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New Civil War Tombstones Dedicated

June 25, 1999

MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) _ A 21-shot tribute was fired and soil from Ireland was sprinkled Friday at an unveiling ceremony of new tombstones for three Union soldiers identified nearly 135 years after their deaths.

``Three restless souls can be at peace now,″ said David Evans, a writer who followed a trail of military documents over two decades to discover the identities.

``These three men who were so hopelessly lost for so long, now have been found,″ Evans said. ``I think maybe this is God’s gentle reminder that no matter how hopeless things may seem, there’s always hope.″

Evans did his sleuthing while researching his 1996 book, ``Sherman’s Horsemen,″ recounting Union cavalry raids around Atlanta in 1864.

The remains of Pvts. James Harris, 24, of Missouri, William Britt, 38, of Tennessee, and David Sage, 20, of Nebraska were found at the Marietta National Cemetery in Georgia.

The three members of the 5th Iowa Cavalry were shot in a battle July 18, 1864, with young Confederate conscripts and University of Alabama cadets at Beasley’s Tank, Ala.

They were behind enemy lines to tear up railroad tracks and were among thousands of soldiers exhumed after the war from their shallow graves and moved to Marietta, where they were buried under numbered, six-inch-high marble ``unknown″ markers.

On Friday, Col. Robert King of the Iowa Army National Guard performed the service for Harris and Sage, both Protestants, while the Rev. Stephen Lyness, an Irish Catholic priest, sprinkled holy water over the grave of Britt, an Irish immigrant. Evans added soil flown here from Britt’s family grave site in Ireland.

Despite modern research techniques and increased interest in genealogy, such new identifications remain rare because many soldiers were hastily buried where they fell, with little time for markers.

``This is amazing; very gratifying,″ said Floyd Findlay, great-grandson of Harris.

Findlay and his wife came from Poplar Bluff, Mo., for the ceremony, which was included in weekend events commemorating the 1864 battle at nearby Kennesaw Mountain in which Confederate troops blocked Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s forces in their effort to break through to Atlanta.

While researching his book, Evans found battlefield reports, army documents and cemetery register notes that enabled him to make the case for the unknown soldiers’ identity. Only two Union soldiers had died at the Beasley’s Tank battle, records showed, and only one died in the hospital.

Because both Sage and Harris died the same day and at the same place, cemetery officials aren’t sure which is which. So their three-foot-high marble tombstones identify them not by name, but as members of the 5th Iowa.

Britt was wounded and later died in a Confederate hospital.

Evans located Harris’ great-grandson through the Internet. Findlay’s wife, an avid genealogist, had put together the story of Harris’ service and death years earlier, and they had even made a trip in 1989 to Alabama to search for his grave there.

``We thought that was a lost cause,″ said Findlay.

Evans said he was unable to locate any descendants of Sage.

``This is like coming to the end of a long, hard road,″ he said. ``These fellows have been such a part of my life. They’re like my family.″

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