18 April 2012

A Very Cool Story of Genealogical Interest

My friend Johan Mathiesen over at Blogging A Dead Horse wrote a lovely tribute to a man who is being buried 88 years after he died.  Yes - 88 years after he died.  This is one of the coolest stories ever!

Here is the short version of the story.

During the Civil War, Company G of the 37th Alabama Volunteer Infantry were defending the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi from the Union.  A sharpshooter from that unit named Willis Meadows was picking off Union soldiers from behind a iron boiler plate through a peephole.

A Union soldier from Company H of the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry named Peter Knapp shot at Meadows through the peephole and the bullet went straight into his eye.  Thinking he had killed the man, Knapp left him there.

Apparently Willis Meadows did not die but the bullet was never removed and Meadows went home to Alabama.  58 years later, in a fit of coughing, the bullet was dislodged and he spit it out.  The story "Coughs Up Bullet" was front page fodder in newspapers across the country.

Peter Knapp who was living in Washington by this time, read the story and realized that he was the soldier who had shot Willis Meadows in the eye.  He made contact with him, the two became friends and remained so until their deaths.

In 1990, a newspaper article is written about an anecdote from the 1950's which prompts a man named Henry Kilburn to contact the editor of the newspaper.  Mr. Kilburn produces  a photograph of the coughed-up bullet flanked by photographs of Willis Meadows and Peter Knapp. He also has the personal diary of Peter Knapp.  So how did Henry Kilburn end up with those items?

Peter Knapp and his wife, with no children of their own, adopted Henry Kilburn's younger sister, Minnie Mae.  Their mother had been divorced and abandoned by her husband. She must have decided that adoption by the Knapps would provide her daughter with a better life.  It was Mae who gave the items to Henry.

Fast forward to 2012.  In yet another newspaper article, we learn that  the wife of the 3rd great nephew of Peter Knapp is researching the Knapp family history.  She was looking for the burial site of Peter Knapp in particular.  At Find-A-Grave she locates an obituary for him that states he had been cremated.  Contacting the Crematorium she was told  no one had ever claimed the cremains.  Those were still on a shelf in the back room.

She then made contact with the Oregon Military Department because Peter Knapp was a Veteran of the U.S. Army he deserved a military funeral.  On 13 April 2012 he got it.

Johan Mathiesen  attended the service and has photos from the funeral on his Flickr page located HERE.  They are most excellent photos so head on over and have a look.


  1. What an incredible story. I'd call it persistence, except that it wasn't just one player involved in getting that story to its finish line!

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  3. Fascinating story! Sadly, there are a lot of "unclaimed" remains stored away at funeral directors.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I had heard about his burial but not the rest of the story. It's a fascinating one.

  5. My uncle was buried at the Willamette National Cemetery on Friday at the same time this Civil War veteran was buried. It was a little surreal, frankly. We were too focused on our own family to grasp what was happening, but it was certainly an event.

  6. Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! I have a question about your blog. HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com