As I was walking through Greenlawn Cemetery, I spotted a large monument midway through the cemetery. The memorial seemed to be reaching toward the heavens with magnificent splendor. So I immediately went to see who could be interred in such an honorable and reverent manner. Upon inspection of the inscription on its base, the following was inscribed – “Lieut. Thomas K. Coles – Born Dec. 25, 1841 – Killed In A Skirmish – Near Bunker Hill, Va. – Nov. 18, 1861.” As I looked at Lieutenant Coles’ final resting place, my feelings went to bewilderment about this young man who was a month and some days shy of his twentieth-birthday. As I stood gazing at this remarkable monument, it dawned on me that Veterans Day was fast approaching. A day on which we honor our veterans alive and dead, particularly those who gave their life – for this country we live in. As if by providence there I was in front of the grave of one such soldier.
Wanting to learn more about this young man, who was killed at such a youthful age; that spurred me on to start searching for information. What I found was both intriguing and an informative look at Thomas K. Coles, the young man born in Portsmouth, who went to war!
Thomas is listed along with his siblings in the household of his parents – information taken from 1860 Census for Hamilton Township, Lawrence County, Ohio. At which time Thomas would have been fifteen years old and going to school. It seems he was a bright young man and his aim was to be successful in life. Then Early in the morning of April 12, 1861, Confederate guns around the harbor of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, opened fire. The war between the Union and Confederacy now began in earnest. Dutiful to his country, Thomas enlisted at eighteen into the Army. His date of enlistment was August 22, 1862 and was assigned to/or mustered into 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. Because of his faithfulness to duty, he was promoted to lieutenant. His unit would be assigned and see action in Virginia. As the war ground on, he was assigned to a special unit – to track “bushwhackers” under the command of General John Singleton Mosby.
The following is in part the death of Lt. Thomas K. Coles – taken from the history of the 91st OVI – “On that fateful day in November of 1864, Lt. Coles, Captain Blazer, and other mounted scouts were retreating after an engagement with Mosby’s men at Kableton, Virginia. During the retreat, Captain Blazer was captured and Lt. Coles was shot by a confederate bullet in his left side and exited his body under the right shoulder. Lt. Coles fell to the ground from the impact and John Puryear, one of Mosby’s men stooped over the wounded Coles and taking aim, delivered the fatal shot. A Union family living close by, who knew the young lieutenant, personally buried his body. Later on, a Rev. Joseph Little, Chaplain of the Fifth Virginia Calvary with Col. Charles Kingsbury Assistant Adjutant General under General Sheridan, recovered the body from the grave and sent it home for burial at Greenlawn.” There was funeral at the Presbyterian Church in Hanging Rock, Ohio, before being moved to Portsmouth.
I couldn’t help but feel saddened, that he had his entire life ahead of him – and died at a young age – a brave hero. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9, NIV)
I found out that one of my ancestors also served in the 91st Ohio Volunteer Infantry. But … that’s another story.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org