Reporter: James Gherardi l Videographer: R.J. Burnette
Danville, VA - What started with an interest in history has led a Danville man through more than a decade's worth of research on the Danville National Cemetery, a burial ground for Union soldiers.
Stuart Martin says it began when he was a child. He would pass the perfectly manicured rows of white, marble headstones and stare in awe. Today, he knows everything - every little detail about more than 1,200 of them. Ask him about one headstone, and he'll give you the life story of a soldier.
"Morgan and Gilbert Presley are brothers, they were in the eighth Tennessee cavalry," said Martin while glancing at a headstone.
About 1,200 union soldiers from the Civil War lay buried at the National Cemetery in Danville. For 12 years, Martin has researched nearly all of them.
"I was always interested in history, especially Civil War history. And I found that a lot really wasn't known about the people that were out here," he said.
Following his retirement, Martin spent hours flipping through history books and researching national archives. His findings show that most of these fallen soldiers were prisoners of war, brought in from other parts of the Confederacy after illness ravaged the South.
"Smallpox broke out in Scott's Factory Prison, and I think that's really the reason that they started one here because they wanted to get the smallpox out of Richmond," said Martin. So they were moved to downtown Danville; old tobacco warehouses, turned prisons.
"John was the most popular name," said Martin.
He knows it all, who is buried where, where they're from, age, height and religion. His love of history he says brought him here, but what keeps him is the love of his country.
"You hate to get into clichés, you know? But, these people were sacrificed so that I could be an American," he said.
So, will he ever publish all he's learned?
"We'll see if the good Lord gives me enough time, maybe something will come along that line," said Martin.
He says he still thinks he has a little bit of work left before he authors a history book. For now, he says it's all just a great hobby.