One grave of particular interest here in Greenlawn Cemetery is that of Civil War Captain Van Nuys who is buried in the Pine Section of the cemetery.
Imagine that it is 1861 and that you are a young white man just turned 21 in Indiana. You are enrolled in an esteemed school due to your intellect. . You are well-regarded in your community. Your future is bright. Suddenly, you receive word that the political unrest in the South has taken an ugly turn. The assault of Confederate troops on Ft. Sumter has triggered a war that threatens the life and liberty you are accustomed to. Your President issues a call to arms. You do not think twice and rush to defend what you believe to be the best government on earth. It is your duty to your kin and to your nation to ferociously stand up to the destructive forces sweeping the country of your birth.
That was exactly the experience of Samuel Watson Van Nuys of Franklin, Indiana. When the Rebellion broke out, he set aside plans to attend the prestigious Hopewell Academy and joined the 7th Indiana Infantry, Company F in September 1861. He served beside fellow Johnson County soldiers before being promoted to First Lieutenant. He accepted a position as training officer for the 4th U.S. Colored Regiment in Maryland. His success with these troops was so apparent that he was soon promoted to Captain. In a short time he was placed on the General’s staff as Acting Adjutant General of the 4th U.S. Colored Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 3 Division, 18th Army Corps. His rapid advancement up the ranks was a testament to both his skill as a leader and the admiration of those surrounding his command.
In September 1864, Maj. Gen. Benjamin Butler's “Army of the James” crossed the James River to assault the Confederate defenses north of the river near their capital in Richmond. The command was given to charge enemy rifle pits near New Market Heights. As was the custom, Van Nuys courageously led his men, riding in front of the line on horseback. The battle was ferocious, the enemy answering with such a horrific barrage that many Union soldiers were struck down. Van Nuys caught a shot in the neck, killing him instantly. His men soon rallied and drove back the enemy, but not before Confederate soldiers had robbed Van Nuys’ body of his watch, money and clothes.
Word of Van Nuys’ death was sent home to his family through a letter from Lieutenant Z. F. Wilber, the Acting Assistant Quartermaster of the Third Brigade:
October 2, 1864
“Mr. John H. VanNuys, Esq.
My Dear Sir: It is an extremely painful duty for me to write you. You have undoubtedly ere this received by dispatch announcing the death of your son. What can a stranger say to comfort those nearest and dearest to him. But of one thing I can assure you, that you and your lady have the heartfelt sympathies of every officer left in our Brigade, for Van as we called him was universally esteemed as a man and a soldier. He has no enemies, but many friends, warm friends. It could not be otherwise with one of his fixed principles, strict integrity and kindly heart. The death of no officer in the 4th regiment, or of his brigade, has created such a sensation, and we who were his daily companions will miss him sadly at our mess table and at our little circle around the camp fire … If he died young, he fell a patriot, and may the blood of his young heart poured forth so lavishly at his country’s altar help to bind together our Union stronger than ever.”