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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Bostick Navy Sailors from Williamson County

There is currently (Summer of 2018) an exhibit on display at the Williamson County Archives at Five Points in downtown Franklin, Tennessee about the Bostick Family.  If you are able, I encourage everyone to go see it and learn about this incredible family and their story.  I also recently spoke there as part of the African American Heritage Society's monthly Porch Talk program.  The program was recorded and you can watch it here:


During the Civil War, a group of five African-American men with the last name of Bostick from Williamson County enlisted in the United States Navy.  They all signed up in Memphis, Tennessee on January 4, 1863 on the US gunboat the "General Bragg". I have long been curious about how exactly this group of men made it all the way to Memphis to enlist -- why did they not just enlist in Nashville? Well, I think I have finally figured out their story, and then some.  After their service in the Navy, four of the five men would lead a large group of Williamson County freedmen to settle in the town of Murphysboro, Illinois and create the Bostick settlement.  Their story is an incredible one that spans more than one hundred years.

Major John "Josh" Bostick Sr.
Mary Manoah Bostick.  To understand it we have to start with another family - the white Bosticks.  In 1850, Mary Manoah Bostick was a 13 year old school girl attending the Nashville Female Academy. Her parents, John C. Bostick and Mary Hyde were successful planters and slaveowners in Triune, in the eastern part of Williamson County. Her paternal grandfather, Major John "Josh" Bostick was a Revolutionary War veteran who had moved from North Carolina to Williamson County in 1809 shortly after the death of his wealthy parents there. Her grandfather's obituary described him as “a man of strong mind, of great firmness and decision of character .. Prudent & provident in all business matters .. Affectionate husband, the kind parent, the indulgent and humane master and the obligating and excellent neighbor.” 

The Bostick family lived near the four-way intersection of Triune in eastern Williamson County, very close to the Rutherford County border.  This close up of an 1878 map (after the time when the African American Bosticks were enslaved there) still shows that many white Bosticks were living in the area.  It also shows buildings which were in existence in the 1850s were still in use - such as a steam flouring mill, toll gate and Jordan's Store.
Close up of 1878 Map of Triune area in Eastern Williamson County
Jordan's Mill in Triune - Photo courtesy of Rick Warwick of the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County

Triune Toll Gate - Photograph courtesy of Rick Warwick, Heritage Foundation of Williamson County

Jordan's Store - Photograph courtesy of Rick Warwick, Heritage Foundation of Williamson County
Washington and Charlotte Bostick Family.  Mary's aunt Manoah (her namesake) had died in 1837 and in her will she left to her brother John Bostick Jr. (Mary's father) an enslaved woman named Charlotte and her daughter Margaret. 

This woman Charlotte was the matriarch of the Bostick family.  Charlotte was born around 1813 in Tennessee (I suspect in Williamson County on the Bostick farm).  Her husband Washington Bostick was also born in Tennessee in 1805.  They had at least 10 children.  All  but Margaret would ultimately move with them to Illinois and form the nucleus of the Bostick settlement.

Portion of John C. Bostick's will

On February 9, 1850 - when she was just thirteen years old - Mary Manoah Bostick's father died. Under the terms of his will, Mary and her sister Lucy received property in the form of a trust when each turned 21 years old or married - which ever came first -- Item 7.  I hereby appoint my son R. W.H Bostick trustee for my daughter Mary Manoah Bostick . . . and it is my will that where each of my said daughters shall arrive at the age of 21 year or marry she shall have allotted to her slaves & other property equal in value to that given by me to my son R. W. H. Bostick as above stated, which slaves & other property shall be vested in her said trustee under the restrictions here after named. It is my will that at the death of my wife the land hereby bequeathed her for life shall be equally divided between my said daughters vested in their trustees respectively. And the said R.W. H. Bostick of Mary M. Bostick shall hold the property real land personal so alloted and set apart to her free from the debts & contracts of her & any she may marry but shall suffer her such husband to have the exclusive use & benefit of such property free from liability for the debts of either . . . 

John Bostick spent a lot of time in his will discussing the slaves that he owned and how they should be handled after his death. One provision stated that if any of the slaves proved to be ungovernable they should be sold "out of state". In another he stipulated that his wife should get her choice among them and then the remainder would be divided among his children.

