EZRA'S Chamberlin'S ID TAG

Archaeologists discovered a Union Infantry button inside the submarine. These types of buttons have been recovered from other Civil War battlefields. Confederate soldiers had limited supplies, especially clothing, and it was common for them to collect and wear discarded or captured Union clothing and equipment. To date the buttons recovered from the Hunley submarine as a whole represent a diverse collection of both Confederate and Union military units.

"The artifact seems to be made out of copper, and was found in association with a skull of a crew member. It would appear that the sailor was wearing the tag around his neck," said Project Director, Dr. Robert Neyland.

On April 27, 2001, an identification tag or 'dog tag' was discovered inside the H. L. Hunley by archaeologists. The interesting fact about this discovery is that the tag is from a Union soldier. The name on the tag is Ezra Chamberlin; he enlisted in the Union Army on September 6th, 1861, and was a member of Company K, 7th Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers. It is recorded that Chamberlin died on July 11th, 1863 in the Battle at Fort Wagner, also known as the First Assault on Morris Island.

What was a Union identification tag or 'dog tag' doing in a Confederate submarine? This opened the door to much speculation:

Was the ID tag a souvenir from the Battle of Fort Wagner. It was not uncommon during war times for soldiers to collect articles from a battleground.

Was Ezra Chamberlin a Union soldier that defected to the Confederacy?

Was Ezra Chamberlin a spy trying to disrupt the mission of the H. L. Hunley?

As a prisoner of war, was Ezra forced to man the Hunley?

Was it the last request of Ezra Chamberlin on the battlefield, that someone take his ID tag as a way of letting his family know of his death?

Initially this amazing find created more mysteries than answers. However, after extensive research, Genealogist Linda Abrams has determined that Ezra could not have been onboard the Hunley on that fateful night.

The following article by Ms. Abrams is based on her extensive research into the life of Private Chamberlin.

Ezra Chamberlin was the eldest of four children born to Elisha and Fanny (Cumins/Comins) Chamberlin of Killingly, Connecticut. Ezra was born in Killingly, October 20, 1839 and his father, was a master carpenter by trade. At age 21, the 5 ' 7 " Ezra joined the 7th Connecticut Infantry on September 12, 1861. He was not married and service records indicate duty as a carpenter, which he probably learned by working with his father.

With almost two years of service, Ezra's rank remained that of Private. His service record is routine for soldiers during the Civil War until the failed Union Assault on Fort Wagner, Morris Island, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina, on July 11, 1863.

During the Assault on Fort Wagner, Union forces, including Ezra's infantry, the 7th Connecticut, crossed the harbor in small boats, initially undetected, and went ashore believing they were attacking an inferior, unprepared Battery. But they were soon counterattacked by Confederate forces in surprisingly great strength with little cover except small sand dunes. The rout by the Confederate forces was devastating, forcing the surviving Union soldiers to flee back to the boats and safety, leaving their fallen comrades behind. The toll of Union losses was heavy and it is during this battle, as reported by his service record, Pvt. Chamberlin was killed in action.

Ezra's family believed him to be lost at the battle of Fort Wagner, probably from having it confirmed by local boys returning home from the battle. In a letter inquiring after any unpaid allowances due his son, Ezra's father refers to his son being loss at Fort Wagner. And many years later, his family erected a large Memorial stone in his honor. This confirms that his family knew of his loss at Fort Wagner, that his name did not appear on any Prisoner Lists, that there was no subsequent communication from him or about him living, and that he was from a stable home environment to which he would have probably yearned to return to upon completion of his obligation. Outside of the ID tag found aboard the Hunley, there is no evidence to support Ezra's possible survival.

But is the ID tag really evidence of survival? In all wars, and particularly the Civil War, it was common practice to ransack the bodies of the fallen enemy left on a battlefield. In some instances, the intent was to gain better equipment and for others, to obtain currency or souvenirs. This activity was widely practiced by both sides, as Museums today, in the North and the South, contain many souvenirs from the opposing forces brought home by local soldiers. Also, ID tags were not an issued item during the Civil War but rather were purchased by soldiers from civilian companies, often set-up near camps, who made and sold them to individual soldiers.

The Confederate Battery was again attacked, a short time later, in a larger assault and again successfully repulsed the enemy. This second battle is significant clue in the mystery of Ezra's ID tag since it placed a Confederate Artillery Corporal, Carlson, on Morris Island. Carlson is accepted as one of the final Hunley crewmembers in various official reports. Therefore, it is plausible that Carlson obtained the ID Tag from either Chamberlin's remains or in an exchange of souvenirs with another soldier.

Forensic experts working on the Hunley crews' remains have found that the Hunley crewman wearing the ID tag was in his thirties, while Ezra would have been only 24 at the time of the Hunley's historic mission. This corresponds with the conclusion drawn after careful study of Ezra's life: that he could not have been aboard the Hunley.

We'll never know if Pvt. Chamberlin was buried in a mass grave or just left where he fell. The shifting sands and changing tides have all but removed any traces of the island and the Fort. But we do know that Pvt. Chamberlin was killed-in-action, body-not-recovered, on Morris Island, July 11, 1863, and the artifact, bearing his name, discovered on the Hunley, was a battlefield souvenir obtained by a Confederate soldier and subsequent Hunley crewmember. There is simply no evidence to support any other conclusion.