Submitted by Ed Gibson; Vetted and edited by Cheri Todd Molter
One morning, while sitting at coffee with several other Cape Fear Round Table members, I heard Bill Jayne mention that there was a member of the 147th Pennsylvania buried at the Wilmington National Cemetery. Bill was stationed at the cemetery for several years and knows a lot of the history of the place. I asked him to repeat what he had said because my great-grandfather, Edward Gibson, was a member of that unit. Bill explained that an officer named Isaac Whitmer had been killed by friendly fire when Sherman’s troops occupied Fayetteville in March of 1865 and was later interred at Wilmington National Cemetery.
I researched Whitmer on the internet after visiting his grave at the cemetery. According to his military records, on September 15, 1862, Whitmer mustered into Company G of the 147th Pennsylvania Regiment. In March 1864, Whitmer was promoted to Sergeant Major. He was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in Company I, on October 7, 1864, but had not mustered in as a Lieutenant before he was killed. Although his body was originally buried in Fayetteville, North Carolina, it was reburied at gravesite #40 in Wilmington National Cemetery as previously noted.
I also found a diary that was written by Michael S. Schroyer, who served in Company G of that regiment, and contained information about Whitmer.
The following is an excerpt from Schroyer’s diary:
…Sherman keeps pushing the Rebels, and we march to Fayetteville and encamp. All the army corps had concentrated at Fayetteville. The 14th corps was the first to enter the town and took possession of the arsenal, etc. Here Sherman first came in communication with the outside world, having left Savannah, Georgia, on January 27, just 45 days. After this the army was in daily communication with the North.
The four corps and cavalry crossed Cape Fear River at this place, having only one pontoon bridge. General Joe Johnson was now in command of the Rebel forces and we had more or less skirmishing every day. Late in the afternoon of March 13, Monday, we were marched into the town of Fayetteville.
At this time the regiment was about ready to move and the boys were scattered around town. All were ordered to report at once. Sergeant Major Witmer [sic] had been sent over on the opposite side of the square where part of the regiment had been, previously detailed to help extinguish the fire. On his way back he passed General Beard’s headquarters of the 14th corps when two citizens from the opposite side of the street accused the Sergeant of being one who helped steal a barrel of flour. The guard called
out ‘Halt!’ When Witmer [sic] replied that he was a member of the 20th army corps, that he had nothing to do with the flour, for some reason unknown to any of us, Witmer [sic] did not stop. The guard again called ‘Halt!’ but he passed on, when the guard raised his gun and fired, the ball entering the back part of his head, passing thru and coming out just back of the forehead. (The guard who shot him was a member of the 105th Ohio regiment, Beard’s brigade, 14th army corps.) The boys of the regiment were so worked up and fearing a riot the Colonel moved the regiment across the river, leaving a detail to take charge of the corpse and give him a decent burial.
The funeral took place on the night of the 13th, or rather early on the morning of the 14th. The detail was as follows: Lieutenant B. T. Parks, Sergeant A. M. Eby, George D. Griggs, Jacob Garman, and the writer. We had a good deal of trouble in getting material for making a box. Thirty-two pieces of boards were used to construct it. We had been refused hatchet, nails, etc., by the citizens, but we took the liberty of looking for what we needed. When finished, a small bunch of hay was put in the box upon which to lay the head, a web of muslin was secured and several layers were put into the box, then the corpse was tenderly lifted off the ground, where he had been lying since he was shot, then several sheets of muslin was spread over him.
This was the first and only corpse the writer ever prepared for burial and we did the best we could. This was all done in the dark hours of the night.
After taking a last sad look upon our dear friend and comrade. the box was nailed shut and we waited for the morning. When at last dawn appeared we inquired of two darkies, who were passing, whether they knew where the cemetery was and they said they did. We told them we wanted them to go with us to the burying ground, but they said they had business for their master, and could not go.
We told them they must. We saw a buggy in an alley but could not use it, as the box would not fit either way we might fix it. The only way we had was to tear off the top and place the box on the springs; then with a darkey in the shafts and the other pushing we moved out to the cemetery. When there the colored fellows left us and we dug a grave. After depositing the corpse, Sergeant Eby placed a headboard and upon it inscribed the deceased’s name, and the regiment, rank and company to which he belonged.
While we were digging the grave a little boy came, sat down and watched us. A new grave had just been made near the one we had dug. When this little fellow said: “You bury your man better than this one right here was buried.” We asked him why, and he said: “You put yours in a box, the other was just thrown into the hole like a brute.”
The guard who shot Witmer [sic] was relieved at once and another placed on his post. Later he was tried by military court martial and acquitted. After the burial the detail left the cemetery, crossed the river and marched hard to catch up to the regiment.”
Sergeant Major Isaac Whitmer may not have been born a Tarheel, but he is one now forever.