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

Elizabeth Heavrin: The war department established the first national cemetery during and immediately after the Civil War to provide final honorable resting places for soldiers who died in defense of the Union. However, in addition to the Union dead, the department was also responsible for the burial of Confederate soldiers who just died while being held as prisoners of war. In some cases cemeteries were created specifically for Confederate dead while elsewhere Union soldiers were buried alongside Confederate POW’s and prison burial grounds later became national cemeteries. The burial and memorization of Confederate dead by the federal government is the subject of this presentation.

The National Cemetery Administration which is one of three agencies to make up the US Department of Veteran Affairs oversees Confederate burials in more than three dozen locations. The majority of these burials are related to prisoner of war facilities in northern states. In addition to managing these sites NCA is also responsible for providing government head stones or markers at the expense of the United States for the unmarked graves of soldiers of the Union and the Confederate armies of the Civil War who are buried worldwide.

The Confederate legacy can be a contentious subject and renewed interest in memorialization challenges NCA and its limited authority to provide federal burial benefits for those who served in the Confederate forces. To help NCA address this subject, the administration sought a better historical understanding of their largest Confederate assets. In 2008 NCA hired a team led by cultural resource analyst’s document 18 NCA cemeteries which included 9 Confederate cemeteries and monument sites and 9 National cemeteries that contained the largest numbers of Confederate interments and notable monuments.

Our presentation is based on this study and reflects the contributions of several team members, most notably Joseph and Maria Brent of the public history firm Mudpuppy and Waterdog who are the project’s lead historian.

The 18 cemeteries included in our study vary widely in their physical form and historical development. The majority are located in states that did not secede from the Union. All sites in the north contain the burials of Confederate prisoners of war. Some are identified as specific POW camps such as those on Johnson’s Island in Ohio and Elmira, New York while others contain the remains of soldiers who died at multiple prisons or hospitals.

The Confederate government owned much of the property on which the cemeteries were established by war’s end, while other cemeteries were not acquired until the early twentieth century. Three sites are not associated with POW camps. The Confederate sections of Springfield National Cemetery in Missouri and Little Rock National Cemetery Arkansas began as separate cemeteries established by Confederate Memorial associations, while the Confederate burials at Fort Smith National Cemetery dates to the Confederate occupation of the federal installation from 1861 to 1863.

The history of these 18 cemeteries during and after the war until the federal government established clear policy about the care of Confederate graves is expressed in their physical forms today. The following slides will give you just a sense of the variety of how these, of these sites and how the burials are marked.

Here we have Jackson Barracks National Cemetery in Missouri which contains the gravesites of over a thousand Confederate prisoners of war, both soldiers and civilians who are buried in several different sections within the cemetery. Often federal burials are marked with pointed top white marble headstones and making this the largest number of individually marked Confederate gravesites in the NCA system. Here in the foreground you can see you can see the pointed top headstones which distinguish them from the typical Union headstone.

This is Finns Point National Cemetery which includes many features typically associated with the Civil War era national cemeteries including a Victorian lodge and a stone perimeter all. The 85 foot tall obelisk that you see there on the left was erected by the commission for marking graves the Confederates had in 1910. It marks the burial site of more than 2,500 Confederate prisoners. A single group memorial was built here because inconsistent records and reinterrment activity meant that individual gravesites could not be identified.

This is Confederate Stockade Cemetery on Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie, which contains the burials of 206 Confederates, many of whom were officers. This was the first POW camp established by the Union and 12,000 prisoners were held here throughout the war. The graves were marked in 1890 with white marble headstones which were purchased from funds listed throughout the southern states by a group of Georgia journalists who had visited this site and they reported in the local papers about the lack of permanent markers. The lookout statue that you see there on the right was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1910.

Finn’s Point National Cemetery, New Jersey.

Finn’s Point National Cemetery, New Jersey.

