Private Hugh Washington Mills was buried in Tampa’s Woodlawn Cemetery in the fall of 1919. But his grave went unmarked for almost a century.
Sandy Benitez, his great, great-granddaughter, discovered his grave site.
Benitez’s genealogical search actually started when she tried to find where her mother’s grandfather, John Morgan Mills, was buried.
“They (the family) were never sure where he was buried,” Benitez said. “They used to go look for him all the time on the weekends and couldn’t find out.”
But with the help of the internet and Tammy Inman, a genealogy hobbyist, the burial site of John Morgan Mills was located in Claremont.
That family history journey also uncovered documents about John Morgan Mill’s father, Sandy’s great, great grandfather, Hugh Washington Mills.
Before her research, Benitez had no idea her great, great-grandfather had fought in the Civil War. He was a private with Company E – 7th Georgia Infantry in the Confederate States of America. The documentation she and Inman found revealed a lot about the man.
As part of the Confederate States of America infantry, Mills fought in the First Manassas known as Bull Run first, the Seven Days Battle, in the 2nd Manassas, among other battles.
He was shot through the lung and survived, shot through the bowel and survived. His third injury, he was shot through the leg. He served in the Confederate Army until the war ended.
“I learned how strong of a person he had to be just to survive,” Benitez said.
It wasn’t until 1958, when Congress pardoned Confederate service members, VA benefits like providing grave markers were extended to Confederate soldiers. Because of her genealogy work, Inman knew about the benefits.
“If you have the right documents to prove that there’s not a marker, it’s not an easy process” Inman said. “You’ve got an application has got to be filled out by three different people. You’ve got to provide his pension records, his death certificate, his obituary was included, all of the medical records were included. I mean it was a very thick packet.”
All their historical digging culminated in a headstone dedication ceremony that brought together dozens of family members on a bright and breezy Sunday.
Also there, dressed in gray wool Confederate uniforms carrying battle flags and rifles, were members of Sons of Confederate Veterans from Tampa, the General Jubal A. Early SCV Camp #556.
While SCV member Wayne Sweat played the banjo, another member of the Color Guard approached the grave, took a tiny sip from a canteen and then poured the remaining liquid on the grave. The ceremony is called “Passing of the Canteen.”
“If we got a drink from the canteen, we wanted to be sure the old soldier got a drink. And it’s a very touching and moving ceremony,” Sweat said, choking back tears.
Sweat believes there are hundreds of Confederate soldiers like Private Mills in unmarked graves throughout Florida. He’d like to get headstones for all of them.