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.]

Martin Temple C.M.E. Church

Martin Temple C.M.E. Church Cairo 01-28-2013The Martin Temple C.M.E. Church is across the street from the Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church I wrote about a couple of days ago. It is located at the intersection of 25th Street and Poplar Street in Cairo.

I’m glad I shot these photos in January 2013 when all the vegetation (and critters) were dead. I struck dead end after dead end trying to find some references to the church.

The only story that popped up was a Southeast Missourian brief in the January 22, 1955, headlined “Woman Bass Singer Plans Final Series.”

Mrs. Louise M. Braxton, Negro woman bass singer, will give her last series of concerts in this area this week. She will give a concert of sacred music at the Martin Temple Methodist Church in Cairo, Ill., this evening. A special concert, sponsored by the First Baptist, South Side Baptist and Red Star Churches, will be given at 7:30 Thursday evening at Red Star Church, and Mrs. Braxton will speak on “The Problem of the Colored People.”

Shot the correspondent

Martin Temple C.M.E. Church Cairo 01-28-2013I was rooting through the back copies of The Cairo Citizen trying to find references to the Martin Temple Church when this story caught my eye:

Thursday, 3 Jan 1895: Shot the Correspondent. Howard Perdue, an alleged correspondent of the Kansas City Sunday Sun, at Paducah, was shot by an estranged Kentuckian named Monroe Bouyou, Sunday, whom the paper had maligned, and died Tuesday.  Such is the fate of the correspondent of that disreputable sheet.  By the way, it is sold on the streets of Cairo in the most open and flagrant fashion.  Is there no way to rid our city of this miserable post?

I’m going to be more careful about what I write about Cairo citizens. They prove to be harsh critics.

Older Cairo stories

I’ve photographed Cairo since the 1960s. Here are some older stories and photos.

Martin Temple photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then use your arrow keys to move through the images.

1894 Cairo Deaths and Dying

Mt Moriah Missionary Baptist Church - Cairo - 01-28-2013When I was passing through Cairo with Jan Norris on a cold January day in 2013, I shot several abandoned churches, including the Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church. It had a cornerstone dated June 24, 1882, with the name Rev. J.H. Knowl on it. The church is located at 25th Street and Poplar Street in Cairo (if it hasn’t been burned down since I took these). Click on the images to make them larger.

The only meaningful information I could find about the church was a brief in the 1894 Obituaries and Death Notices from The Cairo Citizen. Thanks to Darrel Dexter, who is credited for transcribing the files from the Cairo newspaper. I’ll publish a few portraits of death and dying in the river town.

Denies the Charge

The statement has been published in the local papers and telegraphed to the city dailies as well that a colored woman died from the effect of injuries received at a watch meeting at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.  Rev. Knowles the pastor, is highly indignant at such a statement, and desires us to say she died from natural causes.  He admits she was present at the meeting, as she was a faithful member of his flock and had been for sixteen years, but he claims she had been complaining for several days, and in fact was a sufferer from some chronic trouble.  Her name was Kittie Kelly.  She left a husband and two small children.

Another Killing

Mt Moriah Missionary Baptist Church - Cairo - 01-28-2013John Clark, captain of the watch, was killed Monday morning by John Bennett, a roustabout.  Both are colored, and were employed on the steamer State of Missouri.  About 4 o’clock Monday morning, Clark ordered all hands out for week.  Bennett did not move fast enough to suit him and Clark attempted coercion.  Angry words followed Clark struck Bennett, and the latter retaliated by hitting him over the head several times with a spade.  Clark was conveyed to the marine hospital in a dying condition, where he expired in a few hours and Bennett was placed in jail.

Adam Rees – congestion of the bowels

Mr. Adam Rees, the well-known baker on Twentieth Street, died suddenly yesterday morning at 7 o’clock, of congestion of the bowels. About two years ago Mr. Rees was seriously poisoned by eating some cheese and his stomach and bowels having never completely recovered, he finally succumbed.

