Captain Benjamin L. Wilkes Clack's 3rd Tennessee Infantry
One of the more mysterious tombstones at the Camp Chase Cemetery is headstone 2066. The stone is engraved twice with the name Captain Benjamin Leroy Wilkes, implying that two men are buried in the grave instead of one. For this reason, Wilkes’ grave may be one of the more misunderstood and least known tombstones in the cemetery.
Captain Benjamin Leroy Wilkes, originally from Pulaski, Tennessee, was born on January 14, 1832. Born to Richard Ambrose L. Wilkes and Judith Harris, Benjamin was one of nine children. His parents now rest in Maury County Tennessee. Wilkes married Miss Sarah E. Moore on June 16, 1855. A few years later, Wilkes joined Clack’s 3rd Tennessee Infantry on May 16, 1861. Wilkes enlisted in the regiment before the state of Tennessee had even left the Union. When Tennessee did leave the Union in June of 1861, he officially became a Confederate officer, holding the position of captain. Wilkes’ brothers, John and Richard, also enlisted in the war.
Captain Wilkes served as the commissary officer for the regiment during his service. The commissary sergeant for the regiment was his younger brother John Summerfield Wilkes. During the war it was common for the commissary officer to recommend someone for the job of commissary sergeant, suggesting nepotism as a possible explanation for this coincidence. A quartermaster, also referred to as a commissary sergeant’s, rank came right under that of sergeant major and the position consisted of what we might today imagine as a grocery clerk for the regiment.
Clack’s 3rd Tennessee Infantry was captured at Fort Donelson, Tennessee on February 16, 1862 and Captain Wilkes was sent to the Camp Chase prison while his younger brother went to prison at Camp Douglas, Illinois. Captain Wilkes was admitted to the Post Hospital at Camp Chase on March 6, 1862 and died just days later on March 10 of that year.
It is here, at the Camp Chase Cemetery, where the redundant tombstone lays. There is only one Benjamin L. Wilkes buried, not two as the tombstone indicates. His brother, John S. Wilkes, was exchanged under the Dix-Hill Cartel and taken back to Vicksburg, eliminating sibling confusion as a factor in the flawed tombstone.
After the exchange was made, John Wilkes was the new commissary officer of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry, a promotion which made him a captain in his own right. And who better to fill Benjamin Wilkes’ position than his older brother, Richard Sparks Wilkes. Richard Wilkes served in the position just under a year before dying of disease in Aberdeen, Mississippi in September 1863, leaving John Summerfield Wilkes as the only brother to survive the Civil War.
On January, 16 1893, John Wilkes, the former Camp Douglas prisoner, was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court where he served as a justice until 1908, the same year his brother, Benjamin L. Wilkes, received the misleading tombstone still in place at Camp Chase today.