July 4, 2004
FINDING GREAT-GREAT GRANPA
Written by Melinda Shannon Freels
PENISON RECORD FOR WILLIAM RILEY SHANNON
Place of honor
Thanks to great-great-granddaughter's persistence, Civil War veteran's place in history marked
By FRED BROWN, email@example.com
July 4, 2004
LANCING, Tenn. - Looking for a good July 4th story?
Melinda Shannon Freels of Marietta, Ga., has one for you. It concerns her great-great-grandfather, William Riley Shannon.and if you feel the urge, you can even join her today for military honors, a 21-rifle salute and a little bagpipe, Scottish and bluegrass music thrown in with a picnic.
Beginning at 2 p.m., today, members of a military honors guard from the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Knoxville, which departed in mid-June for training at Camp Shelby, Miss., will provide a full military funeral for Pvt. William Riley Shannon, Civil War veteran and flag bearer. His descendants will receive an American flag, a replica of the one he carried into battle, gift of a grateful nation. The July 4th picnic follows the ceremonies in a large hay field near the cemetery. You will have to bring your own refreshments and perhaps a lawn chair or two. However, that's a small price to pay for this story. Actually, this is a yarn wrapped around a story about William Riley Shannon, a Civil War veteran whose gravesite was not precisely known, but has been found by his great-great-granddaughter.
William Riley Shannon was born in 1842, sixth child of James and Mary Shannon, early settlers on the Emory River. His Civil War pension records report that he died April 27, 1907, and was buried between his mother-in-law, Rebecca Lewallen McCartt, and his wife, Pernina Jane McCartt Shannon in the McCartt Cemetery in Gobey, a mountainous, rural section of Morgan County.
Since his burial, Shannon's grave has been marked simply with two gray stones at the head and foot of the grave. If any identifying marks were scratched into the stones, they have been removed by time.
For the past quarter-century, Freels has been searching record books and in more recent times scouring the Internet for information on Shannon. Her lengthy investigation uncovered the fact that Shannon was 20 years old when he volunteered in July 1862 to join Union forces fighting Confederates in Tennessee and Kentucky. He walked to Huntsville, Tenn., to begin duty with Company C of the 7th Tennessee Infantry, bought a horse and then was transferred to Company E of the 11th Tennessee Cavalry and later to the 9th Cavalry. While with the cavalry and other units he fought mostly in East Tennessee, especially around Cumberland Gap, Lebanon, Ky., and Huntsville. Freels knew her great-great-grandfather had been buried in 1907 at the age of 65. He had never fully recovered from catching typhoid fever in the war, which sent him home for a spell, and walking pneumonia on picket duty one night near Cumberland Gap where he was exposed to cold, rain, sleet and then snow. Freels also was fairly certain that Shannon had been buried in the McCartt Cemetery in Morgan County, since his wife, Pernina, was there, a tombstone Freels had found. She located the unmarked fieldstones in the McCartt cemetery not long ago in the Lancing community, once know as Gobey.
It was a defining moment in her life.
More than 20 years ago, she began a cursory search of records concerning her relatives near Wartburg. As a child, her father (Robert Lee Shannon) had taken her to visit Gobey, just north of Wartburg, along winding back roads. Gobey was created in the early 1900s to support the Emory Logging Co., and later became Lancing.
"I distinctly remember my father showing me a little graveyard called the McCartt Cemetery where he said his great-grandfather, William Riley Shannon, was buried in an unmarked grave," she says.
Shannon eventually became a flag bearer for the 11th Tennessee Cavalry, which meant in most battles, he was out front, hoisting high the American flag. In that time of war, men who carried battle flags had to be of raw courage, fearless and more than just lucky. Flags let their fellow soldiers know where their all-important battles lines were established.
In 1988, Freels attended a family reunion at Frozen Head State Park and discovered that by then no one was quite sure where old Grandpa Shannon had been buried. Not even his surviving grandchildren.
"I decided then and there that I would discover the truth," she says.
This led her to years of research, travels to Ireland and Scotland and to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C., where she obtained a copy of Shannon's Civil War records as well as his pension documents. It was those records that filled in the final blanks for Freels.
But all was not well at the cemetery. A storm was brewing. A family who purchased property adjacent to the cemetery thought the burial grounds were on their property and treated them as such.
Wendell Wade Maden, a McCartt descendant - Shannon married his great-aunt, Pernina McCartt - and a farmer who lives just down the road from the cemetery, says the burial ground was first established by the Rev. James Madison McCartt, a Methodist circuit-riding preacher. The minister was buried where he could look out on the old church he established. The church, long dissolved into the earth, was within spitting distance of the cemetery. Now a narrow road is between the minister and the site of his church.
