MUNFORD — As a child, Jo Ann Fambrough never heard of Confederate Lt. Andrew Jackson Buttram or his battlefield death along a road not far from today’s Munford Town Hall. She was raised in Munford, schooled in Munford and now she’s Munford’s mayor. For years, though, she was oblivious.
“I just remember (his story) as an adult,” she said. “It wasn’t anything that we were taught in school, not that I remember.”
Now she’s well-versed in Buttram, whose historical significance as the last known Confederate combat casualty of the war is Munford’s “only real call to fame,” she said. That fame will intensify in coming months when archeologists from the University of Alabama exhume Buttram’s remains — if they exist — and reinter them closer to the 105-year-old stone marker that bears his name.
In truth, the basics of Buttram’s story are well documented. After the United Daughters of the Confederacy installed that stone marker in 1914, Alabama newspapers often republished details of the April 23, 1865, skirmish between a small unit of Confederate home guards and Union troops under the command of Gen. John T. Croxton. The “Battle of Munford” occured eight days after the assassination of President Lincoln, two weeks after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, and several more weeks before the final Confederate surrender in the West.
Historians describe the skirmish as one of the final Civil War battles east of the Mississippi River and say townspeople buried Buttram the following day where he fell. That’s where the UDC installed the monument.
Today, though, the monument is in a grassy triangle at the fork of Jenifer and Campbell roads — across the street from its original location and Buttram’s assumed grave. (It’s unclear when, or why, the monument was moved.) Reinterring the remains near the monument will remove them from the front yard of the church parsonage of Iglesia Biblica Berea. A small plaque that used to mark the grave is missing.
The reburial is among several related events scheduled in Munford for April 17-18.
“They (the SCV) just want to give him a funeral because he didn’t have one,” Fambrough said. “We’re getting him off of private property and putting him on town property.”
Representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans declined to comment for this story.
Protection of the soldier’s remains was included in the church-property deed, and Iglesia Biblica Berea’s leaders have given their approval for the dig, the mayor said.
In Munford, UA archeologists, geophysicists and osteologists will use ground-penetrating radar to determine if 19th-century human remains exist beneath the parsonage’s front yard. And that’s one of the many asides to this event. Matthew Gage, director of UA’s Office of Archaeological Research, says his team has only “good information” that Buttram is buried at that location, not proof. A permit from the Alabama Historical Commission is allowing his team to find out.
“Another part of that is preservation: was he buried in a pine box or a hermetically sealed coffin?” Gage wrote in an email. “In Alabama’s acidic soils, human remains often deteriorate at a rapid rate and we may have little skeletal material remaining.”
If remains are detected, archeologists will excavate the grave shaft and document everything they find — the type of soil and depth of the remains, any “grave furniture” such as coffin material and hardware, any clothing and personal items that may have survived, and the remains themselves, Gage wrote.
The archeologists will reinter any found remains so that “everything that comes out of the grave goes back in and in the same order,” Gage wrote. “We take our responsibility to the excavation, inventory and reinterment very seriously. This was a person, who, like anyone, deserves respect and consideration in how they are handled.”
Fambrough expects a sizeable gathering of SCV members and Civil War reenactors to descend on Munford (population: 1,300 or so) that April weekend. Given that hundreds of reenactors will need places to stay, she expects them to camp, Civil War-style, on the town’s old football field and other city-owned property. A group of Buttram descendants is also expected to attend, she said.
Fambrough’s response on when Munford last hosted an event this large:
“The 12th of never,” she said. “Never that I remember.”
For archeologists, however, the opportunity to examine Civil War remains offers potential answers to a host of questions about the lives of combat soldiers. Gage is particularly interested by Buttram’s death near the war’s end and wonders how his remains may compare to those of soldiers who died earlier in the conflict. He’s also curious if the lieutenant’s remains will show a higher standard of living and overall health, given his rank.
He describes that as a “key component” of his team’s research.
“If the remains are in good shape, they will be analyzed to determine if trauma or evidence of pathology are present,” Gage wrote. “Soldiers in conflict often exhibit evidence of injury or illness in their skeletal remains. While soft tissue injury is the most common type, injuries and illnesses that effect the bones of an individual can provide us with much information about what that person experienced.”