Monday, February 26, 2024

Burying Memphis’s Confederates

Confederate Monument,
Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis

   Any great influx of men brought about numerous cases of disease, some of which led to death. Memphis was no different. Thousands of soldiers poured into the city, and as already discussed here, hospitals were opened to deal with not only with those wounded on the battlefield, but those who were sick. Despite medical care, numerous men died. To provide care for those who passed, the Southern Mothers Society, which operated one of the hospitals, acquired the Fowler section of Elmwood Cemetery. Elmwood Cemetery was established in 1852. This section of the cemetery was donated by Elmwood Cemetery “for the purpose of burying, free of charge, all soldiers who die honorably in defense of our liberties.” By September 1861, the ground had been enlarged and a spot for a monument already laid out.[1] 

   The first soldier to be buried in this section appears to have been Thomas Gallagher, who “died of wounds received accidently” on May 12, 1861. Gallagher was a member of Company H, 154th Senior Tennessee Infantry.[2] Early on, these funerals were full of military honors. J.W. Kirwan, a private in the 25th Mississippi Infantry, died of consumption in January 1862. A hearse and a company of new recruits escorted Kirwan’s body from his former house in Memphis to the cemetery. “The body was followed by a long procession of mourning friends who took a melancholy satisfaction in paying the last tribute of respect to an esteemed gentleman and devoted soldier.”[3] Burials undoubtedly continued through the course of the war, although information regarding burial of Confederates in the Confederate section of Elmwood Cemetery by the Federals seems to be lacking.

   In April 1866, there was a call for the upkeep by the ladies of Memphis of the Confederate section of Elmwood Cemetery. Sam W. Gulick stated that he would “Most willingly offer my services gratis, to letter all the names on the above boards to be placed in Elmwood Cemetery.” The ladies of the Southern Soldiers’ Home agreed to take on the responsibility, and there was a call for a “commemoration service” on April 26.[4] The memorial service came off with great fanfare, so much so that in April 1867, the local U.S. Army post commander prohibited “any processions, speeches or other public demonstrations, speeches or other public demonstrations in honor of the rebellion or men who fell in its service…” Local citizens were permitted “the simple act of mourning for deceased relatives in the customary manner.”[5]

   Slowly, the Confederate dead from other fields were brought to Elmwood Cemetery. Captain John W. Harris, killed in the North Georgia campaign of 1864, was reinterred in May 1866; W.A. Willis was likewise disinterred from a North Georgia battlefield and reinterred in Elmwood Cemetery in June 1866; Willie Pope, killed at the battle of Tishomingo Creek, was reinterred in July 1866; Brig. Gen Preston Smith, killed at Chickamauga in September 1863, and Col. Jeffrey E. Forrest, killed at the battle of Okolona in February 1864, were reinterred in May 1868.[6]

   The last Confederate soldier buried in the Confederate Soldiers Rest section was John F. Gunter, who died April 1, 1940. There are 945 numbered headstones in the Confederate section, and many other soldiers are buried through the cemetery. The Confederate Monument in the Confederate section was dedicated on June 5, 1878, and a marker about the cemetery was erected in 2006. 

   Among the more notable Confederate burials are Generals James Patton Anderson, Colton Greene, Preston Smith, Alfred J. Vaughan, Jr., Gideon Pillow, and William Henry Carroll. War-time governor Isham G. Harris is also buried at Elmwood, as is Confederate Congressman William G. Swan. Confederate senator Landon Carter Haynes was originally buried here, but was later moved to Jackson, Tennessee. War-time Federal soldiers buried at Elmwood were later moved (in 1868) to the Memphis National Cemetery, while two Federal generals, William J. Smith and Milton T. Williamson, are still buried at Elmwood. Elmwood was also the original burial location for Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife Mary. As an aside, famed author Shelby Foote is also buried in Memphis.

[1] Memphis Daily Appeal, September 25, 1861.

[2] Thomas Gallagher, CMSR, ROG109, NA.

[3] Memphis Daily Appeal, January 31, 1862.

[4] The Memphis Daily Appeal, April 18, 1866; April 24, 1866.

[5] Memphis Daily Post, April 25, 1867.

[6] Public Ledger, May 10, 1866, July 19, 1866, May 1, 1866; Memphis Daily Post, June 16, 1866.