The Pillaged Grave of a Civil War Hero, Part 2
Collaborating Colonel Shy's Identity
of Colonel Shy lay peacefully behind the beautiful antebellum home on Del
Rio Pike with little notoriety for over a hundred years. Then, on Christmas
Eve of 1977, local police officers were called to investigate a report
that the grave had been disturbed. Upon arriving, the deputies discovered
a headless body on top of the casket and thought someone had placed a murdered
man in Colonel Shy's burial plot. Local authorities could not match the
headless corpse with any of their missing persons reports. Wild theories
abounded, some even speculated that the head might have been removed to
hamper identification of the body.
M. Bass, Forensic Anthropologist and Head of the Anthropology Department,
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, was called in to aid with the removal
and identification of this unknown body. If one had followed the story
in the newspapers it would have read much like a condensed version of a
Damon Runyon murder mystery. Excerpts from some of these newspaper articles
are as follows:
County authorities investigating the tampering of a Civil War soldier's
grave discovered that a second body had been placed in the grave probably
within the last year. The body is an adult male, clad in what appeared
to be a tuxedo. The body of Colonel Shy, in its steel vault, was undisturbed,
officials said (Nashuille Banner, Dec. 31, 1977).
arrived and a more thorough search turned up the head and other missing
body parts. Four days later this article appeared:
1978. The body was found in a sitting position. Bass estimated the body
to have been dead two to six months (Nashville Banner, Jan. 4, 1978).
of days later the plot thickened:
The corpse apparently died from a blow to the head. Bass said that the
victim was a white male with brown hair, approximately 5'11", 175
pounds and was from 26 to 29 years old. Bass determined that the man had
been dead from six to 12 months. "It looks like we have a homicide
on our hands", said Chief Deputy Fleming Williams (Nashville Banner,
Jan. 6, 1978).
9th the truth was beginning to become evident. By now Dr. Bass had taken
the remains back to his laboratory in Knoxville for a more thorough examination.
It was now becoming obvious to the investigators that the corpse was very
likely that of Colonel Shy. Dr. Bass stated:
1978. "I got the age, sex, race, height and weight right but I was
off on the time of death by 113 years." (Nashville Banner, Jan. 9,
goes on to explain that Dr. Bass does not normally deal with embalmed bodies.
This corpse had the appearance of one that had been dead but a few months.
Some of the flesh was still pink and there were remnants of brain and intestinal
matter found in the body. By January 13th, all of the evidence had been
examined and most of the tests returned. The three-week-old mystery about
the body, believed at first to be that of a recently murdered man, was
solved to everyones satisfaction. The Nashville Tennessean by-lined:
Jan. 13, 1978. "ITS OFFICIAL,
SHY IN OWN GRAVE "
on to quote Williamson County Chief Deputy Fleming Williams as saying:
"Our conclusion is that whoever dug down into Colonel Shy's grave
found the cast iron coffin, broke through the top of it and pulled Colonel
Shy out, then stripped him of everything of value." (Dawson 1978:13).
the body was in such an excellent state of preservation no one involved
with the case even considered that it might be Colonel Shy, who had been
buried some 113 years. Another problem causing the confusion was the fact
that the public and press were demanding an immediate answer to the riddle
without allowing Dr. Bass sufficient time to conduct his examination in
a slow, scientific manner. With more time, and under proper laboratory
conditions, evidence was soon gained that proved that this was definitely
not a recent murder victim but was more likely the body of Colonel William
M. Shy. (Pertinent information was drawn from the official report submitted
by Dr. Bass to the concerned law enforcement and state medical officials
and is shown here in the following condensed form.)
determinations were made after the skeleton was examined by Dr. Bass in
Knoxville (Bass n.d.):
SEX: Male. Based on both morphological observations and anthropometric measurements
of the cranial and post cranial skeleton (Bass 1971). The pelvis is that
of a male, the skull has brow ridges and large mastoid processes, and,
to quote Dr. Bass: "The squarest chin I have ever observed on a mandible."
AGE: 26-29 The age estimation is based on closure of all the epiphyses and morphological
changes on the pubic symphsis (McKern and Stewart 1957). (Shy was 26 when
RACE: White (Caucasoid). Based on morphological features of the skull and the association
of a large amount of light brown hair with the body (skull) which is also
indicative of a white or Caucasoid individual.
