On Sunday September 27, I was honored to attend the funeral of Alexander Bonnyman, an American war hero and Medal of Honor recipient from World War II. I attended as a photographer. My assignment was to follow the caisson crew from beginning to end. On this day I learned two interesting stories: The story of Mr. Bonnyman and the story of Burroughs Battery and how reenactors can reach out into the communities around them.
1st Lt. Bonnyman was killed in action on Tarawa Island in the Pacific on November, 22, 1943. In a battle with the Japanese. Bonnyman died leading a charge on the Japanese that day. I have heard reports of flame throwers being used in the charge, there are some accounts of a bayonet charge. Not to cut Mr. Bonnyman’s heroic actions short, we know they were courageous due to him receiving the Medal of Honor, I would like to cover the other side of his story.
After the battle, Mr. Bonnyman’s remains were lost. The military told his family that his remains were “Lost at sea.” His empty grave in Knoxville in the family cemetery plot read, “Lost at sea.” For years his family sought answers on his final resting place. In May of 2015, their search ended, Mr. Bonnyman’s remains were discovered along with others in unmarked graves on Tarawa Island, by the non profit group, Honor Flight. Through DNA it was confirmed, Alexander Bonnyman was finally coming home.
On September 27 a funeral was held in Knoxville, Tn. I attended and was assigned to follow Burroughs Battery of Blaine, Tennessee, a Civil War reenacting group that supplied the caisson for the event. I overheard bits and pieces of information that day that made me want to know more about them.
Burroughs, I found, has made all of their own equipment. The caisson used in the Mr. Bonnyman’s funeral was built specifically for this event in about a week’s time. I found out that Burroughs’ Steve Cameron owns Trail Rock Ordnance and that Burroughs has built all of its own equipment from saddles, batttery wagons, the battery forge and cannon.
I also discovered that Burroughs’ horses were all retired race horses, retrained after their racing careers by New Vocations, a non-profit program that often saves these horses from slaughter. Once retrained for their next journey in life, the horses are then adopted out. Burroughs has used these animals to pull their equipment in Smithsonian videos, National Park Service events such as the Appomattox 150th, and you will see them at various Civil War renactments as well.
I was amazed at how everyone came together Sunday morning. Members of the Blount county 4-H program showed up bright and early to help groom and clean the horses for the event. For those who have never seen the behind the scenes of horse drawn, this is a labor of love, washing, cleaning, trimming and scrubbing the horses. Burroughs Battery has worked with the Smithsonian on various video projects as well as the National Park Service at the Appomattox 150th, giving the horses new life and new meaning as well as putting on a show that the public really enjoys.
In closing I would like to apologize to the Bonnyman family as I knew there was no way I could truly portray the heroics and story of happenings afterword to Alexander Bonnyman in one article. For those who would like to know more, you can find many articles on the internet by using Google and typing in Alexander Bonnyman. Burroughs Battery members did point out that there is a book being written about Alexander Bonnyman by his grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evans, I am sure the book will tell the stories of Alexander’s heroics as well as how the family worked for 71 years to bring their loved one home.
-By Jeff Shiflett