Civil War Veteran William Early to Receive New Grave Marker

William James Early was born into slavery. When he enlisted to fight in the Civil War he had to do so under his slave name, Gaines.

Photos Provided by Lawrenceburg Public Library

(Greendale, IN) - William James Early was born into slavery. When he enlisted to fight in the Civil War he had to do so under his slave name, Gaines.

He served to fight for freedom in his country alongside the Union.

When Early died in Lawrenceburg at the age of 90 on March 22, 1934, William Gaines was placed on his grave marker in the Greendale Cemetery.

Lawrenceburg Public Library District Genealogist Rachael Scott found out his slave name was used instead of his birth name on his grave marker.

“The story of William Early is incredible. As part of a library program to honor military veterans, I wanted to learn more about him and visit his grave at Greendale Cemetery. I walked all over, but I was unable to find his grave marker. I then discovered the horrifying fact. William was buried under his slave name,” said Scott.

Scott wanted to make a change, so she started a research project to prove William’s true identity through a series of government documents and other testimonials.

As a young man, he ran away and joined the Union Army. William “Gaines” became a part of Company E, 117th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry, on Aug. 22, 1864.

On April 6, 1865, as he was carrying a bag of gun powder, an ember from a nearby fire landed in his bag, which exploded.

“He suffered terrible burns on his face, neck, chest, arms, and hands. He was hospitalized in a military hospital in Baltimore until he was eventually discharged for disability on Jan. 23, 1866,” said Scott.

William was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, a group of Union Civil War veterans, and they made sure that he was buried with full military honors. They provided it for the name under which his military records appeared, she said.

Rachel Scott received word last month that the VA would supply a brand-new marker.

Greendale Cemetery Board Member E.G. McLaughlin has been helping Scott plan for the installation of the new grave marker.

Scott and McLaughlin wanted to find a way to let people know more about this veteran. Jonas Memorial Arts offered to engrave information about Early’s life on the back of the grave marker.

A dedication will be held sometime in the future. You can learn more about Early and his remarkable life during a program at the Lawrenceburg Main Library at 6:30 p.m. this Wednesday on Juneteenth.

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