1850 Census showing John Bostick's widow's worth

1850 Slave Schedule showing the slaves left
by John Bostick to his widow and children

Dr. McGavock describing permission to take slaves to Arkansas
The estate that John Bostick left his family was significant. The 1850 Census- taken only a few months after his death - shows his widow claiming a net worth of $34, 500 and her slave schedule shows that she owned 62 slaves - a large number for one person in Williamson County. Many of these slaves were women and children. 

Marriage to Dr. Felix Grundy McGavock and Removal of Slaves to Arkansas

In January 1855, when she was 17 years old Mary Manoah Bostick married the very eligible Dr. Felix Grundy McGavock - a young doctor from a prominent Nashville family. This marriage triggered the trust provisions of her father's will, and she came into her inheritance subject to the trust governed by her brother. Shortly after her father's death, however, her brother had also died and the court had appointed her husband, Dr. McGavock, as the trustee over her new inheritance. According to a book published in 1890, upon her "marriage [to Dr. Felix Grundy McGavock she] came in possession of a large number of slaves, whom the Doctor used in opening up the Shawnee Village estate, consisting of 1,800 acres of woodlands [in Mississippi County, Arkansas]. . . [Bibliography: Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Eastern Arkansas. Chicago: Goodspeed Publishers, 1890.] Dr. McGavock's grandfather Felix Grundy (the US Attorney General), along with John Harding of Nashville's Belle Meade plantation and a few other family members purchased 23,000 acres (approximately 36 square miles) on the fertile west bank of the Mississippi River in Arkansas, just north of Memphis. This land was ultimately divided up among various relatives into several plantations, including San Souci and Pecan Point. Dr. Felix Grundy McGavock received the Shawnee Village plantation. 

According to court records, Dr. McGavock petitioned the court for permission to take his wife's slaves to Arkansas and was granted permission to do so. In her own statement Mary Menorah Bostick McGavock states that it is "true that upon application made to this Court her negroes were removed to the state of Arkansas, and she believes that they are now more profitably employed there than they could ever possibly be in the State of Tennessee." Dr. McGavock was very involved in growing cotton and exploring new agricultural methods so it is highly probable that the Bostick slaves that he took to Arkansas - including the Bostick Navy men - were used to clear land and to grow the cotton. That is probably what Mary McGavock meant when she said they were more "profitably employed".

Mary Manoah Bostick McGavock's statement regarding the removal of her slaves to Arkansas

I have not yet been able to find an exact date of when the slaves were taken to Arkansas but I think it was about 1859. In the 1860 Census, the McGavocks are found living in the town of Scott in Mississippi County, Arkansas. They must have only recently moved there because both of their young daughters - Manoah 3 and Anna J 1 - were born in Tennessee. That leads me to guess that the family moved to Arkansas from Williamson County around 1859 or early 1860 (the Census was taken in July 1860).

Photos from Find A Grave

1860 Slave Schedule showing the slaves
the McGavocks owned in Arkansas

When the McGavocks arrived at their Shawnee Village estate, the slaves had a considerable amount of work to do. As it is described in a biography of Dr. McGavock, the land consisted of 1,800 acres of woodland, on the ground that the noted outlaw, John A. Murrell (also from Williamson County) made famous by making his stronghold. Previous to that the land had been the camp of the Shawnee Indians. The Slave Schedule in 1860 shows that the McGavocks had 21 slaves with them. When you think of how backbreaking the work was that they confronted - it is shocking when you look at the range of ages and genders. The males were 65, 40, 30, 25, 20, 18, two 15 year olds, 13, two 10 year olds, 6, and an infant boy. The females were four 30 year olds, 20, 16, 7 and 4. I was surprised at how relatively young and how many girls there were. To be clearing 1,800 acres of land, growing cotton, and also caring for the McGavock family - with only 21 people - that seems like an incredible burden.

