The Saga of Sgt. Ginter

Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_85084[Editor’s Note:  The following is taken from April 5, 1894, Obituaries and Death Notices of The Cairo Citizen. I have preserved the spelling and grammar of the original piece, including the curious practice of inserting subheads in the middle of sentences. I usually place long quotes in italics, but I’m reserving that font for my comments this time. The photos were taken in the Mound City National Cemetery. Click on the images to make them larger.]


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_7545After Thirty Years a Grave Gives up Its Secret.
Curly Kate” Story at Last Explained

It has been truly said that “truth is stranger than fiction.” The recent discovery that Sam Ginter of the 61st United States colored infantry was buried as “Unknown” at the beautiful national cemetery at Mound City, is but another exemplification of that old adage.

The fact that the identity of an unknown soldier has been discovered after a period of thirty years’ burial, is in itself a remarkable occurrence, but when that soldier’s grave has been surrounded by speculations, hatreds, and slanders, base and cruel, the story of its occupant’s life and death is doubly interesting. The facts and circumstances surrounding the grave of Sam Ginter have already made a sensational chapter in the history of Cairo, but the tale itself should be again told, in order that the reader may see the force and meaning of subsequent events.

The City of the Dead

Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_7594In the early spring of 1889, the present fairgrounds were still sacred as the city of the dead. But in the summer of that same year the old graveyard, with its solemn and sacred stillness, was turned into a place of frolic and merriment.

On the afternoon of Tuesday, June 25th, 1889, while exhuming the bones of the silent inhabitants of the old cemetery, the workmen came across a fine metallic coffin, of the character used during the late war. It was of cast iron ________ in the style of a bath ___, the top being bolted to the lower part, and the seam made tight by lead packing.

There was a glass top to the casket, and through this, by the aid of reflection, it could be seen that the body was that of a Union soldier. It looked as though there was a double row of buttons upon the coat, and the body was immediately called that of THE UNKNOWN MAJOR.

Body was taken to National Cemetery

Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_8574The casket was taken in charge by Warren Stewart Post No. 533, G. A.R. and a committee consisting of Rev. J. W. Phillips, Judge J. R. Robinson and Capt. N. B. Thistlewood, were appointed to re-inter the body at the national cemetery at Mound City. On the afternoon of Thursday, June 27th, 1889, the body of this unknown soldier was again laid to rest.

The description as made out through the beclouded glass, was thought to be that of a “young man, about five feet nine inches in height, fair, rather light complexioned, light hair, eye tooth on the left missing, dressed in the uniform of a major of the infantry, gold buttons on his shoulder straps, while the gold leaf at each end was clear and distinct, as well as the blue ground that indicated the branch of the service.”

At this point the story might have ended, but the editor of a local daily paper, who is now connected with the Chicago Inter-Ocean, decided otherwise. On the morning of Sunday, July 14, 1889, in a four-column article he dilated on an alleged mystery under the headlines


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_7578“Can Curly Kate be buried by mistake in our national cemetery?”

In this article the editor claimed to have received a letter from Cincinnati, signed “Nellie,” in which the writer said that the “dead major” was none other than “Curly Kate” a noted courtesan, who flourished in Cairo during the war. In this alleged letter “Nellie” said that she and Kate had been companions in Cairo, but owing to their forcible ejectment from the city by the commanding officer, in the interests of morality, they had returned in soldier’s uniform and were compelled thereafter to go about in that garb.

One evening Kate, in the uniform of a major, went out boating with a gentleman who is now one of our leading businessmen, but never returned; the “writer” alleging that Kate had been murdered by the male companion who confiscated $5,000 which she had on her person. This sensational article created intense excitement and


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_8604the gentleman so basely slandered naturally being very angry. The paper, which published this libelous and sensational article, stood alone, the balance of the press fighting it at every point.

Matters finally became so complicated that an order was obtained from the authorities at Washington to re-exhume the body and examine it. Late in the afternoon of August 4, 1889, a deputation of citizens went up from Cairo to the national cemetery and the body was again unearthed.

