Gray's Stranger from the South

Just off the northbound exit of the Maine Turnpike in Gray is the town cemetery. Strolling through that historic yard, you’ll encounter a curious sight, a prominent white marker reads:

Stranger -a soldier of the late war

STRANGER
A Soldier of the late war
died 1862
Erected by the Ladies of Gray.

A Confederate Flag stands proudly next to this unknown soldier.

Lieut Charles H. Colley\

Lieut.
Charles H. Colley
of Co. B 10th Me Vols.
among the First to rally in defense of his Country, was wounded at Cedar Mountain, Aug 9. died at Alexandria
Sept 20. 1862
Aged 29

The story of the stranger's odd journey deep into enemy territory starts with union officer, Charles H. Colley. Colley joined the Civil War in its earliest stages. Records show he was a member of the first Maine Infantry in Company B, the Portland Mechanic Blues. In 1861, the unit was folded into the 10th Maine Infantry where Colley rose to the rank of Lieutenant. On August 9, 1862, at the Battle of Cedar Mountain (a precursor to the second Battle of Bull Run in Virginia), the 10th Maine Infantry lost 30 men to General Stonewall Jackson’s attacks. Colley was seriously wounded. Three weeks later he succumbed to his wounds in a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia.

Word was sent back to his parents in Gray, Maine that their son had died, and the body would be shipped back if they chose to pay for it. The Colleys sent the money, and weeks later a pine box was delivered to the grieving family.

Accounts differ as to exactly who opened the coffin --the family or the undertaker-- but when it was opened, the family was in for a shock. The body wasn’t their lost son, but a stranger wearing a Confederate uniform.

The family contacted the government to find out what to do about the stranger and to try and find out what had happened to Lieutenant Colley. While they waited for a reply, the family buried the body in the grave that had been prepared for their son. Word eventually came back from the government that they had no way to pay for the return of the Confederate. A short time later the body of Lieutenant Charles H. Colley of Gray arrived and was laid to rest not far away from his former enemy.

Historians speculate both soldiers may have died around the same time, perhaps in the same hospital. Maybe their names were similar.

Some time later, a group of ladies, some of whom had lost their own sons in the war, paid for the stone marker, and veterans groups from the 1870’s to the present have paid their resects by placing flags and flowers at the graves of both Charles H. Colley and the "Stranger" from the south. While the flagstands at other Civil War Veteran’s graves read “G.A.R.” for Grand Army of the Republic, the Stranger’s flagstand reads simply "Veteran 61-65"

Veteran 61-65

 

by Chad Gilley
November 10,2003