Grave robbing may not rank up there with murder, rape or assault with a deadly weapon, but there seems something particularly heinous about the crime. One supposes an individual willing to disturb the dead has, in all likelihood, little respect for the living, either.
It’s unclear how often this reprehensible act takes place, but it likely occurs more than most of us realize.
Among the most recent cases is one that came to light earlier this month in Georgia.
Nearly 150 years after a Confederate officer succumbed to disease contracted during the War Between the States, his remains were desecrated and dug up from a Crawford County cemetery.
First Lieutenant James Alexander Nichols of Company F of the 57th Georgia Infantry Regiment died from dysentery on Nov. 9, 1866, and was buried in Old Bethel Methodist Church Cemetery in west-central Georgia.
More than likely, Nichols’ remains were disturbed by a cretin looking for artifacts, such as uniform buttons or similar items. Many men who served in the Civil War, particularly those who died during or just after the war, were buried in their uniforms.
The Crawford County sheriff, Lewis Walker, said he was initially unsure why someone would disturb the grave, but, in a comment showing remarkably little intuition, said he was “hoping family members of the deceased might have ideas.”
Last year, two Georgia men were arrested and charged with grave robbing after the remains of five Confederate and Revolutionary soldiers were disinterred in Burke County, Ga., which is due east from Crawford County, on the border with South Carolina. Both men were later sentenced to five years in prison.
According to records, Nichols was elected brevet second lieutenant for Company F, 2nd Regiment, Georgia State Troops on Oct. 14, 1861. He was mustered out in 1862 and elected second lieutenant for Company F of the 57th Georgia on May 3, 1862, in Savannah. He was promoted to first lieutenant on Jan. 11, 1863.
Nichols was surrendered at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, and paroled three days later. According to terms of his parole, Nichols agreed not to “ … take up arms again against the United States, nor serve in any military, police or constabulary force in any Fort, Garrison or field work, held by the Confederate States of America, nor as guard of prison, depots or stores, nor discharge any duties usually performed by Officers or soldiers, against the United States of America, until duly exchanged by the proper authorities.”
He was exchanged a short time later, and resumed his service in the Confederate army.
Using information gleaned from an area Sons of Confederate Veterans website, television station WMAZ reported that the 57th Georgia was organized during the spring of 1862 and many of its members were recruited in Troup, Peach, Montgomery, and Oconee (Ga.) counties.
The unit served in East Tennessee and Kentucky, then moved to Mississippi. It was assigned to Thomas H. Taylor’s Brigade in the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, and fought at Champion Hill (May 16, 1863) before being captured at Vicksburg, the station reported.
What was left of the regiment surrendered on April 26, 1865.
Nichols was 34 years old when he died a little less than 20 months after the end of the war.
He was one of seven children of Vincent “Jack” Nichols and his wife Elizabeth, who donated the land for the cemetery, which dates back to the 1840s. Jack Nichols was one of Crawford County’s most prominent citizens, serving as a justice of the peace and a church leader.
There are at least 10 other Confederate soldiers buried in Old Bethel Methodist Church Cemetery, including another infantryman who died as a result of disease contracted during the 1861-65 conflict
(Top: Grave marker of First Lieutenant James A. Nichols at Old Bethel Methodist Church Cemetery, Crawford County, Ga., prior to being desecrated. Photo credit: WMAZ-TV.)