As a material culture historian, I see historically important, meaningful objects every day. Every once in a while, I have the privilege to handle something that just blows me away. The temporary grave marker, letters, bible, and other objects related to Corporal Randall Mann, Co. H, 25th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment had exactly this effect on me. Many collectors and appreciators of Civil War history clearly felt the same way, as the collection sold for $13,200 in the Historic Arms & Militaria Auction on May 4, 2013.
Wooden temporary grave markers from the Civil War are rare, and aside from being carefully hand-carved, this one had survived for over a hundred years in the family of Cpl. Mann.
Randall Mann was from the town of Leicester, Massachusetts, just west of Worcester. He enlisted on September 27th, 1861 at 26 years of age and went off to fight in the Civil War for the preservation of the union. The regiment soon left for the front, passing through Philadelphia and Baltimore before being ordered on January 9th, 1862 to move to the coast of North Carolina via Annapolis, Maryland. By February 5th, the 25th Massachusetts, along with the rest of the attacking force, arrived off Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and began bombarding the Confederate fortifications on the 7th. The next day, they commenced the ground assault, and as a member of the 25th Mass. stated, “We drew nearer the shore—there, behind the bushes was a long line of bristling bayonets….here then we were to meet our baptism of fire!”
After a stiff fight, the Federal soldiers emerged victorious, albeit at a cost. Many men were wounded, and six from the 25th Mass. would lose their life, including Cpl. Mann. He was wounded during the attack on the 8th, but lingered on until he passed away on the 10th. The men who died were buried in a plot with markers placed at the head of each grave.
Mann’s body was disinterred by his family soon after his burial on Roanoke Island and returned to Leicester along with his temporary grave marker. He was re-buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery. His memorial service and burial took place on March 14th, 1862. According to the regimental history, “The casket containing his body was covered with the national flag….the church edifice was draped in mourning emblems, the flags of the town were displayed at half-staff, the bells tolled out the funeral knell, and every possible mark of respect was paid to the soldier, dead”.
On a cold day in January of 2013, I made a trip out to Leicester and found the grave of Cpl. Mann. To my surprise, the back of his grave stone was carved with a similar marking to that of his wooden temporary grave marker! It was quite a good feeling to track down his final resting place after growing somewhat attached to Randall through his letters, objects, and the grave marker.