Bonnie Knott’s great-grandfather was shot in the leg during the second Battle of Bull Run. According to family lore, he lay wounded on the battlefield for three days before he was found. Although his leg was amputated, he survived the battle.
He was one of the 353 Union Army sharpshooters from New Hampshire who fought during the Civil War. These marksmen stood out from other soldiers; they wore green uniforms — not the standard Union blue — and carried top-of-the-line rifles.
Knott, of Amherst, N.H., always knew about her ancestor’s history. As her mother got older, Knott said, she felt an urgent need to learn more about the family members her mom talked about.
“I said, ‘I better get going on trying to figure out who all these people were and make sense of it,’” she said. “Soon, someone wouldn’t be around to ask questions to.”
As Knott learned more about her great-grandfather, her interest in the Civil War grew. In 2001, she set a goal: Locate the graves of all 353 New Hampshire sharpshooters. She has found 320, including Christopher Columbus Blake, who is buried in Stull.
Cars lined the gravel road in the rural Stull Cemetery on Saturday morning. A group of 21 people gathered to commemorate Blake’s new headstone. A few years ago, John Bergers, a direct descendent of Blake, resolved to memorialize his great-uncle’s previously unmarked grave.
Bergers sought Knott’s assistance. Knott sorted through century-old records to learn more about Blake’s life. Once they verified that Blake fought in the Civil War, the Veterans Association provided a headstone to memorialize Blake’s unmarked grave. The headstone was installed in May.
Iona Spencer was instrumental in the process. She is an expert on Lecompton-area history and is a descendent of a Civil War veteran, coincidentally buried in the same cemetery as Blake.
Spencer said Blake’s grave is simply listed as “occupied” in the historical documents. Although the grave was unmarked, Bergers knew his great-uncle was buried in the cemetery. So Spencer did her research. She found a document stating Blake was buried next to his son-in-law.
The three relatives of Civil War veterans, who had never met before the project, worked together to accomplish their own personal goals. Knott located yet another New Hampshire sharpshooter. Spencer expanded the historical registry. Bergers gave his great-uncle proper recognition.
Bergers wasn’t at Saturday’s dedication ceremony. He died at the beginning of this year before he could witness his goal come to fruition. His daughter, Emily Bergers Louni, finished the project.
“It just means so much to me to be able to complete the things that he left undone that I knew he really wanted to see take place,” she said. “I feel like I can maybe move on a little better once I completed things he left undone.”
Among those who attended the dedication were Louni’s family, descendants of Blake from Boston and Missouri, and interested members of the community. Knott was unable to attend.
Officers of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, a group of Civil War descendants, sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Louni’s son, Josh Bergers, of Topeka, read a short biography on Blake: He was born in Maine, moved to Kansas in 1866 and made a living predicting the weather in his later years.
The leading officer concluded the dedication with a final goodbye.
“Brother Blake, you are now relieved; we have your post,” he said.