STATURE: Mean 5' 10 " or 179.21 Cm. Based on measurements of the left femur
(490 mm) using the formula (Trotter and Gleser 1958) for white males.
CAUSE OF DEATH: Blow, to the left forehead, just to the left of the midline. The
entrance wound is approximately 17 X 24 millimeters in diameter. An exit
wound measuring 49 X 60 millimeters occurs in the right parietal. The projectile
traveled in a downward path through the skull before exiting. Death would
have been instantaneous. The force of the projectile was so great that
the skull was fractured into seventeen pieces; both mastoid processes at
the base of the skull were split.
LENGTH OF TIME SINCE DEATH: 113 years. Color and warpage of the skull indicated
that it had been buried for many years.
DENTITION: No dental work (cavities but no fillings; normal condition for this period
was also now in from various laboratories scattered around the state that
further substantiated that the mysterious body was most likely that of
the Civil War hero. Some of the more important evidence is listed as follows:
body was dressed in a white silk shirt, trousers that partially laced up
the sides and black square-toed boots (popular during the Civil War).
(2). The State's Toxicology lab showed no modern syntheic materials in these clothes.
(3). There was embalming fluid (arsenic) present in the flesh. All concerned parties
were now in agreement that instead of having a murder case on their hands
they had instead a morbid case of grave-robbing.
Shy's remains were gathered from labs across the state and plans were made
for his reburial. Shy had not married and had no living descendants but
other relatives were contacted and told of the upcoming ceremony. Mrs.
W.J. Montana, a great-great-granddaughter of Colonel Shy's brother came
to Franklin from Silsbee, Texas to represent the family. The following
is a newspaper article, in part, that describes the ceremony:
the 13th day of February, 1978, a cold rain was falling. The weather was
probably much like as it was at the original burial, 114 years ago. The
service was brief. There was no drumroll or rifle salute. Six civilian-dressed
members of the Sons of the Confederacy carried the gray coffin to its resting
place. Members of the D.A.C. were also on hand with Confederate flags,
and one was placed on the grave. The Rev. Charles Fulton of St. Paul's
Episcopal Church said a short eulogy over the Shy coffin, donated by the
Franklin Memorial Chapel. Mrs. Montana praised Franklin's historical community
for its warmth and sincerity. She remarked, "I guess he could have
been put back in the ground in a pine box, but the people of Franklin gave
a very warm ceremony. " (Lyons 1978)
Cast Iron Coffin
iron coffin that had originally contained the body of Colonel Shy had been
severely damaged by the graverobbers. Mrs. Montana graciously donated the
cast iron coffin to the Carter House, a prominent home that was at the
center of the heaviest fighting during the Battle of Franklin. The Carter
House is now run by the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities
and has been turned into a famous Civil War Museum.
coffins were very expensive and only people of some prominence could have
afforded them; most people in 1864 were buried in pine boxes. This cast
iron coffin weighs almost 300 pounds and has a glass plate over the face
area for viewing the remains. It has an oval iron plate that fits over
the glass just before burial. The coffin was sealed and bolted with steel
screws and has four handles on each side. It had been painted white when
originally used. The coffin, having been beneath the ground for 114 years,
was heavily covered with rust. To prepare the coffin for exhibit it was
first dipped in a vat of paint remover to remove the splotches of white
paint and rust. Then a removal process, recommended by the Smithsonian
Institution, was used which consisted of repeated chemical saturation,
wrapping it overnight in plastic, and then steel wooling. Emery wheels
on drills were used on the heaviest encrustations. The process was repeated
until a smooth iron was reached. The final step was to encase
the coffin in a plexiglass display case.
an old saying that "something good comes out of everything."
If so, then the "something good" that came out of the vandalism
of Colonel Shy's grave has to be that now there is this most interesting
artifact (the coffin) from the Civil War period displayed for the public
raised over the vandalism of Colonel Shy's grave was short lived. The general
public has a fickle mind; what holds their interest today is often erased
by tomorrow's headlines. Colonel Shy has once more been forgotten. Reburied
with dignity, the remains once more peacefully rest in the intended grave
under the original headstone which reads:
Lt. Col. W.M.
20th Tenn. Infantry
Born May 24,
Killed at Battle
of Nashville Dec. 16, 1864
To Part 3