The Final Return Home

Wiley Bracewell finally made it home, or at least as close to home as possible.  It took one week short of eight years and the aid of one compassionate Pennsylvania doctor for the mortal remains of Bracewell and one hundred other Georgians to be finally laid to rest in Georgia soil.  

During the years 1870-1873, Dr. Rufus Weaver exhumed, boxed and shipped 3,320 sets of remains of Confederate soldiers from Gettysburg to the South. Gathering the remains were a difficult task as many bodies had limbs removed in order to save space. Of these, 73 were individual removals and 3,247 were shipped to the various Ladies Memorial Associations.  The Ladies Memorial Association of Savannah, Georgia received 101 remains.  Georgians removed from Gettysburg in this manner were all re-interred at Laurel Grove (North) Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia.

. Bits and pieces of thirty-two soldiers of Robert E. Lee's army were painstakingly recovered, carefully placed in three sailing chests and respectfully put aboard the U.S.S. American for shipment back to Savannah, the coastal capital of their home state.  

As the tide rolled in, the American arrived at the wharf in Savannah on the morning of August 21, 1871.  The crew of the ship was met by a special committee and escorted to the Cotton Exchange Building, where the remains lied in state in the city council chamber during the day.  

At four o'clock, the procession moved out.  Joining in the march were veterans of the late war, including Brigadier General J.R. Jackson along with mournful citizens who wanted to pay their final respects to the departed heroes in gray.  As the two hearses slowly moved throughout the quiet, melancholy streets, commerce stopped as nearly every store along the funeral procession route temporarily closed.

"Never in the history of our city has a more quite, melancholy, and sadly, appreciated occasion been before our people and never have they seemed to feel more seriously," wrote a Savannah Morning News writer. 

As the procession passed through the gate of the now ancient Laurel Grove Cemetery, it was met by virtually hundreds of women of the South, the unsung heroes of the Lost Cause, who endured the hardships of death and dying in distant lands with no ability to comfort the wounded and dying.

The three caskets were placed in three graves.  Rev. Benedict eulogized the fallen heroes to the tune of "Rock of Ages."  It was at that moment when the grand ladies moved forward, carrying arm loads of flowers which they covered the hallowed ground.

Eventually the names of each of the 32 men were placed on markers in the area known as "The Confederate Field" or "Gettysburg Field." On September 24, 1871, 69 more sets of remains were buried in Laurel Grove. 

The climatic battle of Civil War was fought in the crossroads town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania in the first three days of July 1863.  Wiley Bracewell was a private in Company G of the 49th Georgia Infantry, Thomas' Brigade, Pender's Division, A.P. Hill's  Corps.   His brother, William Sampson Bracewell, and brother cousins, Jesse A. Bracewell and John A. Bracewell, along with another cousin, James W. Bracewell were also members of the company.

The 49th Georgia arrived late on the field after the first day's fighting.   The regiment was relieved on the series of attacks on Federal positions on the 2nd day.  Just as the nautical twilight faded on July 2, Thomas' brigade was moved forward to the far Confederate left in preparation of an all out attack on Cemetery Ridge on July 3.  Although Thomas' brigade was not engaged in the infamous "Pickett's Charge," nevertheless it suffered some casualties as the companies were pommeled by artillery fire and some of its members were killed or wounded while on skirmish duty.

On July 25, 1863, Jesse A. Bracewell wrote home to his parents, "Mother, I got wounded in the hand at the Gettysburg fight on the 3rd of July, but thank the Lord I got out to the rear and have my hand dressed.  Mother, it was the biggest battle I have ever seen. Dear Mother, you couldn't tell one cannon from another. It was a continuous roar all the time. We were lying behind a rock fence and everything was quiet. I could see the Yankees' canon and they were walking around them and neither side was firing. In a few minutes, General Lee rode up on his old gray horse and asked me to hold it for him. I did so.  He took out his telescope and spied over at the Yankees and in a few minutes he left.   I saw a courier coming with a paper in his hand, which he gave to the captain of the cannonade.  Then we fired at the Yankees and they returned it. Every now and then, a ball would strike the fence.  Mother, I want you to know it frightened them.  I was just as afraid of the rock on the ground.  Cousin Wiley Bracewell was wounded and left on the field and the Yankees got him.  We could hear his calling for his brother, but it was at night and his brother was afraid to go out to him.  He was in the halfway ground and his brother never saw him anymore.  Dear Mother, they think peace will be made soon. I hope so, for I am tired of this dreadful war and I want it to soon close for I want to see you for all the worse I ever did in all my life. Dear Father and Mother, I want you to pray for me, for I feel needful for your prayers. Tell the children I want to see them and them to write to me.  Will close, hoping to hear from you soon, your son until death, Jesse A. Bracewell, Co. G, 49th GA Regiment."