By 1895, Shannon owned at least 100 acres of prime bottomland, some inherited from Pernina's father, the minister, James Madison McCartt. Pernina died at age 43 and was buried in the McCartt Cemetery. Her parents followed soon into the good ground there. Maden was born in the house built in the 1700s in the Emory River bottoms by Samuel Hall, who sold the original land to the McCartts. So, the cemetery was clearly part of McCartt property, says Maden, as he walks among the tombstones, some still marked only by rounded fieldstones. He points to a massive white oak tree on one end of the cemetery and an equally large red oak on the other. "That's the boundaries," he says, reaching for another twist of dark chewing tobacco. "That's what the old people laid out. "I have walked it off. There are about 72 paces in an acre. This is about 35 paces, or a half-acre," says Maden, whose forearms seem ready for plowing fields. His chest is the size of a washtub and his smile is as big as he is. Freels was all set to erect a tombstone to her great-great-grandfather when she ran into trouble from the neighbor, who had posted a no-trespassing sign at the cemetery. "She was attempting to refuse access to the public. Her nephew had been recently and very tragically killed in a car accident and had just been buried there," Freels says.
After a series of confrontations, and with no help from county officials in the matter, Freels had researched Tennessee cemetery statutes enough to know that if she found that her great-great-grandfather was in fact buried in the McCartt Cemetery, and she could locate him, she would win the battle.
"I figured that if I proved a Civil War veteran was buried in the cemetery, obtaining official intervention would be less difficult. But I needed tangible, hard proof."
Records from Washington arrived, "containing solid proof that he was indeed buried in the McCartt Cemetery," she says.Armed in May with all this information and other records, Freels sought and received a court order from Morgan County defining the McCartt Cemetery as a public burial ground.
Having the proof she needed, Freels ordered a special-edition Civil War monument to place on his unmarked grave. The white marble marker arrived in December 2003 from the Veteran's Administration, all 220 pounds of it. It has been in Maden's barn since.
On Saturday, Maden placed the Civil War tombstone where Freels said to put it. That was done in preparation for the full military honors ceremony today.
"Shannon is a veteran," says Master Sgt. Richard Hancock of the 278th. "All veterans who have been honorably discharged are entitled to a military funeral.
"This is a little different in that it is full military honors for a Civil War veteran."
That celebration comes 142 years almost to the day after a young man from the hills of East Tennessee walked from his mountain home to fight for independence and freedom.
Senior writer Fred Brown may be reached at 865-342-6427.
Copyright 2004, KnoxNews. All Rights Reserved.
LOCAL CIVIL WAR VET HONORED The Fourth of July celebrates America's birthday and independence. It is also a day to remember those who fought to keep that independence.
Family and friends gathered to remember William Riley Shannon. "The story goes Riley had his horse shot out from under him, and both times he kept the flag from hitting the ground," said Melinda Shannon Freels, great great granddaughter of Shannon. "We all thought that was remarkable. Even as a child, I was intrigued by that story."
William Riley Shannon was a Civil war veteran. "He fought for the same things we fight for, our country, our flag," said Master Sergeant Richard Hancock of the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. "We're fighting for the same thing. It's just 140 years later."
William Riley Shannon has been dead for 97 years. Though he fought for the union and was honorably discharged, Shannon never received military honors, and the only thing that marked his grave was a field stone.
"Anyone who serves this country doesn't deserve to be in an unmarked grave. So after 97 years, I'm very glad Riley will have some peace, and hopefully so will I," said Melinda. She has been working for 25 years to trace her ancestors and to prove where her great great grandfather is buried, so he could finally get the honors he deserved.
"I think it's important to recognize that, be proud of it, and I think it sets an example today in our country to realize what our brave men and women are sacrificing," said Melinda. "They have to be remembered."
Melinda has brought family members together from across the country to honor Shannon and get to know each other. "She really had a goal in mind and she went after it and she accomplished it," said Billy Joe Shannon, great grandson of William Riley Shannon.
It is the highest honor for a veteran, a service usually performed at a funeral. This one is the first this group has ever performed for a Civil War veteran.
"I think it's real fitting after 97 years. He fought for the union, and he was an American soldier just like we are," said Master Sergeant Hancock. "He fought with the Cavalry and we're the 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. It's a great honor to do this for the families of service men. It just kind of provides closure for them."
William Riley Shannon enlisted in the Union army in 1862. He served as flag bearer for the Eleventh and Ninth Tennessee Cavalry and was honorably discharged in 1865.
7/4/2004 WBIR-TV, Knoxville, TN
Reporter: Herryn Riendeau
Courtesy of Melinda Shannon Freels Return to Shannon Family Photos Return to PHOTO ALBUM Return to Morgan County Home Page