found is giving them back there name. I have watched my father do thousands of hours of research to do just that. I am the daugther of Charles Purser who has worked hard over 20 years to show respect to those who died and give them headstones, find out idenity of the unknown. For those of us there both Saturday and Sunday to observe remove of incorrect headstones and replace them with there names engraved, it was uplifting and sacred to have been there. I am proud of my father for what he has done and continues to do. He is a man of honor and respect and he has done much to reflect that in his actions with his love of history. We will take good care of the young Union soldier. His name is etched on a Union marker and we salute him, just as we do all the other young soldiers surrounding him. Let them all rests in peace.

  • Mr. Iowa Sep 24, 2007

    If you were in attendance, you would've heard a very good speech from the NC Department of Historical Records about how having a Union soldier is not out of place, and of the thousands of Confederates buried up north that are properly cared for.

    The summation of his speech was that everyone was American, and no matter what our past we're in it together, so it shouldn't be odd or wrong that a Minnesotan is buried in Raleigh.

  • ladyblue Sep 23, 2007

    This is a heart warming story. Something nice happening for a change. We have several unknown graves of confederates and union soldiers in the Vance Country area as well. It's nice to know that they are able to find some of the identities. They honor them equally when they have their ceremonies there.

  • 1Moms_View Sep 23, 2007

    floyd, no it's not wrong that he's buried there. No matter which side he served, he deserved a decent burial.

    My gtgtgt grandfather was buried at Point Lookout, a Union prison, in Maryland after his death there in 1864, while a prisoner. Conditions in that prison were horrible. Even if his family had wanted his remains moved back home, it wasn't possible. Remains of Confederate soldiers dying there were dug up, grouped by body parts (skulls together, limbs together) & moved to a large burial area. It'd be impossible to locate his burial spot in order to provide a marker. All that can be done is to add him to a group marker there now.

    At least Southerners had respect to give that man a decent burial. That's more than my ancestor received at the hands of Union s

  • imyourhuckleberry Sep 23, 2007

    This is a heartwarming story. It's nice to read about our soldiers from the past still showing importance in the handling of their death from so many years ago and others displaying respect for the well being of their remains. Touching.

  • then who cares Sep 23, 2007

    Correction: "for their country."