A contested will

Mt Moriah Missionary Baptist Church - Cairo - 01-28-2013The will of the late Capt. William A. Hight, of Wetaug, was probated last Wednesday.  It was drawn up in the law office of Lansden & Leek at Cairo, May 30th, 1893, and was witnessed by M. J. Howely, Dr. W. W. Stevensell and David S. Lansden.  The will provides, first, that all just debts be paid.  Second, that his daughters, Annetta Poor, Alice Dunn and Adelia Mowery, and his grandchildren, Walter, Charles, Alney, Harry, Robert, Nettie, Alice and Patsy Hight, children of his deceased son, Alexander Hight, each receive $5.  Third, that his daughter, Virginia Josephine Hight, stepson George P. Bird and stepdaughter Eliza A. Bird, after paying the legacies above shall each, equally, share and share alike, be possessed of all his property, both real and personal, to have and to hold for themselves, their heirs and assigns forever.  George P. Bird was named as executor, and he filed his bond in the sum of $10,000 with Fred Hofffmier and Thomas F. Meyers, as sureties.  It is stated that the heirs who were left with but $5 each have already secured attorneys and will contest the will.

The Second War with England

Mrs. Barbara G. Morris, an old and esteemed resident of this city, died at the residence of her daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Fraser, 2611 Sycamore Street, at about half past eight last Monday morning….Mrs. Barbara G. Morris was born in Baltimore, Md., Nov. 2, 1797, and at the time of her death was 96 years, 2 months, and 20 days old, and was undoubtedly the oldest resident of this county.  Although almost entirely blind at the time of her death, her mind remained very active, and her memory was wonderful.  She used to delight in relating anecdotes of the second war with England, and had witnessed many stirring scenes during these troublesome times.  She also remembered every presidential election from the time of Jefferson down.  Calmly and peacefully she breathed her last, sustained and comforted by the knowledge that she would join those who had gone before, in her heavenly home.

Jesse Whitiker recovering

Mt Moriah Missionary Baptist Church - Cairo - 01-28-2013Thursday, 15 Feb 1894: Little Jesse Whitaker, the ten-year-old son of Mr. Henry Whitaker, of Elco, whose skull was so badly fractured by the kick of a horse about two weeks ago, is getting along finely and is now seems probably that he will fully recover.  He is able to sit up and move about to some extent, and his mind is perfectly clear.  Dr. Elrod, of Cairo, is the attending physician.  The doctor has five or six pieces of the boy’s skull, which he took out and brought home.

“Floater” had good boat and four dollars

Last Friday, while attending court at Bardwell, W. T. White, coroner of this county, received a telegram from East Cairo asking him to come and hold an inquest on a floater.  The man was a fisherman, who was drowned about ten days ago.  His name was J. H. Cross and his home is supposed to be in Michigan.  He had a good boat well furnished, a gun and pistol and four dollars in money.

Stolen meat leads to killing

Mt Moriah Missionary Baptist Church - Cairo - 01-28-2013A shooting affray occurred in the northwest part of this county last Saturday night, which resulted in the death of Robert Kelley.  Some meat that had been stolen was found hidden in a straw stack.  Mr. Kelley and three other men were watching the straw with a view to capturing the thieves.  Late in the night the watchers fell asleep and while they slept some unknown party fired upon them.  One ball struck Mr. Kelley in the head and he died from the wound Monday.  Charles Dunn and John Rodgers of that community have been arrested charged with the killing and there are strong circumstances pointing to their guilt.

Son of saloonkeeper kills self

Mt Moriah Missionary Baptist Church - Cairo - 01-28-2013William Stern, son of a saloonkeeper here, committed suicide Sunday evening by blowing out his brains with a pistol.  He had been out to call on a young lady, and was standing in front of his father’s saloon laughing and joking with some friends.  Stepping back a few paces, and without a word of warning, he suddenly placed the pistol to his head and fired death being instantaneous.  No cause is assigned for the rash act.

Older Cairo stories

I’ve photographed Cairo since the 1960s. Here are some older stories and photos.