This is Confederate Mound located in Oakwood Cemetery in the south side of Chicago. It contains the remains of prisoners from Camp Douglas who were interred in various city cemeteries at the time of their death an reinterred here after the war. The War Department permitted the United Confederate Veterans organization to place this large monument here in 1895 to mark the graves. In 1911 the federal government raised the monument on this base and installed the plaques that listed the names of over 4,000 prisoners buried below.

Finally this an example of a more modest monument. This is Union Confederate Monument in Kansas City which memorializes 15 Confederate prisoners from the Battle of Westport who died in the city’s hospitals. These individuals were originally buried in Kansas City cemetery which was closed in the 1870’s. They were reinterred in city owned Union Cemetery and when the commission for marking graves for the Confederate dead came here in 1911, the original location of the graves could not be identified but they erected this monument to honor those soldiers.

In light of all these differences the CRA team worked with NCA to develop these questions that would guide our research and illuminate the need for the history of these cemeteries in relation to the current needs of management. We sought answers that were applicable to the sites broadly as well as specifics for each of those sites included in the study. While we quickly learned that there were no single or straightforward answers, we focused on those key national events that shaped these fights.

Several cemeteries began as components of prisoner of war camps established in the north. The first POW camp was established in November 1861 on Johnson’s Island. At the time Union leaders believed that this and maybe one or two other sites could be adequate to house federal prisoners. By contrast, by the end of the war 215,000 Confederate soldiers would be held in Union prison camps. Military engagements would sometimes result in the surrender of thousands of men at a time and so the Union scrambled to find a place to house all these prisoners.

They often created prison camps at places that had served as Union recruitment centers such as that in Elmira, New York that’s shown here.

While neither the Union nor the Confederacy was adequately prepared to house so many prisoners resulted in poor conditions and in total 26,000 Confederates died while imprisoned, which is about 12% of all captured. Union losses were even more devastating with 30,000 troops or 15.5% of all POWs dying in southern camps.

Union Confederate Monument, Union Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri

Union Confederate Monument, Union Cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri

Twelve of the cemeteries included in this study are associated with these prisoner of war camps while interments at Philadelphia National Cemetery, Cypress Hills National Cemetery and Union Cemetery are prisoners who died while being treated in local hospitals. Burial records for prisoners were minimal and burial practices were inconsistent. Most prisoners were buried in trenches but they were placed in individual coffins. Victims of infectious diseases such as smallpox were often buried in separate cemeteries. Graves were typically marked with simple wooden headboards as you see here and often labeled just with a number that corresponded to the surgeons death records. The graves seen here, Woodlawn National Cemetery had a bit more information including individual names and other identifying information that was painted onto the boards.

After the war many of these gravesites received little attention and the paint faded, the boards rotted and they were often d from their original locations. In addition many of the Confederate burials were moved following the war either to consolidate scattered burials or to move them to more suitable locations or make way for civic improvements. In these instances they often found it very difficult to individually mark Confederate gravesites once efforts to do so began in the early 20th century.

Meanwhile while many of these Confederate gravesites in the north were largely neglected in the later 19th century, Union remains were being consolidated and consistently marked in the newly established national cemetery. Legislation passed in the 1870’s opened eligibility to all US veterans and laid the foundation for the appearance as we know them today.

This is Seven Pines National Cemetery in Virginia and it just shows you some of the typical characteristics of national cemeteries, including the substantial lodges, the brick perimeter wall and the individually marked gravesites. Meanwhile in the south ladies memorial associations and Confederate veterans groups were working earnestly to mark the gravesites of fallen Confederate soldiers. They were credited with establishing the first Confederate Memorial Day in 1860 and these organizations erected monuments both in cemeteries and in public spaces to honor the men who had fought and died for state’s rights and southern honor as they were characterized in conflict.

They also established Confederate cemeteries where scattered burials were consolidated and where veterans who died long after the war could be buried. This was the case at the cemetery in Springfield, Missouri which would later become a portion of the Springfield National Cemetery in 1911.

