BUCKFIELD — Serving one’s country in times of war does not always end with glory. That is what one Buckfield family learned after digging into its history and discovering that an ancestor who was killed in battle during the Civil War had no confirmed burial.

Pvt. Atwood Young’s military trail ends with a mass grave on a small beach island along the South Carolina coast. His great-great-grandsons, brothers Philip McAlister Jr. and Jamison McAlister, combed through military records that provided only suggestions of Young’s fate beyond his stated date of death as Aug. 11, 1863.

The affidavit of Jarius Shephard states he witnessed the death of Civil War soldier Pvt. Atwood Young of the 9th Maine Infantry during the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina in 1863. Supplied photo

Union soldiers were laid in two large trenches following the Battle of Fort Wagner where Pvt. Atwood Young was killed in 1863. One was for Black soldiers from the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and the other for their white brethren from regiments of northeastern states from Pennsylvania to Maine.

The McAlister brothers could not be sure which of those graves their great-great-grandfather would have been in, because Young’s mother was Native American and he could have been mistaken for either race in the sweltering heat.

Many of the bodies were later exhumed and reburied at Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina bearing headstones that read “unknown.” But as Morris Island, where the battle was fought, was subject to erosion and shifting sands, several bodies were washed away by ocean tides before they could be reclaimed.

Pvt. Atwood Young’s final resting place was not recorded.


The McAlisters were able to piece together much of Young’s life before the Civil War, including the deception he used to enlist.

Accounts of teenage boys lying about their age in order to serve their country during times of war have been well documented, going back to colonial times. More unusual are cases where older men fudge their birth date to make them appear to be younger when they enlist.

That is what Young did, intent on joining the Union Army when the Civil War broke out. He was born in 1812.

His first stint in the military was during the Aroostook War during the 1840s. The presence of American militia soldiers in northern Maine as British and American diplomats negotiated where to draw an indisputable boundary between Maine and Canada was likely helpful. But in the end no shots were fired and the militia called to the border disbanded, returning to their hometowns unscathed.

Pvt. Atwood Young’s gravestone was delivered Dec. 7 to the McAlister farm in Buckfield, where it will be set next to his great-granddaughter’s stone in the family cemetery. Submitted photo

In his mid-30s during the Aroostook War, Young would have to wait 10 more years for his opportunity to serve his country.

When the Civil War gave him his chance he was already at the cusp of his 50s.


Determined to enlist, he cited May 9, 1825, as his birth date. He joined the 9th Maine Infantry Regiment and headed south.

The 9th Maine saw action around coastal areas in the deep South. In July of 1863 it took part in the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina.

The Union Army staged attacks to take the fort July 11 and again July 18, both of which saw heavy casualties and Yankee retreats.

During the aftermath, the Confederate forces left in control of the fort buried the dead Union soldiers in two mass graves, Black soldiers in one and whites in the other.

In the Civil War it could take days, even weeks, for a regiment to regroup following battle. Young did not return to his unit and one eyewitness reported he had seen him take a musket ball to the head. His date of death is where his story ended for 158 years.

As he researched Young’s history, Philip McAlister Jr. came to the conclusion that his great-great- grandfather’s remains would never be recovered. The McAlister descendants wanted him to have the military burial he deserved. Jamison, a military veteran himself, took on the bureaucracy required to get Young his headstone.


“Being a military veteran means you get a headstone,” Jamison explained from Iraq, where he works as part of a contractor security detail. “I said to my family, ‘we can get a gravestone. Let’s put it in Buckfield,’ in our family cemetery.”

Jamison reached out to the Veterans Administration and petitioned for a stone. He had proof of Young’s service that his brother had acquired, his military records, including an affidavit another soldier had made as a witness of Young’s death.

The McAlisters also needed to get the closest relatives in name to Young to sign off on the request. Jamison submitted the information in June.

Young’s marker was delivered to the McAlister home in Buckfield on Dec. 7.

Jamison is also making headway to get Young a U.S. flag through the Maine Veterans Administration.

The McAlisters plan a ceremony honoring their great-great-grandfather in the spring.

Young’s gravestone will be placed in the family’s private cemetery next to his great-granddaughter Wilma McAlister, the mother of Philip and Jamison. She died in 2000.

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