Volunteer uncovers unknown soldier's ID

Five-year search finds battlefield grave belongs to Illinois infantryman.

Private Mark Carr, U.S. Army, sounds like the kind of guy who's the backbone of any military unit —- the loyal, consistent grunt who does the heavy lifting.

Enlisting shortly after the outbreak of war, the farmer and day laborer from the northwest Illinois town of Dixon served his volunteer hitch, then re-upped. The record shows he was never absent from duty for illness, or any other reason.

Tragically, the blond, strapping infantryman was killed while charging an enemy position.

It's a story whose ending could have come recently in Baghdad, Mosul, or some Afghan byway. But Carr was killed on the Kennesaw Mountain battlefield, at Cheatham Hill, on June 27, 1864.

Until last month, he was the "unknown soldier" in a solitary grave near the Illinois Monument.

Buried where he lay, Carr, a Union casualty, somehow escaped re-internment at the Marietta National Cemetery. His remains were unearthed in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, but his identity by then was a mystery. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park officials ordered a headstone proclaiming him the "unknown soldier" of Cheatham Hill.

The split-rail fenced, rock-covered grave became a local landmark, well-known among those who toured, jogged or hiked past the spot. Matters rested until late last month: That's when Brad Quinlin —- a historian, Marietta Trolley tour guide and Kennesaw battlefield park volunteer —- culminated five years of detective work by identifying Carr.

It's quite a feat that Quinlin has pulled off, says Willie Johnson, Kennesaw battlefield park historian. "It's very unusual for a volunteer to devote the persistence and amount of time needed to accomplish this kind of thing. "I don't know of another instance where it's been done, particularly outside the confines of a national cemetery itself."

A genial, bearded and noticeably pumped-about-his-subject Massachusetts native, Quinlin says the project grew out of conversations with Johnson and the park curator.

"We used to sit around and say, 'Wouldn't it be cool to find the identity of the unknown?' " Quinlin says.

Not long after, they got a break. Another researcher, David Evans, unearthed detailed records kept by a chaplain and quartermaster sent from up north after the war, information used to re-inter Union soldiers buried at the Marietta National Cemetery.

Carr, a "groundpounder" with the 34th Illinois Infantry, was killed attempting to breach Confederate earthworks, and would have been reburied, but was missed.

Johnson and Quinlin think Carr's initial listing as a POW may have created confusion.

The chaplain's records numbered graves sequentially and gave detailed information about what was found on the bodies, thus making Quinlin's research possible.

"[Kennesaw historian] Johnson and I walked the battlefield," Quinlin says, "and talked about the regiments that made it to the area where the unknown was at. I then made a complete list of all the men in the larger brigade, Mitchell's Brigade, who were killed on that day."

What followed were painstaking records searches at Kennesaw, in Washington and in Illinois, where Quinlin studied the re-internment records and the regimental records of units from Illinois and Ohio. He also spoke through an intermediary with a descendant of Carr's who lives in Illinois, seeking more information. Other letters and diaries confirmed the Illinois brigade was the only unit to reach the base of the Southern earthworks where Carr was cut down.

Cross-referencing with records from the national cemetery, Quinlin narrowed down the identity possibilities to three men from the 34th. But when it was determined that two were either captured or died at a battlefield hospital, Carr stood alone.

"It was an extremely challenging project," Quinlin says, and in five years , "you hit brick walls, but when you hit a brick wall, you walk away and reorganize."

The payoff: During the 145th Kennesaw battle commemoration in late June, he led a tour to reveal the name, and dozens of residents of a nearby subdivision turned out, intrigued to learn more about a site that some of them had walked by for years.

Quinlin said his motivation stemmed from the fact that "I hate unknowns." His great-great grandfather, a Union soldier from Indiana, fought in the siege of Vicksburg in 1983 and, due to bad weather that ruined necessary paperwork, his ancestor wound up buried in an anonymous grave on the battlefield.

"These men fought and they died," he says meditatively. "Don't we at least owe them a name?

"As a researcher and Civil War student, to think that we could do something like this after 145 years is incredible."

Officials say that, at this late date, there are no plans to transfer Carr's remains, if indeed any survive, to the Marietta National Cemetery.

The possible lack of remains, Quinlin adds, dims the potential for DNA testing to further nail down the identity.

Instead, a wayside marker will be set up detailing the search for the unknown.