Puzzle piece may rest with Union soldier's father
Chamberlin ID tag mystery remains
Picture Removed Temporarily
Thursday, August 2, 2001
BY SCHUYLER KROPF
Of The Post and Courier staff
DNA from Ezra Chamberlin's father may be the
only way to tell if the Union soldier was on board the last mission of
the Confederate submarine Hunley.
And if a newly discovered 19th-century
newspaper clipping can be believed, there is a chance he was.
An Associated Press story in Wednesday's paper
reported that Connecticut researchers would not be digging up Ezra
Chamberlin's grave because they had learned he wasn't in it.
A wartime report in a newspaper that served
Chamberlin's hometown of Killingly, Conn., suggests that, contrary to
initial accounts, Chamberlin and a friend survived the assault on
Charleston's Fort Wagner and became prisoners of war.
The Aug. 20, 1863, blurb, listed in the Windham
County Transcript, says Henry Glines and Chamberlin were originally
reported as missing in the July 11, 1863, attack.
But it goes on to say "recent information
renders it certain that young Glines was not killed or wounded, but is a
The report adds "and there is good reason
to believe that young Chamberlin is also a prisoner."
The account did not indicate what that
If accurate, it could deepen the intrigue
around Chamberlin, whose personalized identification tag was found
hanging around the neck of a Hunley crewman during excavation in April.
"Doesn't it make it even more
possible" that Chamberlin was on the sub? queried Killingly town
historian Margaret Weaver, who discovered the newspaper story.
Hunley experts may now have to resort to
forensic science to verify whether Chamberlin had a role in the Hunley
story. That means scientists may have to dig up his father to see if
there is a Chamberlin family connection to the crew.
The only way to possibly avert opening Elisha
Chamberlin's grave is to find a living family descendent, which
genealogists so far have been unable to do.
"We can get it to the early 20th century,
and then we lose the family," said Connecticut state archaeologist
Nicholas Bellatoni. "We hit a dead end."
That leaves opening Elisha Chamberlin's grave
and removing a bone or a molar tooth as one option. If the remains are
too decayed, forensic scientists could also resort to opening the grave
of his mother.
U.S. Army records say Ezra Chamberlin, of
Company K, 7th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, died July 11, 1863,
attacking Fort Wagner on Morris Island at the entrance to Charleston
Harbor. His body was never found. Historians this weekend confirmed his
remains are not in the family plot in Killingly by reading his father's
1880 obituary, which says Ezra's body was not recovered.
What happened to Ezra Chamberlin in Charleston
remains a mystery and numerous theories have surfaced as to how his ID
got on the sub. He may have survived the battle and switched sides. Or
he may have been aboard the sub as a POW.
A more likely scenario, according to one
author, is that his dog tags were picked up by a rebel after the fight.
Author Stephen Wise, who has written about the
Fort Wagner attack and the siege of Charleston, said he doubts
Chamberlin is the man inside the sub. For one thing, if someone like
Chamberlin changed sides in the Civil War, it would have been headlined
for propaganda purposes, Wise said.
Also, the failure of Northern troops to claim
his body would not have been out the norm, given that Confederates would
have buried Union dead immediately and in mass graves, he said, pausing
long enough to strip the bodies clean of boots, clothing and belongings.
In the meantime, Bellatoni said the search is
continuing for Chamberlin family members and that he would like to have
their written permission before the state decides to open a grave up. If
no blood link is found, the state could still legally move in and open
the grave up for examination, he said.
He also said there is a buzz in Connecticut
over solving the mystery of whether there was a native son on board what
he believes is one of the nation's greatest maritime finds.
"To have a Connecticut connection is
pretty exciting for us up here," he said.
The Hunley was recovered a year ago off
Used with permission of The
Post and Courier and Charleston.Net.