Union Soldier's ID Tag Found in Hunley
UNION SOLDIER’S ID TAG FOUND IN HUNLEY
April 27, 2001
An identification tag or ‘dog tag’ was discovered inside the H. L. Hunley by archaeologists. The interesting fact about this discovery is that the tag is from a Union soldier. The name on the tag is Ezra Chamberlin; he enlisted in the Union Army on September 6th, 1861, and was a member of Company K, 7th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers. It is recorded that Chamberlin died on July 11th, 1863 in the Battle at Fort Wagner, also known as the First Assault on Morris Island. The German Light Artillery, which was a military unit of Corporal C. F. Carlson, a Hunley crewmember was prominent at that battle. Scientists have not determined that the body, on which the tag was found, is that of Carlson. The Hunley crew consisted of several diverse Confederate units. It is unknown at this time whether any other Hunley crewmembers were at the Battle of Fort Wagner. Documentation shows that there is a grave and headstone for Ezra Chamberlin located in Killingly, Connecticut. “The artifact seems to be made out of copper, and was found in association with a skull of a crew member. It would appear that the sailor was wearing the tag around his neck,” said Project Director, Dr. Robert Neyland.
“As the excavation of the Hunley continues, further mysteries are revealed, which ask even larger questions than were asked before the Hunley’s recovery,” said Warren Lasch, Chairman, Friends of the Hunley.
What was a Union identification tag or ‘dog tag’ doing in a Confederate submarine? Researchers have come up with four different scenarios, but obviously nothing can be confirmed at this time.
¨ The identification tag was a souvenir from the Battle of Fort Wagner. It was not uncommon during war times for soldiers to collect articles from a battleground.
¨ Ezra Chamberlin was a Union soldier that defected to the Confederacy.
¨ Ezra Chamberlin was a spy trying to disrupt the mission of the H. L. Hunley.
¨ The last request of Ezra Chamberlin on the battlefield, that someone take his identification tag or ‘dog tag’ as a way of letting his family know of his death.
Senator Glenn McConnell, Chairman of the Hunley Commission said,“ This find creates more mysteries than answers.” Sen. McConnell and Commissioner Randy Burbage note: “There is a stone at Bethany Cemetery in memory of C. F. Carlson. If that is an empty grave under a memory stone, could not that also be the case with the grave of Ezra Chamberlin in Killingly, Connecticut?” Sen. McConnell and Commissioner Burbage both agree that it would be plausible for these soldiers to save battle items but rarer for them to take the identification tag of another. Men on both sides were concerned about dying with no way to identify their remains to be sent home. “They would have been reluctant to remove the tag from a dead soldier,” said Sen. McConnell. If the tag was removed, how did they later identify the remains of Ezra Chamberlin to bury him in Killingly, Connecticut? It would be years after 1863 before the dead buried at Battery Wagner, were exhumed and moved, the two note. What occurred at Battery Wagner on July 11, 1863, may have been more than a clash of sides. Sen. McConnell asks, “Could it have been a meeting of friends or a change of heart?”
Perhaps more research of prison records and death records will help solve the puzzle as to why Chamberlin’s tag was on board. “Was the tag, in fact, on someone else or on Chamberlin himself?” said Sen. McConnell. “There at least exists the possibility that another of this crew like James A. Wicks, He, in the course of battle, went from blue to gray. The heroic epic of the final voyage of the Hunley grows in complexity rather than in answers,” say Sen. McConnell and Commissioner Burbage.
On a historical note: Identification tags or‘ Dog tags’ during the Civil War were only created at the soldier’s own initiative, some made them out of wood to be hung on a string around the neck. Also private vendors, known as “sutlers”, followed troops and offered identification disks for sale just prior to battles. There was no official government issued tags until World War I in 1913.
Along the same lines, archaeologists discovered a Union Infantry button inside the submarine. These types of buttons have been recovered from other Civil War battlefields. Confederate soldiers had limited supplies, especially clothing, and it was common for them to collect and wear discarded or captured Union clothing and equipment. To date the buttons recovered from the Hunley submarine as a whole represent a diverse collection of both Confederate and Union military units.
The Hunley project has been made possible in part through the generous support of the National Geographic Society.
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