Wiley's brother, William Sampson Bracewell, wrote home twenty days later;" 

"Thru the tender mercies of God I am spared to write you a few lines that will inform you that I am well at this time. And, you don't know how glad I was to hear from you and to hear that you were will and you can't tell how glad I was to hear from Wiley.  I hope that he will soon by paroled and if he is I think that he will get the chance to come home and stay till he gets well., and I want to know whether his thigh was amputated or not. I hope that it was not.  I hope it will get well without being amputated.  My Dear Mother you said that you and all the children wanted to see me very bad.

Mother, I know that you don't want to see me any more than I want to see you and I want you to pray for me and also for the close of the cruel war that we may be spared to meet you all again on this of the grave, and if we may meet in heaven. Dearest mother, you ask me to write you all the news that I have. I can't tell half of it,, as it is -------.  I will tell you that our army is demoralized. Worse than is ever has been and the men are deserting every night more or less and you can think of things as they are and how that it is bad times here.  Mother I must close for this time by remaining your son till death.  

W. Burton Owen, Chaplain of the 17th Mississippi Regiment, wrote to Mrs.Redley Bracewell on August 27, 1863;

"Dear Madam, your letter to your son, W.K. Bracewell, was received at Gettysburg and now that I am now within our lines again, I will give you some information concerning him.  His right thigh was fractured by a wound and he died at the General Hospital in Gettysburg on August 27th(1863). The ---- Register from Richmond may be able to give you the particulars of his death. I am certain that he died in peace and that he gone to rest. May the Lord Bless and comfort all of his relatives. I will be glad to hear from you that I may know that this has been received." 

When Wiley died,  his remains were buried In Confederate Section 6, Grave 8 in Camp Letterman Hospital  (above) cemetery on the outskirts of Gettysburg. 

During the fighting, Jesse was wounded. He would be captured at Petersburg at the close of the war he so desperately pleaded for.  Although he spent nearly ten weeks at Hart's Island Prison, New York for 10 weeks, he made it back home.  William was wounded in the next major battle at the Wilderness on May 6, 1864 and sent home where he remained until the end of the war.  John C. Bracewell, who suffered a wound at Mechanicsville in June 1862 and presumably never made it Gettysburg.  Very little of cousin James Bracewell's activities are known. He may or may not have been at Gettysburg.

When James Ray Bracewell began investigating the story of the "Five Bracewell Brothers,"  he discovered that the quintet were Bracewells, but there were two sets of two brothers (first cousins to each other) and another Bracewell, a third cousin.  In his research on Wiley K. Bracewell, Bracewell discovered that his tombstone was incorrectly marked "Wiley .R. Bracewell."  It appears that Wiley's middle initial was changed at Camp Letterman, General Hospital. 

This error put Bracewell on a quest to once and for all to give the final honor to his kinsman. So after plying through red tape covered with bureaucratic apathy, the corrected tombstone of Wiley Kinchen Bracewell will be unveiled at a ceremony on August 27, 2013, one hundred fifty years to the day on which Wiley K. Bracewell died in a Union hospital in Gettysburg.

"It is personally, a quest for knowledge about where I came from. For most of my life, all that I knew was that my father and his father were from Dublin, Georgia," wrote James Bracewell. 

The ceremony at Laurel Grove Cemetery (802 W. Anderson St., Savannah) at 4:00 o'clock, p.m.  is open to the public and all Bracewell relatives are specially invited to attend. After the unveiling, James Ray Bracewell will give a talk about the life and death of Wiley K. Bracewell and about how he came to be buried at Laurel Grove North Cemetery.