The Free Press, Mankato, MN

St. Peter news

December 14, 2012

Area Civil War gravesites to get Eagan man's special attention


Because the grave markers of both men are still in relatively good shape, Flies said the new gravestones will augment rather than replace the originals.

Eventual plans call for placing bar-coded computer chips in the markers that will allow visitors to access pertinent historical information with their smartphones and other mobile devices.

Flies, an original Peace Corps volunteer (1962) who served in Brazil and still does consulting work there, became hooked on delving into state Civil War deaths after hearing about two men from his hometown of Plainview who died at Nashville.

To date, he said he has found 450 U.S. burial sites of the 800 state soldiers who died — and some of their stories could be the stuff of novels.

There was Elbert Woodbury, whose family wealth not only enabled his remains to be shipped back to Anoka for services but to be shipped again to Massachusetts for burial in the family plot.

There also was a black soldier, Albert Van Spence, who Flies came across during his research on state troops.

Van Spence was known as the “Lamplighter of Litchfield” in reference to his post-war job of lighting gas street lamps in the city.

Van Spence, the son of slaves, had been forced to serve in the Confederate Army before deserting to join Union forces.

He befriended abolitionist Union officer and Minnesotan Frank Daggett and followed him back to Litchfield.

But the most surreal story Flies came across involved 21-year-old Irish immigrant Patrick Connell from St. Peter, a woefully unlucky Union soldier who was wounded and captured by Rebel forces and sent to the South’s notorious Andersonville prison camp.

To “buy” his way out of that hellhole, Connell joined the Confederate Army, only to be captured anew by Yankee forces and sent to a Union prison in Illinois, where he died of disease.

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