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He died far from home

Posted on Thursday, July 20, 2017 at 12:37 pm

Fort Rice as it stood in 1870. Today, little remains but a foundations.

In 1850, 13-year old Columbus Skelton was living with his patents, Larkin and Catherine, and his four siblings, in Page County, Virginia. Larkin was a laborer with a total worth of $100, a life of poverty. A decade later, Columbus was a hired hand on the prosperous farm of David Kibler, near Luray Post Office, also Page County. A year later Columbus enlisted in Company K, 10th Virginia Infantry. In April, 1862 he re-enlisted and a month later was captured (location not recorded) and paroled. At Gettysburg, he fell into enemy hands on July 3. Some reports list his capture on the 4th or 5th, but those probably represent a paper trail as he headed deeper into captivity. He arrived at Fort McHenry July 6, on his way to Point Lookout. (Some records wrongly list him as Shelton.)

On his arrival at Point Lookout he was described as age 25, 5’8”, with blue eyes. He told the examiner that he had had typhoid in 1862 and smallpox in 1863. When offered a chance to “galvanize,” that is to enlist in the U.S. Volunteers and go West to fight Indians, he did so, joining Company G, 1st U.S. Volunteers at Fort Rice, located 30 miles south of today’s Mandan, North Dakota. The place was a hellhole. In the first year after its July 1864 founding, seven men were killed in combat, and 74 died of disease: 37 from scurvy, 24 from diarrhea, three of typhoid fever, and the rest of other illnesses.

Columbus Skelton was recorded as having “good character,” enough so that he was appointed Lance Sergeant. But being a good soldier was not enough to protect him from dying January 8, 1865 of “chronic diarrhea.” Those who died at Fort Rice were later re-buried at Custer National Cemetery, part of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, near Crow Agency, Montana.

Columbus Skelton lies in site number 328, many miles from that little farm in Page County, Virginia.

-By Thomas P. Lowry

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