Forgotten Captain’s grave dedicated with new headstone
Published 11:49 am Friday, December 9, 2022
The sky was clear as members of The Sons of Confederate Veterans gathered in Oak City Cemetary, Bainbridge, Saturday morning to dedicate an official headstone on the site of the previously unmarked grave of Captain Thomas Jefferson Bruton of Bruton’s Light Artillery. Unbeknownst to onlookers, the location was positioned between the final resting places of his late wife and child. He died in 1876, but Captain Bruton had been lost to history, his gravesite likely having been marked with a wooden marker long since gone. With his only child passing away before his end, time had all but forgotten him, at least that was the case until a man named Larry Skinner, a member of the fraternal organization, began gathering information that eventually culminated in the gathering of representatives from multiple camps across the region spanning Georgia and Florida.
“This represents many, many hours of research,” Mark R. Bess of Finley’s Brigade said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as walking through cemeteries, getting records and then looking for the dates. Could this person have been laid to rest here during this time? And then we go back and check if they’re unmarked,” he continued, “There’s a process that we can go through the Veterans Administration to apply for the headstone to get a government-issued stone. They’re very particular, and it’s a complex process. You have to have all your ducks in a row. So far this year, between me and four others of us here, we’ve been able to obtain 26 headstones.”
While the history is not exact, there is a surprisingly detailed body of information about the life of Captain Bruton. According to Skinner, a book written by the wife of one of Bruton’s former commanders describes significant dramatic events involving the man being honored. In an excerpt from Dickison and his Men: Reminiscences of the War in Florida by Mary Elizabeth Dickison, published in 1890, a history of the Marion Light Artillery from Ocala, Florida, readers get a taste of Bruton’s military talents, the author wrote “[Dickison] called to Lieutenant Bruton, with ten of his command, to follow him to the trestle that crosses over to the island. They were soon at the place. Never was artillery better handled, never more effective service rendered. At every enemy attempt to cross- a distance of three hundred yards- our gallant Bruton would throw a shell into their lines, and they would fall back. He would then turn his gun and shell the enemy where our men were fighting; our noble captain, like a true son of Mars, calling out in clarion tones: “A few more shells, Lieutenant, and the day is ours.”
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“She certainly liked to embellish the tale to make the scene a little more dramatic,” Skinner said, referencing the book’s author, “but it gives you a sense of the kind of man he was.”
Despite garnering some negative press in recent years, members of the organization made it very clear they were honoring veterans first and foremost, no matter which side of history a person may have fallen on. “Every man deserves to be remembered, every man who fought for his country deserves to be honored for his sacrifice,” Bess said, “It doesn’t matter if its a confederate grave or not, we will place markers and headstones for any veteran we are able to locate.”
Bruton, a West Point Cadet, resigned from his education to return home to join The Confederate Army. According to Commander Jack Cowart, who shared a brief history of Captain Bruton, the same cannon used in that battalion during the period was fired as part of the ceremony on Saturday.
But if anybody wanted to do their research, you can still join us if you can’t find a connection to a Confederate soldier. We’d say you’re a friend of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Same thing; everybody’s welcome. So, as I said, we look for our confederate ancestors, but we put headstones on Union graves too. As an example, at the city cemetery in Tallahassee,” Bess said. ” We’re trying to draw attention to the fact that this guy laid here 146 years without a marker; why? That shouldn’t be
how it is for these veterans.”