‘Bring Harry home’|Vicksburg lad buried in foreign soil

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 5, 2009

The gravestone shows its age. No mention of the departed’s military service is visible. A poem that once appeared is worn away.

No matter. To Carole Heffley, a retired publisher and historian from Pennsylvania, the significance of the stone is much more than the letters that once adorned it. The stone is a link to a lad of 14 from Vicksburg who volunteered to serve in the Confederate Army. He died at the age of 18 in a prisoner of war camp. It’s a symbol of a man laid to rest on foreign soil.

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Anyone with knowledge of the Colemans of Vicksburg or anyone believing they may be descendents of Harry Warfield Coleman is asked to reach out to Carole Heffley. Her e-mail is carole2easton@yahoo.com.

“I wanted to know who this Confederate soldier was and why he was buried in Easton, Pennsylvania,” Heffley said.

Since she’s learned, Heffley decided she wants to return him home.

Now a resident of North Carolina, Heffley has made Harry Warfield Coleman her historical mission. She penned an article “Lt. Harry Warfield Coleman, CSA, The Lost Confederate Soldier” and wants to complete the final chapter.

“All (Harry) knew was war,” Heffley said. “When you realize how determined he was for the Southern cause, you can’t imagine him being buried up North.”

Harry W. Coleman was born in 1846 in Vicksburg, one of seven children of Nicholas D. Coleman and Lucy Marshall. He had four sisters and two brothers. His oldest brother, James T., served in South America before joining the Miles Legion, Louisiana, at the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Charles and Harry were students at Hanover Academy in Virginia at the outset of the war. With permission from their father, Charles and Harry enlisted in a Virginia militia. The brothers likely saw action near Centreville, Va., on Dec 15, 1861. Due to either illness or injury, Harry was discharged on Jan. 7, 1862, and four months later enlisted alongside his brother in the Miles Legion Louisiana.

Charles survived the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, but was killed in action at Spotsylvania Court House, Va., a region that saw more than 100,000 men fall between 1862 and 1864.

At the 1863 Battle of Port Hudson, a lesser-known campaign for control of the Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, La., the South surrendered the garrison five days after Vicksburg fell.

Because they were officers, Harry and James were taken prisoner. Heffley’s research, which took nearly a year, shows the men transported to New Orleans on the Steamer Zephyr on July 13, 1863.

James escaped on Aug. 5, 1863, but Harry remained a prisoner, eventually being transferred to Fort Columbus in New York Harbor. He then was transferred to a POW camp on Johnson’s Island, Ohio.

In 1865, Harry was transferred to Fort Delaware, known by prisoners as “The Death Pen.” The captors offered the Southern soldiers oaths of allegiance to the North in return for early release, but Harry refused.

Harry’s brother-in-law, Theodore Randolph, a New Jersey native who lived in Vicksburg in the 1840s while pursuing business interests, married Harry’s sister, Fannie, and moved back to Jersey City to further pursue business interests. After the war, he served in the New Jersey Senate and became the state’s governor in 1869.

Theodore Randolph wrote several letters to prominent judges in an effort to get Harry released, but with little effect.

Harry fell ill on May 17, 1865. Three days later he died of “inflammation of the lungs.” More than 2,400 Confederate soldiers died at Fort Delaware and most of them were interred in a soldier’s burial ground in Salem County, N.J.

Randolph’s influence spared Harry from an anonymous grave and instead arranged to have Harry taken to the family’s plot in Easton. Theodore Randolph’s father, James F., moved his family to Easton while Theodore was still living in Vicksburg. They purchased a family plot in 1855 to bury an infant child, Heffley’s research showed.

Ten years later Harry was laid to rest in the same cemetery, though he likely had never been to Easton or met any of his in-laws, Heffley wrote.

James T. Coleman survived the war and moved back to Vicksburg. He had two sons named after his fallen brothers, Charles Loyd and Harry Warfield.

Heffley’s push now is to find any descendant of James T. Coleman to come forward and allow Harry’s remains to be brought back to Vicksburg for burial.

Anyone with knowledge of the Colemans of Vicksburg, or anyone believing they may be descendents of Harry Warfield Coleman, is asked to contact Heffley. Her e-mail is carole2easton@yahoo.com.

Heffley said she has no idea what remains of Harry. Embalming at the time was rare, but the Randolphs were very well off. He could be buried in a wooden coffin or a lead coffin. Likely there is little left besides dust and dirt, but her journey will not end until Harry is back home.

“It’s nothing more than a family member saying, ‘Yes, we want the body here,’” Heffley said. “There is probably very little there, but this is more symbolic for me. After writing Harry’s story, I know he doesn’t want to be buried in Pennsylvania.”