top of page

Local Man Finds Remains of Unknown Confederate Soldier

By Ann Brooking


At 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, 1979, Rick Forte of Hattiesburg made the discovery of his life.


Relic hunting with a metal detector in the vicinity of Vicksburg, he found parts of a Confederate soldier's cartridge box and canteen. Then, nearby, he found what remained of the soldier's body 117 years after he was killed in the Vicksburg campaign of the Civil War.


At 3 p.m. Saturday, April 19, 1980, the remains of that soldier will be given what he never had- a "proper burial," at Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis and Confederacy shrine in Biloxi. He will then be known as The Unknown Soldier of the Confederate States of America and will represent the estimated 50,000 unidentified Rebel soldiers and sailors buried throughout the nation on the battlefields where they fell.


"It really moved me," Forte said about finding the remains. "I felt sad."


When he found the first bone, he said, he hoped it wouldn't be human. But, after he found part of the skull, part of the jaw and the thigh bones, and the residue of other bones, he knew it was human. Then, he said, he thought to himself that he wanted this soldier to have a proper burial instead of being left in a shallow grave without a casket.


He and his companions, who were nearby but didn't make the actual discovery,-his son, Ricky; Mike Phillips of Hattiesburg, a student at USM; and Ben Akselson of Beaumont, Tex., a friend of Mike's- then found a container and exhumed all that they could of the remains. They also found some of the buttons and a snap from his uniform and some of his ammunition.


They hurried back to Hattiesburg, eager to tell someone about the find. One of the first people to whom they showed the remains was Mike's father, Dr. Tom Rhea Phillips, a local dentist.


Both Rick and Dr. Phillips are members of the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. (In fact, Rick was instrumental in organizing the chapter.) When they determined from the dental work and the items found with the remains that what they had was a Confederate Soldier, Rick contacted the organization’s national leaders.


Although thousands of unidentified Confederate soldiers are buried throughout the nation, none of them had ever been designated the unknown Confederate soldier. The Sons, which, Rick said, tries to identify the graves of Confederate soldiers and preserve the history of the Confederacy, decided it was time they built an official tomb for the unknown Confederate soldier in the Beauvoir Confederate Veterans Cemetery. (The Sons own Beauvoir.)


Because he will represent all unknown Confederate soldiers, not one particular state or unit, no attempt will be made to identify him, except as a 17-year-old Rebel soldier who died in the Vicksburg campaign.


Also, the spot where he was discovered will not be revealed, Rick said, because it is on private property. He will not even identify the particular battle or skirmish in which the soldier fell because either he, the Sons or the property owners want to attract a lot of people to the area...


Unknown Soldier of Confederacy to be Enshrined

By Carl McIntire, 1980


Bones of a Confederate Soldier found recently on a Mississippi battlefield, will soon be enshrined as the “Unknown Soldier of the Confederacy.”


Sons of Confederate Veterans are planning the ceremony for April 19, a tentative date, and are expecting participation by representatives of the organization from all over the South.


The cemetery at Beauvoir, last home of Jefferson Davis on the Gulf Coast at Biloxi, has been chosen as the site for the monument. Beauvoir, called a Shrine to the Confederacy, is owned by the SCV. For many years, after the death of Davis, it was a home for Confederate veterans and their wives and widows. Many veterans are buried there.


There is now no “unknown soldier” of the Confederate states to honor all those thousands of nameless men who were killed on battlefields of the South or died of wounds in temporary hospitals.


When the bones of a Confederate were found earlier this year, with enough artifacts to prove he was a Southern soldier, the decision was made to – at long last- give him a proper burial and at the same time pay homage to the others, like him, who were left behind.


This man was serving in Vicksburg campaign, in which men from every state of the South were engaged. He was felled by a bullet and apparently died immediately. When the battlefield was cleared, his body was missed.


For 117 years he was undisturbed, his body in a shallow grave that was gradually made deeper by the falling leaves and an accumulation of forest debris.


When his remains were accidentally uncovered, research began to determine if this was really a soldier, and if so, whether a Confederate or Yankee. Artifacts with the bones proved it was a Confederate, with the age of the bones verifying how long it has been there.


At that time it was determined that the exact location would not be revealed in order to protect any other honored dead who may have fallen at the same time and likewise not have been removed for a proper burial after the battle.


Deciding to enshrine these artifacts as the Unknown Soldier, the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Mississippi found a commission to erect the tomb for such a purpose.

At the first meeting of that group, held a few weeks ago, the committee organized with Dr. William D. McCain of Hattiesburg as chairman, James West Thompson of Jackson as vice chairman, William A. Stigler of Biloxi as treasurer and David Harris of Jackson as secretary.


Other members of the original committee included John Aldridge of Jackson, Walter Bivens of Jackson, Col. Newton Carr Jr., of Biloxi, Mike Martinson of Jackson, James Anderson of Biloxi, Lionel Baxter of Bay St. Louis, Jim Berry of Biloxi, William Faggert of Heidelberg, Richard Forte of Hattiesburg and Glen Swetman of Biloxi.


At their meeting, the group decided to add to their number: Robert B. Wilson of Little Rock, Ark. National commander-in-chief of the SCV; Dr. Ralph Widener Jr. of Dallas, national commander-in-chief of the Military Order of the Stars and Bars; Mrs. Missy Williams Higgins, Yazoo City, national president general of the United Daughters of the Confederacy; and the division commander of the SCV in the various states.


Plans are going forward for design and concept for the marker, as well as the selecting a site at Beauvoir for the memorial.


By the time of the dedication, it is expected that the tomb will have been designated by the national organizations of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Military Order of the Stars and Bars as the official tomb of the Confederacy. Already these organizations have given tentative approval and have it on the agenda for the next meetings.


Distinguished guest and representatives from various Confederate Memorial organizations throughout the South are expected to be on hand to participate in the dedication. A military honor guard, composed of representatives from Civil War enactment groups, will be on hand to conduct the military funeral rites.


A solemn, religious and unusual ceremony is being planned.

bottom of page