The excitement was intense and men crowded around the grave to get a glimpse of the mysterious unknown. A committee of physicians consisting of Dr. Casey of Mound City, and Drs. Stevenson, Sullivan, McNemer, Rendleman, and Malone, of Cairo, examined the wasted and sunken features and then made further and more critical examination. It took but a moment for them to discover that


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_8568The final and minute examination of the body gave birth to the following description: Five feet ten inches high, seventeen or eighteen years of age; well built and rather stocky, good symmetrical features which were small and well shapen, intelligent face, high forehead. Eyetooth missing on left side. Flaxen, auburn hair, with a tendency to ringlets. Covered with a common gray army blanket from the waist down. Feet tied together with a hempen string. No papers or any mark of identification on the body. Uniform of a common soldier.

The body was not that of “Curly Kate.” But whose was it? What common soldier could have been buried at such expense, and then forgotten? These questions puzzled everyone acquainted with the story, and have even to this day.


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_8589In the same issue of the Chicago Record of March 9th, this year, there appeared an article from Mason, Ill. State’s Attorney Butler, who is a subscriber for that paper, read the account and became very much interested. The story is substantially as follows: Dr. W. B. Dennis, of Effingham, Ill. was hospital steward of the 61st United States colored infantry at the time the following events took place. Under command of Col. Sturgis the regiment was ordered to leave Memphis by transfer boat for the upper Tennessee River.

Near Paducah the boat was signaled by two men on shore who were supposed to be Union couriers. They were taken on board and delivered dispatches to the commanding officer, presumably from the federal general. The dispatches ordered the regiment to proceed to a place called Eastport. There to disembark and march inland about four miles where they were to destroy a bridge, and thus cut off the retreat of the Rebel General Forrest.

Those two men were in reality, Rebel spies, and the object was to lead the Federals into an ambush. The place of destination, Eastport, was a hamlet of about fifty people, in Tishomingo County, Miss. This county is in the northeast corner of the state, the Tennessee River cutting off the northeast corner of the county and forming the border of the state.


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_7574On October 10th, 1864, the regiment reached Eastport and about two-thirds were landed. They had scarcely reached the shore before they were swept down by a withering fire from two sides. Sixteen were instantly killed and twenty wounded. In great disorder they rushed for the boat, which had broken from its moorings and was floating down stream. Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_7564Less than half of those who landed reached the boat. Dr. Dennis and a comrade of the name of Sam Ginter were endeavoring to pull a cannon up the gangway, when a shell burst and both fell apparently dead. Ginter receiving many wounds. They were both carried into the stateroom.

A deck hand prowling about for plunder discovered that Dr. Dennis was alive and so reported to his superior officers. Dr. Dennis had not received a scratch, but the terrible concussion had so affected his brain that he could recall none of the circumstances of the battle. The officers of the regiment made up a purse of $360 for the purpose of embalming Ginter, and sending his body to his widowed mother, who lived near Bloomington, Ill. Dr. Dennis was granted a furlough to visit his relatives in Ohio and was also selected to accompany the remains of Ginter to Bloomington.

It might here be stated that the regiment was composed of colored soldiers, and although Ginter was a private, being a white man and detailed to special duty, he had only associated with the officers who were, of course, white. The officers had conceived a great liking for Ginter, and when he was killed, made up a purse for a decent burial, in order that they might testify to their appreciation of is worth.

Dr. Dennis


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_8520and standing for a moment on the levee to wave a farewell to his companions. He then turned to go up the hill to have the body embalmed. After this he remembers nothing; his mind is a perfect blank as to the following two weeks. He has no recollection of what he did with the body. He even lost his own identity for that period.

The next thing he remembers, he was walking up the streets of Memphis, clad in new clothes. One of the negro soldiers recognized him and offered to carry his valise to headquarters. When questioned about his trip and the disposition of Ginter’s body, he could remember nothing—knew nothing of what they were talking.

He was then questioned about the $360, which had been left in his care, for the purpose of having Ginter’s body embalmed. He had no recollection of this incident, but upon searching his clothing, the money was found intact, in his inside vest pocket. Gradually the incidents of the battle and his trip to Cairo became more firmly impressed upon his mind, but recollection as to the subsequent two weeks was then a blank and remains so to this day.


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_8542Upon reading this article, Mr. Butler became convinced that alleged to have been “Curly Kate.” As he was personally acquainted with Dr. J. N. Matthews, the Mason correspondent of the Record, Mr. Butler wrote to that gentleman a full description of the body found in the old graveyard, and related the “Curly Kate” episode.

