This presentation is part of the International Cemetery Preservation Summit, October 8-10, 2014 Niagara Falls, NY.

Confederates in the Cemetery: Federal Benefits & Stewardship by Elizabeth Heavrin and Sara Amy Leach

The federal government established the first national cemeteries during and immediately after the Civil War to provide honorable final resting places for soldiers who died in defense of the Union. However, it was also responsible for the burial of Confederate soldiers who died while being held as prisoners of war (POW). In some cases Confederate POWs were buried in designated sections of what would become national cemeteries, such as Finn’s Point, NJ, and Woodlawn NY; elsewhere, grounds were created specifically solely for Confederates, as at Rock Island and Camp Chase Confederate cemeteries.

Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration (NCA), oversees nine Confederate cemeteries associated with POW camps, in addition to burials strewn throughout more than two dozen national cemeteries. Three national cemeteries—all located in states that ceded from the Union—contain the graves of Confederate soldiers who died during the war but not as prisoners, and Confederate veterans who died as recently as the 1940s.

More than thirty monuments associated with Southern sacrifice are located in these national and Confederate cemeteries. Some, erected by the federal government in the first half of the twentieth century, function as “group” grave markers; other memorial monuments were erected by Confederate heritage groups.

Federal policies that led to the acquisition, marking and care of these Confederate burial places reflect a spirit of national healing that was fueled, in part, by the common experience of the Spanish-American War (1898-99). Government stewardship of Confederate burials and cemeteries began in earnest at the end of the nineteenth century with the reburial of Confederate remains scattered throughout Arlington National Cemetery into a single section, with each grave marked by a new headstone designed with a pointed or peaked top. New legislation enacted early in the twentieth century established the Commission for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead, which from 1906 to 1916 operated to document all burials of Confederate POWs in states that remained loyal to the Union and marked the graves with the “Arlington-style” headstone. The passage of time between the war’s end and the commission’s charter resulted in the loss of information about many burials, so a group memorial was erected at some cemeteries. Several sites are marked by monumental obelisk memorials, such as those at cemeteries in Alton, IL, and Point Lookout, MD.  Legislation passed in 1914 and 1929 authorized the government to furnish headstones for Confederate graves in all national cemeteries and in “city, town, and village cemeteries.”

In 1973, eighty-two national cemeteries and thirty-two soldiers’ lots—including Confederate sites—were transferred from the U.S. Army to what became NCA.  NCA also took responsibility for providing “government headstones or markers at the expense of the United States for the unmarked graves of…Soldiers of the Union and Confederate Armies of the Civil War (38 USC § 2306)” who are buried worldwide. Ceremonial activities associated with recognizing the Confederacy is very limited; for example, the use of Confederate flags in memorial programs are confined to NCA cemeteries where Confederates are interred.

The Confederate legacy can be a contentious subject, and renewed interest in memorialization continues to challenge NCA with its limited authority to provide federal burial benefits for those who served the Confederacy in the Civil War.

This presentation is based on an ongoing study initiated by NCA and undertaken by Cultural Resource Associates Inc. of eighteen NCA cemeteries that contain significant numbers of Confederate interments and monuments. NCA is slated to publish the study, and will be installing interpretive wayside signage at all its Confederate sites to tell the varied stories of these places. Today NCA manages more than 131 national cemeteries and thirty-three soldiers’ lots.

Speaker Bio

Elizabeth Heavrin is an architectural historian with Cultural Resource Analysts, Inc., a full-service cultural resource consulting firm with offices throughout the United States. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in historic preservation from the University of Kentucky. Heavrin has led numerous projects for federal agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and National Cemetery Administration, for which she guided an interdisciplinary team investigating the history of the NCA’s marking and care of Confederate burial sites and is presently assisting with developing interpretive markers for Civil War-era cemeteries.

Sara Amy Leach is the Senior Historian, National Cemetery Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Since joining NCA in 2001, she has built an interdisciplinary History Program that is responsible for original research, oral history, collections man¬management, preservation planning, conservation and interpretation.
Previously she spent 13 years with the National Park Service (NPS) as an historian and cultural resource manager in Washington D.C., regional and park offices. She has authored and edited books and articles about historic resources and preservation for the government and as a freelance writer.  Leach earned an MA in Architectural History and certificate in Historic Preservation from University of Virginia; and a BA in Journalism and a BFA in Art History from Ohio Wesleyan University.

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2 Responses to Confederates in the Cemetery: Federal Benefits & Stewardship

  1. Joanna Priest says:

    Are there any efforts being made to identify lost Confederate soldiers through DNA? I’ve just recently discovered through Ancestry.com that my 3rd great grandfather, James Priest, enlisted at Camp Terry in Austin, TX in August of 1862 and was later stationed in Arkansas with Col. Allen’s 17th Infantry. He died that same December of typhoid fever and buried there along with hundreds of other soldiers that succumbed to disease.

  2. Jason Church says:

    I have not heard of any efforts to identify unknown soldiers through DNA. I would guess that this procedure would be far too cost prohibitive not to mention the years of legal battles to exhume the bodies.

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