By the end of the 19th century the common experience of the Spanish-American war, which was fought in 1898, was starting to contribute to a spirit of national reconciliation. At this time this issue of the proper marking of confederate gravesites in the north first really entered into the national conversation. In a speech in Georgia legislature in December 1898, President McKinley recognized the contribution of southerners in the recent war effort and called for national unity. He proposed that the union is once more the common alter of our love and loyalty, our devotion and sacrifice. Every soldier’s grave made during our unfortunate Civil War was a tribute to American valor. In the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of the Confederate soldiers.

At the same time, individuals in Washington, D.C. were beginning to lobby Congress on the issue. Proponents included the United Confederate Veterans and other ex-confederate soldiers who were now in public service. Their first success came in 1900 when a law was passed that appropriated funds to create the Confederate section at Arlington National Cemetery. The law mandated the consolidation of Confederate burials that were in and scattered throughout that cemetery as well as those that the national soldiers who were in Washington D.C. and called for the marking of these graves with proper headstones.

The Arlington headstone is shown here. It’s similar to the Union headstone except for its pointed top and that it lacked the Union shield design. In 1930 the Confederate headstone design was modified to include the Southern Cross of Honor, which was a award that was conceived of by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1898 to honor Confederate soldiers and their families.

After the establishment of the Confederate section at Arlington the federal government felt increased pressure to permanently mark all Confederate gravesites. In 1906 Congress passed the Public Act #38, which was to provide for the appropriate marking of the graves of the soldiers and sailors of the Confederate Army and Navy who died in northern prisons and were buried where the prisons where they died. This bill established the Commission for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead.

The Commission which operated from 1906 to 1912 and again from 1914 to 1916 was led by a total of four men all who were ex-Confederate officers. Much of the work of the Commission, much of its success can be attributed to L. Frank Nye, who served as clerk to all four commissioners. He was the one who’s really responsible for doing the legwork for tracking down information about the Confederate soldiers at all these sites that were under investigation.

The original legislation called for the marking of each grave with an individual headstone but Nye soon discovered that at many of these POW camps that just simply wouldn’t be possible. At each location inconsistent records and complications resulting from multiple reinterrment made it impossible to go back and actually match up the burial records with individual graves. The Commission sought the permission of the War Department to erect a single monument to each of those locations which would include the names of soldiers to die at that site.

Confederate Mound which we saw earlier already had a monument in place so they agreed that they would raise the monument and place it on its new base which would include plaque with saying each of these named. Modest group monuments were also erected at places like Philadelphia National Cemetery as well as Greenlawn Cemetery in Indianapolis, Woodlawn Cemetery in Terre Haute and Union Cemetery in Kansas City.

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio.

Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery, Columbus, Ohio.

In some sites, including Camp Butler, Elmira, Camp Chase and Rock Island, which is seen here before after the work of the Commission, they were able to reconcile the military records in order to install individual headstones like those that had been employed at Arlington. By the end of 1912, the Commission had largely accomplished its original mission. It had marked Confederate graves in 53 cemeteries located in 15 states including 15 of the 18 cemeteries included in our study. When the Commission was reinstated two years later, the provisions of the bill were expanded to apply to Confederate gravesites located on federal land throughout the country.

However, identifying Confederate burials in the south generally proved to be too great a challenge and when the Commission expired in 1916, it had accomplished little towards. this new task. The Commission for Marking Graves for the Confederate was not extended but it had marked more than 25,000 graves and installed individual monuments where graves could not be identified, a federal legacy that the NCA is steward of today.

The 1914 bill that reauthorized the Commission included a new task that called for the furnishing of headstones of durable stone for material for unmarked graves of Union and Confederate soldiers, sailors and Marine at national post, city, town and village cemeteries, Naval cemeteries and Naval yards and stations of the United States. In essence this provision gave the War Department the authority to mark any Confederate grave anywhere in the United States. No corresponding funds were allocated for that particular task so Confederate graves at Port Smith, Little Rock and Springfield, which I mentioned earlier as not being associated with POW camps, were later marked under that authority.