Dr. Matthews immediately left for Effingham and laid the letter from Mr. Butler before Dr. Dennis. Dr. Dennis was dumbfounded. After thirty years of silence he had discovered where Ginter’s body had been placed, and furthermore said that Mr. Butler’s description of the unknown soldier


Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014_8566In his mind there is not the slightest doubt but that the body of Ginter, surrounded as it has been by sensations and occurrences stranger even that the most sensational romance, has at last been discovered. Dr. Dennis’ theory of this strange sequel to his remarkable experience, is as follows:

“Having reached Cairo and engaged the undertaker, I purchased the casket while still able to transact business, paying a certain guaranty from my own pocket book, and arranging to settle the rest of the cost when I called for the remains, after the embalming process. And then my mental aberration growing worse, I wandered off and never returned, leaving the body to be cared for by strangers. Being an officer, I had money of my own, and this probably accounts for my not using the money contributed by my comrades.

“I am considerably exercised over the disclosures, but my own whereabouts and condition at that time, beyond theory, are as much of a mystery as ever. The description given Mr. Butler of the corpse disinterred at Cairo, tallies in every particular with that of my comrade, Ginter, and I have no hesitancy in pronouncing this to be the body of my long lost comrade.”

The story is ended

Mound City National Cemetery 08-10-2014DSC_7559The story is ended. It has been told without a single addition or embellishment, but we believe that a romancer never wove a fancy, more exciting or more unreal than this tale of the war. After thirty years of agony, Dr. Dennis can write to that widowed old mother and tell her that the body of her son lies sleeping in a soldier’s grave beneath the peaceful shades of the beautiful trees at the soldiers’ cemetery. The hatred and malice of men tried even to malign him as he slept there, but they failed, and though his ashes were rudely disturbed, the evil that was intended has ended in a blessing.

(A marker at Grave 3396 Section E in Mound City National Cemetery reads: Sgt. Samuel Ginter U.S. Army Oct. 17, 1864.—Darrel Dexter)

[Editor’s note: Thanks to Darrel Dexter for transcribing the Obituaries and Death Notices of The Cairo Citizen for the period of January 4, 1894 to December 27, 1894. They are fascinating reading. I referred to some in my post about the Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. Mound City’s cemetery isn’t the only National Cemetery with a mystery grave: check out the story of Dennis O’Leary in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.]

Flags in the Cemetery

State Psychiatric Hospital Cemtery #1 05-07-2014Eighty veterans are buried in the three cemeteries that served The Ridges, formerly known as the Athens Lunatic Asylum. Curator Jessica and I were fortunate enough to quickly find the graves of two men who served in the United States Colored Infantry in the Civil War.

Daniel Mischal was a sergeant in the 27th United States Colored Infantry, Ohio’s second African American regiment. The regiment was organized at Camp Delaware on January 16th, 1864, and served until the end of the Civil War; it was then mustered out September 21, 1865.

Battle of Crater

State Psychiatric Hospital Cemtery #1 05-07-2014Here is the grave of Corp. Israel Johnson.

The Colored Infantry not only fought the Confederates; they also had to contend with racism on the Union side. The Ohio Historical Society repeats Sgt. James H. Payne’s account of the August 12, 1864, Battle of the Crater:

“…(T)wo regiments [the 43rd USCI and 27th USCI] drove the enemy from their breastworks, and took possession of the blown up fort; but while they did, all the white soldiers lay in their pits and did nothing to support our men in the struggle; they lay as if there was nothing for them to do for one hour after the explosion took place…How easily Petersburg could have been taken on the 30th of July, had the white soldiers and their commanders done their duty! But prejudiced against colored troops prevented them…I can only conclude that our men fell unnecessarily in the battle on the 30th. In their retreat, they received the cross-fire of the enemy, and no small number were killed by our own artillery.”

Burials were austere

State Psychiatric Hospital Cemtery #1 05-07-2014A visitor’s guide to the cemeteries says “Virtually everything about burial on the Ridges was austere. The unembalmed bodies were washed, wrapped in simple shrouds, and placed in plain wooden coffins. Normally, the funeral “procession” was comprised of six people: four gravedigger/pallbearers, a representative of the hospital and a chaplain.

“The service consisted of an opening and closing prayer and, in the case of Christians, a reading from Scripture – no personalized eulogy, no one else in attendance. From the 1870s to 1943, graves were marked only with small, sequentially numbered, marble stones which corroded rapidly and were easily broken – no names, no dates.

