Historian solves Civil War mystery

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The Civil War resulted in many human narratives, each seemingly more heart-wrenching than the last. But few match that of Confederate Col. Isaac Erwin Avery in his final moments.

On July 2, 1863, the opening day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Avery's North Carolina unit was ordered to attack a heavily fortified Union position on East Cemetery Hill. Leading the charge on a white horse, the colonel was struck in the neck by a musket ball.

As he lay dying, a close friend, Maj. Samuel McDowell, managed to reach Avery's side. So badly wounded that he was unable to speak, Avery dipped the point of a stick or some other sharp object into his blood and scratched out on a piece of paper his last words, "Major, tell my father I died with my face to the enemy."

The final message is preserved in historical archives in Raleigh, N.C. But for nearly a century and a half, Avery's descendants have been trying to discover where his body is buried.

Now they know, thanks to the efforts of Hagerstown historian Richard Clem.

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