Responsibility for the 18 sites included in our study were transferred from the Army to the NCA in 1973 including the authority to furnish government headstones for Civil War burials located worldwide.

I’m now going to turn it over to Sara who will kind of let you know what that means for NCA today.

Sara Amy Leach: I’m going in a different direction. As you’ve heard a lot about our properties and we’re very excited about the information that CRAI and Mudpuppy and Waterdog and in other, they’re all, it’s a large team of people who have been finding great primary images and sources that we didn’t know existed out there.

NCA is responsible for maintaining properties containing Confederate graves, including the study but in all we have thousands of Confederates buried in more than three dozen of our properties. I’d like to say that I’d like to tell you exactly how many and where but we’re not quite that precise at this point. We will be. We are equally the steward of all Civil War history resources that we inherited from the Army.

In recent years Confederate issues have gained momentum, perhaps due to the, and I’m quoting, ‘neo-confederate’ monuments cited by the Atlantic writer Steven Weiss last year. In keeping with long standing policy originating at the conclusion of the Civil war and subsequent agencies and departments with jurisdiction for these properties and features, NCA’s policy is not to interfere or to further a cultural position. We respond by providing a headstone or marker if it is within our legal authority. That’s a pretty straight forward thing and a lot of people who come to us for whatever don’t really understand that.

National Cemetery Confederate headstones: Corinth, MS.

National Cemetery Confederate headstones: Corinth, MS.

Our policies and processes associated with pre-World War I products, which is an internal segregation of our products, and obviously this does include the Civil War, people are often disappointed. Applicants who come to us asking for something are often disappointed. Primary records might be inadequate. We review all the records that come to the office or the applicant doesn’t meet the definition in regulation. That’s very important and especially in recent years. As a federal agency we promote honorable military service and honor veterans and Confederate soldiers as permitted by law.

In fiscal 2013 NCA provided more than 350 headstones and markers to Confederate graves in non-federal cemeteries and that’s typical. Just last week based on rigorous verification of some primary documentation we installed a new Confederate headstone for Private Haywood Treadwell at Beaufort National Cemetery because, although his name and unit information were documented as far back as 1915, his grave was incorrectly marked as an unknown.

While the Army had broad authority at the time of the war and during reconciliation to enter Confederates in its cemeteries, NCA which was established in 1973 has never had the authority to provide a burial benefit to Confederates in national cemeteries. Confederate remains may be marked if they line NCA properties or meet the requirements for a government furnished marker in a private cemetery however. I’m showing you two examples of Confederate headstones over the years they’ve evolved, even when you see multiple remains under one headstone, we have quite a variety of raised markings throughout the system. It’s not quite as straight forward as one might think.

Meanwhile, consider the Army’s creation of a new larger and much better headstone for Confederate graves in 1930. Glancing at some prominent private cemeteries, and none of these were included in the study that you heard a few minutes ago. I’m showing you Hollywood in Richmond, not all of that’s in Nashville; a Confederate only site in Knoxville; Marietta, Georgia; and Charlottesville, Virginia. It appears that keepers of these Confederate dead were disinclined to order this new headstone product.

These cemeteries historically were recognized with a single monument or multiple markers but not headstones provided by the US government. This cannot be happenchance. What were independent memorial intentions realized at the turn of the century today by right to remain authentic Confederate landscape based on American historic preservation practices. In the past quarter century or so, absence of soldiers or first-person advocates for the loyalty toward original intent of these properties, Confederate descendants have more recently sought the provision of a government issued headstone as an entitled benefit that somehow their forbearers in previous decades missed out on.

The area around the Confederate monument that mount all of that here has been populated by flush markers from the US government and I think they’re ornamental, I don’t think there were names or anything below there. Similarly in Charlottesville Virginia at the Confederate cemetery there’s a lovely historic monument, late 19th century, and the names of the individuals who are buried in the cemetery are listed on the monument. There is a ledger that shows where individuals are located so you could put a headstone on it but that was not done when it was established. These are some of the quandaries we deal with.

