Several years ago, Grimes County Sons of Confederate Veterans helped to obtain and set a new stone for the grave of a Confederate soldier that was discovered in White Hall by former land owner Betty Greenhouse.
The story begins when Betty Greenhouse of Shepherd, Texas bought a tract of land in Grimes County, Texas. Others may have known of the existence of the burying place but did not recognize its importance.
Greenhouse confirmed that the tombstone information was correct; that the young man was indeed a soldier during the War between the States. His name is William Nelson Punchard. He was a private in Waller’s Battalion, Company C., Texas Cavalry.
Military records of the Confederacy say that he was 21 years old when he died in Plantersville, Texas, not of the wounds of battle but of pneumonia following his participation in a skirmish in Louisiana.
There are many Confederate soldiers buried in the county’s cemeteries but it was the custom of the time to bury family in a private cemetery on family land. Greenhouse cleared the gravesite of brush, restored the tombstone, and honored the grave as if the soldier was her own relative.
After a few years, Betty sold the land, but was careful about whom she sold the place to. Elaine Stuart was the purchaser and she and her son, Jeff Stuart, remain true to their word, tending the grave. The stone which heads the grave tells us William was born on January 1, 1843 in Amite County, Mississippi.
He was the son of Samuel Worcester of Salem, Massachusetts and Mary Cone Munger Punchard of Francistown, New Hampshire. The young soldier died on February 5, 1864 in Plantersville. William’s father Samuel, who died in 1883, seems to have been something of an entrepreneur. Samuel came from New England to Mississippi, where his uncle, a doctor from Salem, owned a plantation. The family soon migrated to Texas.
At various times, Samuel’s family owned land and lived in Haskell, Austin, Washington, Fayette and Montgomery counties. The family stopped moving in 1856 when they settled in what was then Montgomery County, later becoming Grimes County. William, his brothers Watt and Jim were taught at home by their mother who was a teacher. His sisters, Molly, Eudora and Sophie attended Plantersville’s Markey Boarding School.
When the Civil War began, William, 18, was an early volunteer. He traveled to Waller (not a twenty minute trip on horseback in 1862) and joined Waller’s Cavalry Regiment. He brought with him a horse valued at $250 and $35 worth of equipment, presumably a gun. It is said that he took part in the Battle of St. Charles Courthouse and another in Boutte Station, both in Louisiana.
His horse became a casualty of war during the Battle of Bonne Carre in Louisiana. Sometime during his service, William contracted pneumonia, possibly in Louisiana where he served. He became so ill that he was discharged from the Army of the Confederacy and sent home to his Plantersville family. “Wonder Drugs” had not yet been discovered and he died on February 5, 1864.
History calls the burial place “The Punchard Plantation” while others call the place “The Smith Farm”. William’s brother Watt volunteered to take his brother’s place, but contracted dysentery and was discharged. He discovered that the Confederacy needed other help and volunteered to kill wild hogs, render lard, and grind corn for the duration of the war. It is Watt’s 2-month-old infant son, Franklin Worcester Punchard, who died on August 11, 1871, who is buried in the grave with his Uncle William.
It was the custom in those days to bury an infant with or on top of a loving relative. A story is told about William Punchard’s gravestone that could come straight from “The Twilight Zone”. The stone was purchased in Salado, moved to the grave area by slaves with a wagon drawn by oxen.
En route to Plantersville, lightning struck the stone and broke it. The tomb stone was repaired, and was in the process of being set, when lightning struck it again. It was repaired a second time. However, on the day when the stone was finally being set at the gravesite, lightning struck it for the third time. The slaves refused to help with its repair again.
The top of the stone, sheared off by lightning, has been found buried in the dirt. It has not been reattached to the monument. Betty and Elaine are working on plans for repairs, as the two women remain friends though Betty now lives in Shepherd, Texas And so the story ends.
The Punchards, a bold New England family, Yankees if ever there were any, traveled the length of the country, north to south. Then the family sent their young son to fight in a war between the north and the south.
Twenty-first century women found and preserved a 100-year-old grave after lightning struck the tombstone three times. Greenhouse found the grave site approximately 15 years ago and immediately “adopted” the young man buried there more than one hundred years ago. He became “our soldier” and his grave has been cared for since. Confederate flags and bright flowers identify the location of the tombstone on which the name, rank and regiment of the late 21-year-old private is now clearly marked. The story seems to tell us that truth is stranger than fiction. There are still people who care about others, even in death.