Vets not recognized until 2005

State Psychiatric Hospital Cemtery #1 05-07-2014This particular cemetery served the Asylum from its opening in 1874 until about 1913, so the flags you see flying recognize servicemen who fought before World War I.

Two other cemeteries on the property received bodies until 1972, After that, unclaimed bodies were taken to two rural Athens County cemeteries.

In all, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which has taken on the task of identifying the graves of veterans, has found two who fought in the Mexican War, sixty-eight from the Civil War, a member of the Confederate Army, and another two veterans who served with the United States Colored infantry. Three veterans served in the Spanish–American War, and seven fought in World War I.

Starting in 2005, the Ridges Cemeteries Committee has been organizing Memorial Day Ceremonies for the many veterans buried at the asylum. NAMI started the Memorial Day Ceremonies to help restore dignity to the patients on the Ridges and to help recognize the sacrifice of the veterans, many who had probably suffered through post traumatic stress disorder as well as other post war symptoms.

The Last Words of Pvt. Ladd

Stoddard County Confederate Memorial Cemetery 01-27-2013Whenever visitors come to town, I drag them down to the Stoddard County Confederate Memorial in Bloomfield. The unique thing about this memorial is each stone tells how the soldier died.

Veterans Day is be a good time to examine the plight of a Stoddard county soldier who came to a sad end. In a way, it tells a lot about how the Civil War was fought in Missouri. For more detail, go to The Asa Ladd Story. It’s worth a read.

Asa Valentine Ladd

Stoddard County Confederate Memorial Cemetery 06-29-2013Asa Valentine Ladd, a farmer, enlisted in the Confederate army March 10, 1861, in Stoddard County. He took with him two horses and left behind a wife, Amy, and seven children. He served a mostly undistinguished military career and was involved in no general engagements. He was captured in Sedalia Oct. 16, 1864.

In a separate fight – The Battle of Pilot Knob, near Bloomfield in September 1864 – and having no connection with Pvt. Ladd, a Union Major, James Wilson and six of his men were captured by the Confederates. They were turned over to CSA Major Tim Reeves, called a guerrilla by the Union Forces. It has never been determined who gave the order, but Major Wilson was taken out and hung and his men were shot. When word of this murder reached Gen. Rosecrans, who was commanding the Department of the Missouri, he issued a retaliatory order to the effect that a Major and six enlisted men of the Rebel captives be shot.

Men were forced to draw lots

Stoddard County Confederate Memorial Cemetery 06-29-2013Prisoners were given the option to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Federal Government. Those who complied were paroled. Those who refused, including Pvt. Ladd, were marched into a room where they drew lots. A container of black and white marbles was held above eye level and the men were told to take a marble. Six black marbles meant death; a white marble won the soldier a parole. Pvt. Ladd drew a black marble.

Letter to his wife

Asa Ladd memorial tombstone 01-27-2013Pvt. Ladd wrote this moving letter in the last hours of his life:

Dear Wife and Children:

 I take my pen with trembling hand to inform you that I will be shot between 2 and 4 o’clock this evening.I have but a few hours to remain in this unfriendly world. There is six of us sentenced to die because of the six Union soldiers that were shot by Reeve’s men. My dear wife, don’t grieve for me.I want you to meet me in Heaven. I want you to teach the children piety, so that they may meet me at the right hand of God.I can’t tell you my feelings but you can form some idea of my feelings when you hear of my fate.I don’t want you to let this bear on your mind anymore than you can help, for you are now left to take care of my dear children. Tell them to remember their dear father. I want you to tell my friends that I have gone home to rest.

I want you to go to Mr. Connor and tell him to assist you in winding up your business. If he is not there, get Mr Cleveland. If you don’t get this letter before St. Francis River gets up, you had better stay there until you can make a crop, and you can go in the dry season. It is now past 4 a.m. I must bring my letter to a close, leaving you in the hands of God. I send you my best love and respects in the hour of death. Kiss all the children for me. You need have no uneasiness about my future state, for my faith is well founded…

Good-by Amy,

 Acey Ladd

 She never got the letter

Stoddard County Confederate Memorial Cemetery 06-29-2013Amy, it is said, never got the letter, particularly the part that warned her to wait out high waters on the St. Francis River. She loaded two wagons, hitched up the oxen to them and hired a man to drive one while she drove the other. One of the wagons tipped over crossing the flooding river and all its cargo, including the family Bible, was washed away. She ended up raising her children in Arkansas without ever seeing her husband’s last words.

