Monday, January 07, 2008

Oakwood Cemetery - Raleigh

I recently came across an article in the Charlotte Observer about the ongoing work of Charles Purser. For a second time, Purser has identified a Federal soldier buried among the Gettysburg section of Oakwood Cemetery. Hats off to Purser and his work.

But something about the article caught my attention. The article, which originally ran in the Raleigh News and Observer, interviewed Dr. A. James Fowler about the burial of Federals in Confederate Cemeteries. Here is the quote:

Mingling between Northern and Southern dead isn't so rare, said A. James Fuller, history professor at the University of Indianapolis.

Sometimes, he said, Union soldiers died on their way to prison camp and were buried in the nearest cemetery, alongside the enemy.

Cemeteries exclusively for Confederates were a product of post-war bitterness, he said, and they were set up as monuments to Southern culture. Raleigh's Gettysburg section was created by the Ladies Memorial Association. In 1871, it arranged for 137 bodies -- all of them supposedly from North Carolina -- to be reinterred.

"Cemeteries exclusively for Confederates were a product of post-war bitterness..." Ok, I’ll concede that may be true. However, are cemeteries exclusively for Federal soldiers (National Cemeteries) a product of post-war bitterness?

In 1867, when the Ladies Memorial Association of Wake County was formed, their mission was to "protect and care for the graves of our Confederate soldiers." the reason that it was the "Ladies Memorial Association" was that men were banned by the Federal government from meeting in large groups. The ladies acquired a piece of property from Henry Mordecai and began to clean and level the property. Their goal was to move the Confederates interred at the Rock Quarry Cemetery, and others buried in the surrounding area, to the new Confederate cemetery. There were an estimated 500 Confederates interred at the Rock Quarry Cemetery.

The Federals wanted the Rock Quarry Cemetery all to themselves, for a National Cemetery for Union dead. On February 22, 1867, the group received a letter from the Federal commander in Raleigh. All Confederates had to be moved from Rock Quarry Cemetery immediately to make room for a National Cemetery. The Ladies Memorial Association set about work. Volunteers disinterred the Confederates and began moving them to the new cemetery. Their progress was too slow for the Federal government, and in March 1867, the Federal commandant issued a letter, stating that if the Confederate dead were not moved by the given date, "their remains would be placed in the public road." By the end of March, the ladies and their volunteers had finished the work.

So - if the Federal government came and told you that the remains of your loved ones would be dug up and dumped in the road, well, I guess that could cause a little bitterness.

The story is almost the same around Gettysburg. As they were working their fields around Gettysburg, farmers, when finding the bones of Confederate soldiers, were more likely than not to dump those bones alongside a fence. I even recall some advertisements that Gettysburg citizens ran stating that they wanted the graves of Southerners removed from their property or the remains would be disposed of. Is that not bitterness?

And was it also bitterness that caused the early leaders, mostly former Federal soldiers, of battlefield preservation at Gettysburg to lead to the denial of former Confederates monuments in Pennsylvania?

I think Dr. Fowler’s choice of words poor.


StoneAngels: The Cemetery Traveler said...
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StoneAngels: The Cemetery Traveler said...

Great article! I'd like to reference it in a blog I'm writing on a visit to Oaklawn Cemetery. I'll probably post it here next week: