Friday, November 20, 2020

Soldier rest, thy warfare o'er ....

Mid-November's late afternoon sun was positioned just right the other day as I walked in the Chariton Cemetery to illuminate a couplet on young Daniel L. Coffelt's modest tombstone. I'd never taken the time to read the inscription carefully before, although I was familiar with Daniel's story and had planned to tell it --- eventually.

Soldier rest, thy warfare o'er

Dream of Battles no more

The words are lifted from a Sir Walter Scott poem, taken from The Lady of the Lake, rearranged and condensed and out of context, but lovely none the less. I wonder who it was who decided to have them inscribed there.

Daniel was just 22 when he died on Feb. 8, 1917,  near the New Mexico border town of Columbus and his death was a tragic accident rather than the result of combat, but that doesn't make it less poignant.

He was a coal miner's son, one of 13 children born to Daniel A. and Sarah Coffelt, and had been living in Colorado a year earlier, perhaps working as a miner, when he enlisted in Troop E, 5th Colorado Volunteer Cavalry, for service during the Mexican Border War.

Pancho Villa and his troops had attacked Columbus, New Mexico, during 1916, and Daniel and the 5th Colorado were part of the expeditionary force led by Gen. John J. Pershing that invaded Mexico in an attempt to capture or kill him.

Daniel and his unit had crossed the border back into the United States at Columbus on Feb. 7, 1917. The next day, as he was cleaning his pistol, it discharged, fatally wounding him.

There was a considerable delay in, first, notifying Daniel's family of his death, then in returning his remains to Chariton for burial --- 23 days between death and funeral. His commanding officer sent the following letter to his parents by way of explanation. Both letter and Daniel's obituary were published in The Herald-Patriot of March 8.

Troop E, 5th Cavalry

Camp Stewart, Texas, Feb. 20, 1917

To Mr. Daniel A. Coffelt,
Chariton, Iowa

Dear Sir:

Your son, while cleaning his pistol accidentally discharged it and wounded himself in the stomach. He died from the wound in about an hour. This was in Columbus, New Mexico, the day after we had reached the United States.

He was taken immediately to the hospital, but the surgeon told me that he was dying by the time he reached there. The hospital authorities should have notified you by wire and I did not do so because I thought that they would.

Your son, while a young soldier, was a very promising one and the army lost a good man when he died. On behalf of the officers and men of Troop E, I wish to offer our heartfelt condolences. If there is any comfort or help of any kind that I can give I shall be glad to do so.

G. L. Sherburne,
Capt. 5th Cavalry, commanding Troop E

Daniel is buried near his father, who died during 1920, and siblings. His mother, Sarah, lived to be 89 and died during 1952 in Davenport, where she is buried.

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