After 103 years, Pvt. Zachariah M. Stucker, a 16-year-old drummer boy for the Union Army in the Civil War, finally was buried at the Veterans Home Cemetery in Port Orchard. His ashes had been unclaimed in storage.
PORT ORCHARD — For 103 years, the cremated remains of the Civil War veteran were forgotten in storage, ending up at the historic Lake View Cemetery on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.
No one came forward to lay claim to the remains of Pvt. Zachariah M. Stucker. So at the cemetery they were stored in an aboveground crypt, along with 1,700 other unclaimed souls.
“It was 100 years of dust, and some human ash, as unfortunately the urns had had many moves and gotten scattered a little,” says Loretta-Marie Dimond, of Kent.
There, in a copper utility box, wrapped in paper, placed in a cardboard box, were the ashes of Stucker.
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Dimond and her husband, Jim, both in their early 60s, both history majors in college, have made it their passion to find a resting place for Civil War veterans.
“It was the most important event in American history. It created the nature of the federal union, changed it from the United States ‘are’ to the United States ‘is,’ ” she says.
On Thursday afternoon, their hours of research, along with that of others who search for veterans never laid to rest in this country, such as the Missing in America Project, culminated in the interment of Pvt. Stucker.
It was done with full military honors at the Veterans Home Cemetery near the Washington Veterans Home in Port Orchard. Some 400 people attended, many of them vets with their “Vietnam vet” or “U.S. submarine veteran” caps. Some were in wheelchairs and it was with slow motion that they’d take off their caps when the national anthem was played.
Pvt. Stucker had been all of 16 when he joined the 48th Illinois Infantry Regiment in 1861 when the Civil War began, a blue-eyed, 5-foot-4 farm boy from that state. It was not an unusual age to join the fighting.
Stucker began service in the Union Army as a musician, meaning that the teenager likely was one of the drummer boys referred to in history books.
He would not have been playing in parades.
Battles were so loud, with guns and cannons, that the men could hardly hear commands. Orders from officers were represented by drumbeat. The drummer boys had one drumroll for “attack now,” another for “retreat.”
When not playing the drumrolls in battle, duties for the boys included being stretcher bearers, bringing the wounded to the medics. They were in the middle of it all. Library of Congress photos of drummer boys show just kids, in uniforms that always seem too big for them.
In the four years that it lasted, some 620,000 of 2.4 million soldiers on both sides were killed, nearly as many American soldiers as died in all the other wars in which this country has fought combined. It has been called “The Boys’ War” because so many teens fought — it’s estimated a fifth of all soldiers were under 18.
Another 16-year-old, John A. Cockerhill, once talked of one of his searing memories:
“I passed … the corpse of a beautiful boy in gray who lay with his blond curls scattered about his face and his hand folded peacefully across his breast. He was clad in a bright and neat uniform, well garnished with gold, which seemed to tell the story of a loving mother and sisters who had sent their household pet to the field of war. His neat little hat lying beside him bore the number of a Georgia regiment … He was about my age … At the sight of the poor boy’s corpse, I burst into a regular boo hoo and started on.”
Bob Patrick, 71, who retired from the King County Assessor’s Office as an appraiser, served in the Marine Corps from 1964 to 1968, in a helicopter squadron in Southeast Asia. He, too, worked on the case of Pvt. Stucker.
“Leave no man behind” is the saying that motivates him.
He says, “I guess that’s burned into our brains. Our job isn’t done until the dead are buried.”
Patrick was among those who in recent years has talked to funeral homes about trying to track down just who are in all those unclaimed urns.
“Lake View gave me a list of names and said, ‘Go for it.’ I think it was 42 pages of names,” says Patrick.
He, along with another vet volunteer, Peter “PJ” Braun, of Port Orchard, began sifting through the long list. They found 85 names they believed belonged to veterans, and spouses of veterans, from our various wars, with Stucker being the only Civil War vet.
That is when they contacted the Dimonds to help out with historical research.
And the Dimonds looked up his Army unit’s history, which listed his name, and newspaper accounts from the Illinois county in which he was born, and U.S. Census data from that era. A picture was filling out about Stucker.
“You just keep looking and looking, and suddenly he’s like your best friend,” says Loretta-Marie Dimond.
He had done two stints in the Army, serving four years ending in 1865. He had taken part in numerous campaigns, including the legendary Battle of Shiloh of April 6, 1862.
Writes Winston Groom, author of “Shiloh, 1862,”:
“ … 45,000 Confederate soldiers swooped down on an unsuspecting Union army encamped at Pittsburg Landing, a nondescript hog-and-cotton steamboat dock on the Tennessee River. What followed were two of the bloodiest days of the Civil War, leaving 24,000 men on both sides dead, dying and wounded.
“When it was over the nation — two nations as it were, for the moment — convulsed, horrified, at the results … Beyond the grisly statistics, Americans north and south of the Mason-Dixon Line were suddenly confronted with the sobering fact that Shiloh hadn’t been the decisive battle-to-end-all-battles; there was no crushing victory — only death and carnage on a scale previously unimaginable. The casualty figures at Shiloh were five times greater than its only major predecessor engagement, the Battle of Bull Run, and people were left with the shocking apprehension that more, and perhaps many more, such confrontations were in store before the thing was settled.”
Stucker never married. He worked as a farmer and drifted around the Western states.
He was listed as “laborer,” indigent and sick, living on a $19 a month pension ($467 in today’s dollars) when in 1910 he applied to live at the veterans home in Port Orchard. He arrived with a fractured right foot.
That is where Stucker spent the last four years of his life, until he died in his sleep from heart failure. That was in 1914 and he was 69.
For some reason, he was not buried at the home’s cemetery and his remains ended up in Lake View.
“Bureaucracy happens,” says Patrick.
But on Thursday, the soldier got proper honors, with the state’s 133rd Army National Guard providing an honor guard and a band.
“One last veteran returns home,” says Dimond.
His ashes were in a handcrafted wooden box, not the utility one in which they had been stored for a century.
Now Pvt. Stucker could join all those other farm boys who have fought in our wars.