He has since legally changed his name to Daniel Dodson Matheson Kesler to pay homage to his lineage and has become involved in ancestral representations, portraying a Confederate prisoner of war at certain events and speaking engagements.
Through visits to family burial plots, travels to his native state and conversations with other family members, Kesler has discovered 11 direct descendants from three sides of his family who fought in the war, including his great-great-grandfather, Felix Shelborne Dodson, who enlisted at the age of 41 and became a private in the 38th Virginia Infantry Regiment.
"I never knew that any of my family served in the war," he said.
Kesler found out that Dodson was captured on April 2, 1865, during the Battle of Dinwiddie Courthouse in Virginia.
He was sent to Point Lookout in Maryland, a prisoner of war camp, and released two months later.
Dodson was one of six of the 11 descendants who were prisoners of war. Four of those six died as prisoners, including his great-great-uncle, William B. Dodson, a first lieutenant of Company C, 5th Virginia Cavalry, who was also one of the so-called Immortal 600.
The Immortal 600 was a group of Confederate Army officers who were shipped as prisoners of war by federal authorities to a fort on Morris Island, S.C.
Already starved and provided with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing, the prisoners also were in the direct line of fire of federal and Confederate gun batteries on the island and in the city of Charleston from August 1864 to July 1865, according to Kesler's research.
Kesler's great-great-uncle was captured at the Battle of Yellow Tavern outside of Richmond, Va., on May 11, 1864. He spent time at several prisoner- of-war camps, including Morris Island, and ended up at Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island on the Delaware River, where he died of typhoid on June 1, 1865.
In August 1996, Kesler visited the National Cemetery at Fort Mott, N.J., where he found his great-great-uncle's name engraved on a bronze plaque at a monument over the mass grave.
"That was the climax of the search," Kesler said.
Soon after, Kesler formed SODOTISH, an acronym that stands for the Society of Descendants of the Immortal Six Hundred, a group registered with the Department of State Corporation Bureau in Harrisburg, Pa.
A ceremony last August on Pea Patch Island, organized by Kesler, officially announced the founding of the organization.
"It's educational ... I want to show what these men went through. It is simply not to be forgotten," Kesler said.
To become a member, a person must submit documented typed or written proof of the blood relationship to any Confederate officer who was among the Immortal 600.
For more information, contact Kesler by writing to 538 High Street, Chambersburg, Pa. 17201-1032, or by calling 1-717-263-7053. Kesler can also be reached by e-mail at (http://firstname.lastname@example.org).