One clue we have about what life might have been like for the Bosticks comes from an 1866 Labor Contract signed between Dr. McGavock and a group of freedmen in 1866 - the first year after the Civil War. He was hiring former slaves to work his Shawnee Village plantation - the land recently abandoned by the Bosticks. In the contract, these people agreed to: 

bind ourselves to F. G. McGavock faithfully during the year [1866] laboring from sunrise til sunset of each day, one hour allowed for dinner except on Saturdays when we stop work at 12 o’clock noon.” . . . McGavock will furnish trousers, clothing, medical attendance, a patch of land . . .all necessary tools and the implements to cultivate the farm and to be protected.
Portion of 1866 Labor Contract between Freedmen and Dr. Felix Grundy McGavock

Civil War and Freedom.

In May of 1861, Arkansas - which was a slave state - voted to join the Confederacy and Tennessee followed suit in June. During this time, the McGavocks and their slaves were living in a relatively unpopulated, rural part of Arkansas. This later map of the area shows how close to the Mississippi River and the border of Mississippi their plantation was. It is hard to know exactly what life was like for the Bostick slaves at this time. It was undoubtedly hard. A war was going on and Union troops were conducting raids against Confederate sympathizers for supplies, although no signifiant fighting occurred in the area. The Bostick Navy men would have probably been very aware of the gun boats and other ships on the nearby Mississippi River. For the next two years they probably worked and worried - and perhaps plotted, and maybe even executed their escape. 

In September 1862 President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation announced that areas still in rebellion on January 1, 1863 would see their slaves officially freed by the US Government. We will never know exactly what happened on the McGavock plantation but we do know that Dr. McGavock later described his slaves as having "scattered" and on January 4, 1863 Burton Bostick, Dudley Bostick, Harding Bostick, Stephen Bostick and William J. Bostick all enlisted in the United States Navy in Memphis, Tennessee as firemen on the U.S.S. General Bragg.  Some accounts of the Bosticks state that they were taken aboard the Navy ship first as "contraband" - meaning they were runaway slaves.  Sometimes slaves were taken aboard ships to work as laborers and later - once the Emancipation Proclamation allowed for it - they were enlisted as sailors.  Perhaps this was their story?  We may never know.

From U.S. Navy public domain Photo #: NH 46642 
USS General Bragg (1862-1865) 
Probably photographed at Cairo or Mound City, Illinois, circa 1862-63. 
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. 

The USS General Bragg, a 1,043-ton side-wheel steamer, was built at New York City in 1850 as the commercial steamer Mexico.  In January 1862, she was taken by the Confederacy in New Orleans, converted to a "cottonclad" ram. This means that bales of cotton were stacked on her decks to absorb incoming rounds, reducing the damage to the structure of the boat. She was also renamed CSS General Bragg. Apparently, she was involved in action following the notorious massacre at Fort Pillow on May 10, 1862 in the Mississippi River. In the painting below, the CSS General Bragg is shown participating in the fighting.

From U.S. Navy public domain. This is trimmed version of Image:NavalBattleOfFortPillow.jpg. "Battle of Fort Pillow, First position". Engraving published in Rear Admiral Henry Walke's "Naval Scenes and Reminiscences of the Civil War in the United States ..." (1877), depicting the action between the Confederate River Defense Fleet and Federal ironclads near Fort Pillow, Tennessee, 10 May 1862. Confederate ships, seen at right, include (from left to right): General Earl Van Dorn, General Sterling Price, General Bragg, General Sumter and Little Rebel. The Federal ironclads, in the center and left, are (from left to right): Mound City, Carondelet and Cincinnati. A Federal mortar boat is by the river bank in the lower right. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Photo #: NH 2049
On June 6, 1862, she was run aground and captured during a naval battle off Memphis by the Union's Western Flotilla. After repairs and being fitted out at Cairo, Illinois, she departed on July 9,1862 for Helena, Arkansas. On August 16, 1862 the ship sailed as part of an escort to steamer Iatan carrying 500 troops to the mouth of the Yazoo River for reconnaissance of Confederate batteries and guerrilla parties. On September 30, 1862, she was transferred formally to the War Department and entered Federal service as the USS General Bragg. Her first Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Joshua Bishop. He would have been at the helm when the Bosticks enlisted.

For the next 15 months, except for periods of repair at Memphis, Tennessee, she patrolled the river from Helena to the mouth of the Yazoo River, where she guarded against Confederate movements toward Vicksburg, Mississippi. It is during one of these periods of repair in Memphis that the Bosticks enlisted - although they may have been picked up as contraband during the ship's patrols earlier, and then formally enlisted at Memphis. Further research is needed to determine exactly how they came to be on board the USS General Bragg.

