Gray Maine's Stranger
During the U.S. Civil War, Lt. Charles H. Colley of Gray was mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Mountain. His body was sent home for burial. However, when the casket arrived home, it contained the body of an unknown soldier in a gray Confederate uniform. Unable to correct the mistake, and believing that the young man's family would want him to have a proper burial, the soldier was laid to rest in the town cemetery, and a group of local townswomen arranged to have a stone placed on his grave.
The people of Gray could have sent the Stranger away. They had reason to. The small town of Gray sent proportionally more sons to the Civil War than any other town in Maine. More than 178 Union soldiers are buried the Gray Village Cemetery. But touchingly, there is also one Confederate, the Unknown Soldier, brought into the heart of the town in the midst of that terrible war. The people of Gray always remember the grave of the Stranger on Memorial Day with a Confederate flag.
Reprinted from "The Stranger in a Gray, Maine Cemetery" by Dick Eastman of Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.
Update: Spring 2015
Stranger... Than Fiction!
The story of the Confederate Stranger buried in Gray Village Cemetery has been told countless times. It begins with the war-time death of young Lieutenant Charles H. Colley on September 20, 1862. His family requested that his remains be returned to Gray for burial, only to find a stranger in the casket upon arrival. Having no name nor known family, the stranger is then buried in Gray Village Cemetery, where he remains today. The story usually ends with the return of Lt. Colley’s body some weeks later, to be buried nearby.
Except… it seems that the story did NOT really end that way.
In fact, Charles H. Colley enlisted in Company B, Maine 10th Infantry Regiment on Oct 4, 1861 and was promoted to Full 2nd Lieutenant on 18 Sep 1862, just two days before he “mustered out” on September 20, 1862 at Alexandria, VA. War department records indicate that he was buried in Section A, Site 325 of Alexandria National Cemetery on the very day of his death. Two phone calls to Alexandria National Cemetery and a return email confirm that Lieut. Colley rests at Alexandria to this day. He was not disinterred to be returned to Gray as the story tells.
Does this mean that the marker placed in Gray Village Cemetery with the name Lieutenant Charles H. Colley could, in fact, be yet another unknown soldier? Or, is it simply a cenotaph? Or, perhaps there is more to this story, after all?