The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

July 28, 2012

‘Boy in blue’ listed as a rebel

Government to replace headstone

DANVILLE — Since 1903, visitors to the National Cemetery in Danville have been told about or shown the grave of the lone Confederate soldier buried there.

There have been rumors of others who also had been treated at the National Soldiers and Sailors Home, but the only one marked as a Confederate was John C. Durbin in Section 1. Beneath his name, Iowa is listed, but his official government marker indicates he was a member of Company H of the 24th LA (Louisiana) Infantry. The words “Confederate States Army” are inscribed under that.

After visiting Durbin’s grave and even pointing it out to people myself, I knew that I had to learn more about this man. So I decided to look up more information about him online, and then request information from the National Archives, where I have found documents on family members and other soldiers and sailors through the years. That includes the local lost Medal of Honor recipient Martin McHugh.

At the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database, I found no John C. Durbin in the 24th Louisiana or any Confederate unit. So, out of curiosity, and based on a previous incorrect listing I had found for an Illinois cavalryman who had been incorrectly listed as living in West Lebanon, Iowa, instead of Indiana, I thought, not again?

The abbreviations LA and IA are very close. Plus, Iowa is on his stone. So, with a click of the mouse after entering his name on the Union side, voila, there he is: Private John C. Durbin in the 24th Iowa Infantry, Company H, just like the listing on his stone — except Iowa instead of Louisiana.

Further research by my patient and inquisitive research assistant, Tara Auter, and I found indicated that when the Civil War started, Durbin was a 32-year-old carpenter with a 23-year-old wife named Elizabeth. The couple had two young children. They lived in Linn County, Iowa, where Cedar Rapids is located.

Unlike so many people of that era, he could indeed read and write. He had been born in the part of Virginia that would soon secede from its Commonwealth rather than the Union to become West Virginia. Also, Durbin’s pension records are for a Union soldier, so certainly he was not a Confederate.

After gathering this information and reflecting on it, I sat back in my chair and imagined all the times that Yankee soldiers living at or being treated at the Soldiers Home had visited Durbin’s grave and made some remark or cursed him as being a rebel or a traitor or the like. I am sure many didn’t like the fact that he was buried in the National Cemetery.

During the years, numerous school and history tours have been given, pointing out John Durbin as the only Confederate American buried there. A friend commented that the “whirring sound” sometimes heard at the cemetery must have been the private’s body spinning around in his grave, as this boy in blue had been wrongly identified as a Confederate all these years. Apparently a clerical error that became chiseled in stone more than 100 years ago led us all to believe that he was a soldier in gray, while all the time, he had fought in Lincoln’s Army.

Quick action

I contacted Danville National Cemetery Supervisor Misty Henson and submitted several pieces of evidence showing John C. Durbin was indeed a member of the 24th Iowa Infantry, and thus not a member of the Confederate States Army, as his stone indicates.

She sent the information in for review, and in less than two days, the word came from the National Cemetery headquarters that a new stone was ordered and should be installed within 60 days. I must admit I was surprised at the fast action, and Misty’s help was truly appreciated. With relatives who served on both sides of the conflict, it didn’t bother me that a Confederate American was buried at the National Cemetery. However, he proudly served for the Union and should be remembered as such for his service.

Another error

We are continuing research on the other Confederate soldiers buried in Vermilion County. Various sources indicated that there should be eight, including Durbin. Another of those, a man listed as Miles H. Whitlock, was identified as a member of the 4th Virginia Infantry buried in an unknown cemetery. He is actually another Federal soldier shown as Confederate, and turns out to be Miles W. Whitlock, who is buried at the National Cemetery in Danville as well. He was in the 4th Vermont Infantry. This time the confusion came from the way the letters “H” and “W” were written, and “VA” versus “VT,” or “VET” as is listed on his stone.

Of the six remaining, we have verified three. But it makes me wonder after the various errors on Martin McHugh, John C. Durbin, Miles Whitlock and others that I’ve worked on during the years, if indeed some of those southern and border state soldiers buried around the county might just be Confederates who were listed as Union.

Larry Weatherford is a local historian, tour guide, living history presenter, re-enactor and speaker, who takes part in various events in the Midwest and South. Weatherford is co-chairman of the Ward Hill Lamon Civil War Roundtable. He also works as a correspondent for the Commercial-News.

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