This correspondence between Lieutenant Bishop (the commander of the ship) and his superior shows that the General Bragg was arriving in Memphis in December 1862 for repairs - just in time for the Bosticks to enlist there on January 4, 1863.

United States Congressional serial set, Issue 5742

Once the Bosticks were on board and the repairs in Memphis were completed the General Bragg returned to its work as part of the River Defense Fleet, defending Memphis and its vicinity patrolling the Mississippi river. This is what General Bragg would have looked like during the period that the Bosticks served on her.

Photo #: NH 513 USS General Bragg (1862-1865)
Sketch of the ship in 1864-65, when she was commanded by Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Cyrenius Dorning.
Courtesy of the Philibrick Collection, Kittery, Maine.
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.
After the Union captured Vicksburg, Mississippi, in July 1863, General Bragg remained in that area until December 13, 1863. At that time she moved downriver to patrol the Red River area. During the spring of 1864, she was guarding the mouth of the river in support of a joint expedition against Shreveport, Louisiana. 

On June 15, 1864 the ship engaged a Confederate battery with Naiad near Tunica Bend, Louisiana. It was an intense fight and 32 rounds were fired at General Bragg. For a time the ships got the worst of the action amid a hail of shot and musketry, but eventually drove off the Confederates with the help of Winnebago. General Bragg was disabled in the action. Stephen and William Bostick were injured in this engagement. The Louisiana Confederates on shore had shot at the Bragg with rifle fire. A musket ball ripped through Stephen Bostick’s right shoulder and forearm injuring him so badly that he was taken off the General Bragg to a hospital boat for treatment. William Bostick was working during the battle helping to pass ammunition (gunpowder) to others and in the heat of battle stepped on and fell through a hatch door, injuring his leg. Years later this injury would be the subject of his disability pension application.

During the rest of the Civil War, General Bragg continued her service along the Mississippi between the Red River and Natchez - occasionally cruising as far south as New Orleans or Baton Rouge. She was decommissioned on July 24, 1865 and sold in September. Renamed Mexico, she was employed for U.S. civilian purposes until 1870, when she was sold to foreign interests. All of the information about the General Bragg was obtained from this article, this one and this one.

The Bostick Veterans

Stephen Bostick From what we know, Stephen Bostick was born on March 15, 1844 on the Bostick plantation in Triune, Williamson County, Tennessee and was Hardin Bostick's brother. He was taken to Arkansas along with the others around 1860 (when he was about 15 years old), enlisted in the Navy in 1863 (at 18 years old) and was injured on June 15, 1864. 

On June 20, 1864 he was issued a hospital ticket for his belongings - one hammock, four blankets, one mattress, one bag, one coat, four trousers, four drawers, one frock, two cotton shirts, five flannel shirts, 3 stockings, 2 boots and shoes, 2 handkerchiefs, 2 hats, 1 cap, $4.00 cash and a book. The book makes me wonder if he could read! As a result of his injuries, Stephen appears to have been immediately discharged from the Navy in 1864 and first gone to Cincinnati, Ohio (1865) but by January 1866 he joins a group of other Bosticks in Murphysboro, Illinois where they established a farming community. 

Three years later he married Sarah Chaney Woods in Illinois (even though she was also from Williamson County, Tennessee) and they go on to have 14 children. 

When denied membership in Murphysboro’s Worthen Post #127 Grand Army of the Republic (a Civil War veterans organization), the Bosticks  - led by Stephen - became charter members of Murphysboro’s Grand Army of the Republic Post No. 727 (Colored). 
By 1900 Post No. 727 had disbanded and its members integrated with Post No.127 where Stephen Bostick would serve as an officer.
Stephen was the most prominent African American citizen in Murphysboro as well as one of its more successful farmers. The photograph at left appeared in the Patron’s Directory in the 1907 Jackson Co. Atlas. Stephen was the only African American whose photo appeared in the atlas. 

Stephen Bostick died on December 3, 1928 in Pomona Township, Illinois and is buried in the Bostick cemetery.