A man who deserved killing

Stoddard County Confederate Memorial Cemetery 06-29-2013It’s easy to paint the confederate Major Reeves as the bad guy in this story, but the Major James Wilson he killed, according to some accounts, was “a heartless Union officer with a take no prisoner policy. He and his troops rode into Ripley Co. on Chrismas day of 1863 and killed 35 solders and 62 civilians, some as young as 12 months old, while they were eating Christmas dinner.”

From the book Shelby and His Men: “The execution of Major Wilson at Pilot Knob was an act of eminent justice, for he was a common murderer, and entirely destitute of manly and soldierly feeling.”

Rank has privileges

What happened to Major E.O. Wolf who was supposed to be shot along with the other five soldiers? He received a stay of execution.

John M. Ferguson, who had drawn a fatal black marble, was determined to have been a teamster and had served as a soldier only a short period of time. His name was stricken from the roll of death to be replaced by George F. Bunch. Ferguson, it was said, “was so rejoiced and grateful at this unexpected deliverance, that he shed tears and declared that hereafter he would fight only for the Union.”

Charles W. Minniken asked to say a few words before the sentence was carried out: “Soldiers, and all of you who hear me, take warning from me. I have been a Confederate soldier four years, and I have served my country faithfully. I am now to be shot for what other men have done, that I had no hand in, and know nothing about. I never was a guerilla, and I am sorry to be shot for what I had nothing to do with, and that I am not guilty of. When I took a prisoner I always treated him kindly and never harmed a man after he surrendered. I hope God will take me to his bosom when I am dead. 0, Lord be with me!” While a sergeant was tying his blindfold, Minniken said: “Sergeant, I don’t blame you. I hope we will meet in heaven. Boys, when you kill me, kill me dead.”

And, that was the messy way the Civil War was fought in Missouri. As Jim Denny wrote in The War Within the State, “Missourians did not have to await the arrival of an invading army to begin making war – they just chose sides and began fighting each other.”

Frederick W. and Mary Karau Pott House

Frederick W and Mary Karau House 10-31-2009There is a striking two-story white house at the corner of Themis and Pacific across from Trinity Lutheran School that I’ve always wondered about. I paused on a Halloween afternoon’s bike ride in 2009 long enough to pop off a couple of frames.

It turns out there’s a world of information about it in its National Register of Historic Places registration form. If you are a fan of architectural detail, it’s worth a read.

History of Pott house

Frederick W. Pott was born in Prussia in 1839. He and his parents came to Cape Girardeau in 1854. Father and son joined the Union Army when the Civil War began, and Frederick was captured in the Battle of Shilo. After the war, he found employment in the milling industry. He married Mary (or Maria) Karau in 1865. They eventually had 11 children.

In 1877, he built Planters Mill at the foot of Main Street. Within four years, he owned the mill free and clear. The coming of the railroad to Cape Girardeau kicked off a boom, and around 1885 the Potts commissioned the building of this house at 826 Themis Street for their growing family. By 1888, Pott had increased the capacity of Planters Mill from an initial daily output of 80 barrels of floor to 200 and employed at least 10 men.

Disaster stuck when a fire swept through the mill on March 27, 1909. Pott’s insurance only partially covered the loss of the mill, elevator, warehouse and a large quantity of wheat, flour and bran that had been stored on the premises. The total loss was estimated at $50,000. He died the next year, in 1910.

Became office for doctors

Aerial photos of Trinity Lutheran School neighborhood 11-06-2010The house remained in the family until 1938, when it was sold to D.W. Hope, a Cape physician. According to the historic places register application, professional offices were developed in the building after it was acquired by Dr. Hope, listings in city directories from 1942-1973 indicate. The H-R-S Company was formed by Dr. Hope and three other doctors: A.J. Rasche, Frank W. Hall and Mitchell H. Shelby.

The next owner was James McHaney, who sold the property to Steven and Emily Mellies on April 28, 1995.

The house is the white building at the top center of this November 2010 aerial photograph. Trinity Lutheran School is in the center.


Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.