I just want to point out one thing, this is a tangent. This is Hollywood Cemetery, the first speaker we heard had a very interesting pyramid here that I want to go back and see if there’s a relationship between the Romans and the Confederates but that’s a research topic for years to come.

We’re at Crown Hill Confederate Plot. Modifying historical cemeteries using 21st century forms of immortalization double the degradation of historic landscapes. The carefully crafted original vision of the Ladies Memorial Association or the responsible veteran organizations are often completely overlooked or ignored. The installation of a modern grave marker may intrude upon landscapes and transform them into a place more familiar to a 21stk century visitor than his or her grandparents.

National Cemetery Confederate headstone: Fort Smith, AR

National Cemetery Confederate headstone: Fort Smith, AR

At Crown Hill such a change was introduced in or about 1980. This is the original monument but some enthusiasts in town felt that the names of all the people who were moved here, and I think this is the third time remains, these remains were relocated, had to be a little way past in metal. This is literally a postage stamp sized lot and the plaques have completely filled it out and they actually put one on the monument itself.

This is the tale of Two Oakwood Cemetery. In Virginia, and these are the, this is Virginia bottom and left. In Virginia the Sons of Confederate Veterans has requested of NCA potentially thousands of upright headstones to be placed in Oakwood Cemetery’s confederate section in Richmond. This is a national register listed property. Their goal is to properly “mark graves currently identified by a small block” and these are numbered and the numbers correspond with a ledger and there are up to three individual’s remains under each of those blocks. Not literally but in spirit.

If the effort for obtaining headstones, which is a 21st goal, a 21st century marking goal, the result would look more like a cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina, also Oakwood, where over … This is decades ago but usually these little blocks the back of the uprights. This would be turned into this. Legally we cannot double mark a grave so what happens to the historic monument, or marker? We are engaged with the state preservation office at some level about this but that’s also a complicated situation.

You’ve already heard a little bit about yesterday’s success with the general going back on his pedestal but we know of 33 Confederate cemeteries, I’m not trying to fudge the numbers but sometimes you have a monument that says for all wars or all of this. It’s hard to pick and choose if the Confederates or the Civil War’s involved in that. It’s not, I’m not going to go through the, this monument in particular but we have more than 1,200 monuments and 33 is not that many in that context.

Iconography is an issue with us, or I guess other people. Excuse me, I’m getting the wrap up sign too. The displays of Confederate flags and memorial programs are limited to NCA cemeteries where Confederates are interred. Then on very limited occasions, at Point Lookout, Maryland, which is yeah. We have a large obelisk, and you’re only seeing the base of it. A Confederate group acquired an adjacent parcel of land in order to erect its monument to the same POW that, and so you’re looking at this. This is fairly recently.

Confederate Memorial Park, MD

Confederate Memorial Park, MD

On a sort of related issue all of our headstones except for Confederate headstones have an option for an Emblem of Belief, as it’s called. It’s basically religious observations. Years and years ago, someone requested to use the Confederate flag as an Emblem as Belief and that was rejected.

I want to say that we are going to use all the information that our consultants have gathered for us and this is just really just a glimpse of the story of Confederate and federal properties. Historic information will soon be accessible to the public in two ways: later this year NCA will be publishing the study, the result of this work, includes the work that the brands of Mudpuppy and Waterdog worked on, CRA and the NCA historians. We all collaborated on this. We’re also installing interpretive signs at the 18 study sites. All of this will be complete in fiscal ’14 if things go well.

The book and the signs will be posted on the NCA websites. The book will also be published in paper. These products and ongoing conservation of historic monuments are tangible illustrations and stewardship of American landscape and its commitment of preserving and understanding its role in the American history in the pivotal Civil War era.



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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