William J. Bostwick. William was another Bostick slave - he seems to have spelled his name "Bostwick". He is believed to have been born on January 14, 1843 on the Bostick plantation in Triune, Williamson County, and like the others, was taken to Arkansas in 1859 when he was about 15 years old. He was a second cousin to Hardin Bostick and brother-in-law to Dudley Bostick. On January 4, 1863 he enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 19. On June 15, 1864 he was wounded in the fighting at Tunica Bend, Louisiana. He was discharged from the Navy on September 14, 1865 in Mound City, Illinois. Its not clear what William was doing in the years immediately after his discharge from the Navy but by 1871 he married Emma Fletcher (also from Tennessee) in Jackson County, Illinois. Their marriage is marred by the deaths of their first two sons in infancy, and then their next child, a daughter, was deaf and disabled. They had a son named William Grundy (perhaps named after their former owner?) and another daughter.  By 1888 William's leg injury from the Navy caused him to claim a disability pension from the Navy; additionally he pursued a divorce from Emma for desertion. Evidently she had taken their two younger children to St. Louis so they can get access to better education and enrolled the older daughter in a school for the deaf. In 1890 the divorce is granted, but according to his pension file he never tells Emma about it (it is granted in her absence) and it seems as though he has a change of heart - because as his health fails he leaves the farm in Illinois and moves to St. Louis to be with her. On April 1, 1891 William Bostwick leaves to go to Hot Springs, Arkansas to seek treatment for "dropsy" and takes his son. The pair stop in Murphrysboro at William's sister's house for a rest but William's health suddenly deteriorated and he died there on May 9, 1891. 

Dudley Bostick. Dudley ("Douglas") Bostick was born on March 26, 1844 in Triune, Williamson County, Tennessee. He was William's brother-in-law. In 1859 at the age of 15, along with the other slaves, he was taken to Arkansas to work on the Bostick plantation. On January 4, 1863 at 18 years of age, he enlisted in the US Navy as a 5'6" tall "first class boy" - the lowest rank. On April 1, 1865 he mustered out of the Navy at Mound City, Illinois. In December 1865, Dudley - along with Hardin Bostick and another former crew member of the General Bragg Isaac Morgan - arrived in Murphrysbroro, Illinois. According to census records, Dudley and his wife Luvenia (also from Tennessee) were married in 1866 in Illinois; they had nine children together. By 1910 Dudley is blind and renting a farm; in 1920 he is no longer working and has moved to town. That same year he died on July 23rd.

Dudley's death certificate
Dudley's grave

Hardin Bostick - Hardin Bostick was born in February 1840 in Triune, Williamson County, Tennessee on the Bostick Plantation. He was a second cousin to William Bostick and brother to Stephen Bostick. He was about 19 when he was taken to Arkansas in 1859 and 22 in 1863 when he enlisted on the General Bragg - making him the oldest of the Bostick Navy men. On April 1, 1865 he mustered out in Mound City, Illinois - along with the rest of his shipmates. The Civil War ended about a month later. Hardin married Maria Jordon, another former slave from Williamson County -- specifically College Grove - right near Triune - on December 9, 1865.  After being discharged from the Navy, Hardin travelled back to Williamson County and married Maria there before they headed to Illinois;  they had ten children that they raised in Illinois.

Interestingly, if the birth dates on the census are correct - and they often are not - Hardin's oldest son Eugene was born in 1862 in Tennessee. Now, perhaps he is not Hardin's son - or Hardin was able to get home to Tennessee to see Maria, or Maria was in Memphis perhaps? Maybe the Arkansas slaves escaped the plantation and were contrabands living near Memphis at one of the large contraband camps before the men enlisted? We will likely never know the answers to these questions. On August 30, 1915 Hardin Bostick died and is buried in the Bostick Cemetery.

The Bostick Settlement. 

These four Bosticks - Stephen, William, Hardin and Dudley - all from Williamson County, Tennessee, became successful farmers and established a loose knit community, the Bostick Settlement, about 51/2 miles southeast of Murphysboro, Illinois. This community grew and prospered and attracted other related families from Williamson County. In time the Bostick Settlement had its own school, church, and cemetery. By 1870, the African American population of Murphysboro Township reached over 120 with most if not all of those individuals residing in the Bostick Settlement.   According to a publication of the Shawnee National Forest, 
Residents of Bostick Settlement lived as many others did at the time.  Many families operated small farms.  Agricultural census records and probate records tell us about the types of crops that were grown in Bostick Settlement.  Farms grew cotton, corn, oats, potatoes, wheat, apples, and other crops.  Livestock kept included cattle, swine, horses, chickens, and mules.  Families also sold products like butter, molasses, and eggs to supplement their finances.  Near the turn of the century, residents who did not farm found industrial employment in coal mines and breweries.

