Recently, my daughter and I took a trip to historical sites in my mother’s home state of Virginia. As a Christmas present, my daughter said she would take me anywhere I’d like to go–at her expense! How could I refuse an offer like that? I had wanted to return to Virginia to places I’d seen fifty years ago or had never visited. I told her that as a black shoe Navy vet, I would like to go to Norfolk to walk on-board the USS Wisconsin, an Iowa class battleship, the largest such vessel in our WWII navy. Along the way, I hoped we could find my Great-Grandfather’s grave. My mother had told us that he was buried in the Confederate cemetery on the University Virginia campus in Charlottesville. He died of wounds sustained at the Second Battle of Manassas in 1862.
[Editor’s Note: Of course, one cannot visit Charlottesville without stopping by Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson; who, incidentally, designed then supervised the building of the university from his front colonnade.]
We also went to Jamestown, the oldest permanent English settlement in America. The fort has been partially restored with a palisade of split logs placed vertically into the ground. The enclosed area is small, only about an acre of land.
Most of the Jamestown settlers died in the first few years of Indian depredation (plundering), disease, exposure and starvation. The native Powhatan also suffered greatly, many in a decade-long war with the settlers. On one occasion, two hundred Powhatans, invited to a treaty signing ceremony, were served wine laced with poison, and all died. Another fifty were slain. One Jamestown settler bore our surname, a “Captaine” William Tucker, whose name is inscribed on a monument there.
From there, we went to Williamsburg, that beautifully restored (some would say too beautifully restored) colonial capital of Virginia. Jamestown had been the capital until 1705 when it was moved to Williamsburg. It remained there until 1779 when it was moved to Richmond during the American Revolution.
Yorktown was our next destination, where we toured a very nice museum and strolled over the battlefield of the final great clash of the Revolution, fought in the fall of 1781.
It was a decisive victory for the Americans and their French allies. Half of the troops on land were French and all of the navy that blockaded the mouth of the Chesapeake was French, who thus prevented the reinforcement of the British forces or its evacuation.
We visited the Wisconsin in Norfolk, a permanent museum ship. One of her 16-inch gun turrets extended down to the power room weighed more than the Fletcher class destroyer on which I had served. Seventeen and one-half inches of armor plate on the main turrets was nothing short of amazing.
All of the stops were interesting to me, a retired history professor, but none was more interesting or emotionally moving than our short time at the Confederate cemetery at the University of Virginia. Here, enclosed by low walls in what we estimated to be about one-half an acre, were the remains of some one-thousand one-hundred Confederate soldiers who had died in make-shift hospital wards in houses and assorted buildings in Charlottesville and buildings on the University of Virginia campus.
Just twenty-six of these graves have been marked with the standard plain marble tombstone.
A check with the Special Collections Section of the University Library told us that we could find Captain Robert Alexander Tucker’s grave by measuring the distance from two of the surrounding walls. The dearth of grave markers may have been due to the scarcity of manpower and materials during the War or it could be that the original markers were made of wood and eventually rotted away. We intend to have a stone prepared for our Captain Tucker of the S.C. Sharpshooters. Interestingly, we were told by a woman we chanced upon in Jamestown that the Veterans Administration would furnish a marker if we could provide the required credentials. The victorious United States funding tombstones for the vanquished Rebel dead is quite remarkable. A quick check on the internet verified that claim.
Incidentally, we intend to trace the line of Captain William Tucker of Jamestown and St. George Tucker of Williamsburg to see if we are related. If we think about it, it is extraordinary that towns named for English kings, James and William, and one king’s wife, Charlotte, managed to retain their names after a bloody, sometimes brutal, Revolutionary War that had many of the trappings of a civil war.