Last week, I was in Virginia for a book signing. On my way home Thursday, I stopped at Blandford Church Cemetery in Petersburg. I have not been in the cemetery for several years, probably back in the late 1990s when I was working on the book on the 37th NCT.
I mainly went to photograph interesting gravestones for a class on cemetery iconography that I teach occasionally at local community colleges and historical societies, and I found several good tombstones to add to my collection of images.
I have visited many cemeteries in the past decade. Being at Blandford, and standing in the large, empty field where 30,000 Confederate soldiers are buried is a very humbling moment.
While there is no documented number of Confederates buried at Blandford, the City of Petersburg has maintained for over a century that over 30,000 Confederate soldiers are buried within the confines of the cemetery. Most of these men died in the last year of the war, when Meade’s army (under the watchful eye of Grant) encircled Petersburg and slowly squeezed the life out of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Blandford Church itself was constructed in 1735-1737, but stopped being a church in the early1800s. During the war, the windows-less brick building was used as a hospital. In the early 1900s, the church became a Confederate memorial chapel, with Tiffany stained glass windows from the different former Confederate states.
There is a good chance that if you had a North Carolina ancestor who was killed during the Petersburg Campaign, that he was interred at Blandford. Many of the Confederates who died during battle were first buried on the battlefields, and later re- interred at Blandford following the war.
However, of the 30,000+ Confederates buried in the cemetery, only 2,000-3,000 are known by name.
After you pass through the large memorial arch, there is a North Carolina section. (Towards the back, right before the curve). There is only one grave actually marked in this section: Pvt. John O. Barefoot, of Company B, 56th North Carolina Troops.
Everyone should visit Blandford if you have a chance: lots of good gravestone art, the beautiful stained glass windows, and to reflect as you stand amongst the graves of 30,000 Confederate soldiers.