In 1891, Hardin Bostick and his wife, Mariah, gave an acre of their land to the Free Will Baptist Church to be used as a burial ground for the people of Bostick Settlement. [per the article, Bostick Settlement – Murphysboro’s First African American Settlement published by the Shawnee National Forest office] The settlement also featured a one-room schoolhouse that was built on Stephen Bostick’s land. One of Stephen’s daughters, Grace, taught in the school in the early 1900s.

This map from 1896 shows many Bostick property owners in Murphrysboro.

Map courtesy of the Shawnee National Forest Service

This map shows Stephen Bostick's farm with the school located on it - map courtesy of the Shawnee National Forest Service

This map shows Hardin Bostick's farm with the Free Will Baptist Church located on it - Map courtesy of the Shawnee National Forest Service


As time progressed, the descendants of the original Bostick settlers began to move away from the farms - seeking better opportunities in cities around the United States. Many of them sold their farms to the federal government under a program that ultimately led to the formation of the Shawnee National Forest.  All that is left of the original Bostick Settlement is the cemetery.  

To visit the Bostick Cemetery…take Hwy 127 south from Murphysboro. Turn right on Orchard Hills Road and follow the Shawnee Wine Trail. The cemetery is located on the left, on a private lane about 1/4 mile past the Murdale water tower.

It is preserved and maintained by volunteers and staff of the Shawnee National Forest and the John A. Logan Museum in Jackson County, Illinois.

Bostick Descendants in Williamson County

Burton "Burrell" Bostick - In March 1838 Burton (or Burrell?) Bostick was born in Triune, Williamson County probably on the Bostick plantation. He does not appear to have been a blood relation of the other Bostick Navy men. He was 21 years old when he was taken to Arkansas to work on the McGavock plantation in 1859, and 24 when he enlisted in the US Navy in 1863. He mustered out in 1865. Unlike the other Bosticks, he did not settle in Murphrysboro after he mustered out. He returns home to Williamson County. In 1867 a riot between disenfranchised Confederates and a group of newly freed slaves and some supportive whites occurred on the town square in Franklin, the county seat of Williamson County. Burrell Bostick was interviewed in the subsequent investigation on July 8, 1867.  In his statement, he said that he lived at "Widow Bostick's [perhaps Mary Bostick - Mary Manoah Bostick McGavock's mother] about one mile from Franklin, Tenn." At one point he describes that he was "in the front at the head of the column" when the African-American men were marching - this makes sense when you consider that he was a war veteran he would be a likely candidate to lead the procession. He also states that he was one of three men who fired shots in return after they were fired upon, and that he was wounded in the head. 

In the 1870 Census he is living with a group of other African American Bosticks in District 8, working as a farm hand. On March 20, 1872 he and Fannie Carter, a local girl from Williamson County, marry. By 1880 the couple have moved to Nashville where Burt is working cutting wood. In William Bostick's pension application he makes a reference to the fact that Burton has returned to Nashville and is there in 1889. Burt and Fannie eventually have 12 children and he becomes a stonemason. The last record that I can find for Burt Bostick is the 1900 Census - he was 62 years old and owned his own home in Nashville. 

Much appreciation and credit is due to Mary McCorvie of the Shawnee National Forest, Mike Jones of the General John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Illinois and Rick Warwick of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin and Williamson County for their assistance in researching this post.


  1. Fabulous research. Provides a great window on the generational progression of slaves and makes their experiences and challenges real and their successes and triumphs inspirational.

  2. Thursday, March 30, 2017

    Attention: Tina Cahalan Jones

    Tina...I have pasted herein below a URL which has the Bostick (Bostwick) Seamen contained therein:

    I remain,

    Sincerely yours,

    Michael James Morton - USCT Cemetery Mgr. (#49120946) -