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A place to honor their memory

NICHOLASVILLE — The two Civil War soldiers from Central Kentucky died almost a century and a half ago and lie somewhere in unmarked graves.

A poignant memorial service Monday honored the two men, who had been buried without the Civil War honors they merited.

It was the first time that Camp Nelson National Cemetery had conducted a cenotaph, a memorial service with no remains, said Thomas Griswold, camp commander of E.P. Marrs Camp 5, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.

Sgt. Theophilus F. Sebastian was buried among the unknown soldiers in the Chattanooga National Cemetery in Tennessee. He was killed in the Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 20, 1863, one of 37,129 soldiers killed in that battle. Sebastian was part of the defeated Union Army that afterward retreated to Chattanooga.

Pvt. James Foley, a farmer who was just 19 when he enlisted, died of pneumonia at his brother's house near Lexington while on furlough. He had been in the Union Army one month without seeing battle.

"He is probably buried on Versailles Road, because that's where his brother lived," said his descendent Nancy Foley Johnson, 71, of Lexington.

"We don't know where the grave is. The cemetery's probably been covered over with a subdivision," she said.

Relatives of both men gathered for the Memorial Day service at Camp Nelson.

In remembering Sebastian and Foley, "we recognize ... that they gave their tomorrows so we could have our todays," said Chaplain Robert Orbach, with the Elijah P. Marrs Camp 5.

Darrell Sebastian became interested in genealogy and learned that his great-great-grandfather was a solider in the Union Army. "Once you get started, you get addicted," said Sebastian, 48, a Lexington mail carrier.

He knew his ancestor had died at Chickamauga, and he began a search for the grave. "I discovered there was not one," he said.

That's when he contacted Sgt. Elijah P. Marrs, Camp 5, of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Members arranged for two simple white headstones — one for Sebastian, one for Foley — to be erected at Camp Nelson.

The Sons of Union Veterans also knew about Foley and tracked down Nancy Johnson.

More than 110,000 Civil War soldiers died in battle, but 250,000 died of disease, Johnson said. Foley was the youngest brother of her great-great-grandfather and served in the Kentucky cavalry.

At Monday's service were several generations of the Sebastian family, including Darrell Sebastian's father, Wayne, who served in the Korean War.

Theophilus Sebastian left his wife and two young sons in Danville when he joined the Union Army in 1861. He was sent to Louisville to be a recruiting officer.

In July 1863, he was ordered to rejoin his 4th Regiment as an infantryman. Two months later, Sebastian was killed at Chickamauga. The 4th Regiment suffered "the greatest loss of any of the 43 infantry regiments Kentucky furnished to the Union Army, with 455 deaths," Darrell Sebastian said.

Coffins were unheard of at the time. In some battles, Union divisions took the field without a single ambulance available to remove casualties, Johnson said she learned while doing some Civil War research.

Record keeping of the dead was chaotic.

No matter that the two men lie in unmarked graves. "You died not in vain, Sergeant Sebastian and Private Foley, for the Union yet lives," Orbach said in his benediction.

"For it is our memories that will reach beyond the graves to that eternal place, known but to God."