Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Minnesota News: Soldier Identified After 144 Years? Maybe . . . .

I like stories of this sort.

Nearly a century and a half after the Battle of Gettysburg, the body of a Minnesota soldier killed there may have been discovered in a Confederate cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina. The body may have been mis-identified in 1863.

The man buried as Private John O. Dobson of the 2d North Carolina Infantry apparently was really Private John O. Dolson of the 1st Minnesota Infantry. The error was discovered by Charles Purser, a retired Air Force officer, who had undertaken the renovation of the cemetery.

Read more here. The news story doesn't tell all of Dolson's story, so we had to do a little digging of our own [bad pun not intended, but I'll leave it in!]. John Dolson was born in Eden, Illinois, in about 1843, the fifth child of Charles and Elizabeth Dolson. Charles Dolson was a merchant; he and Elizabeth had come to Illinois from New York. Their other children were Albert, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Celia, all older than John; and Charles, Jr., younger than John. Sometime in the 1850's, the Dolson family split up, perhaps due to the death of Charles, Sr.

John ended up in Minnesota with his older sister, Margaret, living in the household of William and Mary Moffett. He enlisted in the Army in October, 1861, when he was 19 years old.

Two things were missing from the news story. First, it seems to me that to be sure about this story, we need to eliminate the possibility that there was a John Dobson in the 2d North Carolina. In the various databases I checked, there were a number of John Dobsons in the Confederate forces from North Carolina, though none in the 2d Regiment. However, the Civil War databases are not complete and certainly not free from error. So it seems to me that there is some small room for the possibility that the man in the grave was properly identified the first time.

Second, although there are a number of Dolsons in Minnesota today, the story did not mention the reaction of any Dolson family members. This is a significant omission to me, especially in view of the first issue I raised. In this age of technology (exhumation, DNA), it seems strange to me that the family seems not to have been consulted.

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