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Unearthing a Hero: Medal of Honor Recipient Hidden for 142 Years at Marietta National Cemetery

Dennis Buckley's identity and heroism was buried and forgotten for 142 years because of a spelling error. The true story was dug up in 2006

Canadian-born Private Dennis B. Buckley died a Union hero in the Battle of Peach Tree Creek near Atlanta on July 20, 1864. For his actions, he was awarded the US Medal of Honor, today the nation's highest military honor. Then he and his bravery were buried and lost for 142 years at Marietta National Cemetery. And all because of a clerical error.

Buried with approximately 10,000 other Civil War veterans at Marietta, Buckley's original headstone was labeled, "Dennis B. Burkley." That's likely because all the original service and cemetery records are handwritten in script. Add sloppy handwriting to the speed at which Civil War remains were reinterred at Marietta National beginning in 1866, and it's easy to understand how the mistake was possible.

In 2006, amateur historian John DuBois of Caledonia, N.Y., dug deep into Civil War records, tracing his grandfather's 136th New York Infantry unit. According to a story in the Washington Post, DuBois "found records that listed Buckley as a member and a grave number that matched the grave at the cemetery with Buckley's name misspelled." He notified the cemetery, which did its own research, confirmed the error, and also certified his Medal of Honor award.

With the mistake found and corrected, Marietta National Cemetery officials set out to properly memorialize Buckley's final resting place with a Medal of Honor designation. The original headstone crumbled when officials attempted to move it.

Today, a brilliant white marble headstone with gold lettering at Marietta National plot 59-G-17-1 memorializes Buckley's final resting place and brave achievements. Engraving includes his status as a prisoner of war, and as a Medal of Honor recipient killed in action.

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