— Consecrated Forever
When the cannon fell quiet and the acrid smoke of war lifted, family, widows, field, and woodlands were left with their broken and scattered dead. To many Southerners, it must have been a horrible time to have remained alive. Though trodden down by war, Southerners were not beaten, and it was the women of the South who now rose up with the strength their men had shown only a short time before. All across the South, they began the noble but heart-breaking task of collecting their dead for burial.
In May 1865, in Vicksburg, Miss., a group of ladies met at the still-standing Court House and formed the Ladies Memorial Cemetery Association, later called the Vicksburg Confederate Cemetery Association. The purpose was to acquire suitable land for a cemetery; locate the thousands of graves of our Confederate soldiers; and bring them in for burial; also, to bury those who had found no grave but, instead, a corn row, rifle pit, muddy trench, or ravine.
The first members were Mrs. E. S. Eggleston, Mrs. W. H. Stevens, Mrs. E. D. Wright, Mrs. T. A. Marshall, Mrs. Annie De Moss, Mrs. A. H. Arthur, and Miss Ellen Martin. Some of these ladies and others joined to form UDC Vicksburg 77 on 27 Jul 1896.
All who volunteered and were contracted to help them knew that there were graves scattered in almost every place from Vicksburg to surrounding counties. Some soldiers were buried where they fell; some were buried hastily beside the road as the rest of the regiment moved on past; some were buried in the chimney corner or family graveyard of strangers who kindly took them in and cared for them, or in a field, to be turned up by the plow many years after the war. Makeshift graveyards appeared in the fields and along the edge of the wooded areas and there were graves all along the levees.
If a soldier was lucky, his body was taken to the funeral home in Vicksburg where a record was made of his death and date of burial. Sometimes he was lucky in another way – his friends buried him and gave him a stone grave marker, but they by-passed the funeral home, leaving the only mention of the circumstances of his passing in letters home. And some soldiers received no burial at all, were left unseen and forgotten where they fell, in the brush and trees.
B. D. Womack (or Wamack), 3rd Miss Inf, for example, died 13 Aug 1862 at Vicksburg. His friends buried him in City Cemetery and saw that he had a nice grave marker with his name, embossed with flag and rifles and the words, “A tribute of respect By the Members of Co. I, 3 Miss. Regt. Miss. Volunteers.” We know about his death from a letter written by a Lt. McCormack, who knew him.
“Disease is playing conspicuously amongst us. Never since we sacrificed the endearments of home and formed a little band to go forth and strike for liberty, have we felt its devastating influence more deeply, than when we saw it seize the manly person of our friend B. D. Womack, and forced him to relinquish his earthly career. Benett was a favorite with us and we greatly lament his loss.”
Womack’s service record says he died of “congestion of the brain.” His grave is with other CSA on the hillside of Soldiers’ Rest.
The esteemed and admired Confederate Maj. Gen. John S. Bowen, while traveling from Vicksburg to Jackson, Miss., after the fall of Vicksburg, was forced by illness to stop at the home of a family near Raymond. He died there and was buried in their garden near the house. Later, he was re-interred in the nearby Bethesda Presbyterian Church Cemetery, where he remained until his wife, in Jun 1887, with the assistance of the Vicksburg Confederate Cemetery Association had him removed to Soldiers’ Rest.
It was the goal of the Vicksburg Confederate Cemetery Association that all of these men, no matter their situation, would be gathered in and buried honorably in the new Confederate Cemetery. Mrs. E. D. Wright succeeded Mrs. Eggleston as President and was known for being so dedicated to this purpose that she would often handle the “sacred dust” herself.
As humans, our men deserved a decent tomb. As heroes, our soldiers deserved an honored and noble burial.
In this undertaking, help came from many sources. The land for the cemetery, on a hill inside City Cemetery, was deeded by Robert Hough and his wife to Mrs. Wright. The women of Maryland were especially generous with their aid. The Association also had assistance from an unlikely source – a Union officer responsible for gathering the Federal dead. As the officer moved across the hills and valleys of the battlefields of Vicksburg, supervising the collection of his Union dead, he also took note of the CSA dead. In all, he located and recorded 3000 of Southern soldiers. Though his list no longer exists (that we know of), it was instrumental at the time in retrieving a large number of the Confederate dead around Vicksburg. He also made a beautiful copy of this list, which he presented to the Cemetery Association.
Vicksburg was a hospital town during the war. Soldiers suffered from wounds and especially disease. Those who died in the hospital were usually sent to the funeral home, which, unless otherwise instructed, sent the prepared and casketed body to the City Cemetery (also called Cedar Hill). The funeral home records included the deceased name, rank, date of service performed, unit, and grave number. The map of the cemetery showing the grave numbers has disappeared. Instead, we have only a well-kept, grassy area of the cemetery suspected to hold these dead. CSA stones mark the four corners. Further up the hill is Soldiers’ Rest.
The land given for the Confederate Cemetery was the highest in the rolling hills of City Cemetery. The CSA dead were brought in for burial -- not just from the Vicksburg siege battlefields, but also from battlefields in the Vicksburg Campaign, including Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, Big Black Bridge, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and Chickasaw Bayou. They were not all Mississippians. Every Confederate state is represented at the Confederate Cemetery that is now called Soldiers’ Rest.
For many years, the large area of ground where these men rested was marked only by posts at the four corners supporting a chain that surrounded the area of the mass burial. A small Southern Cross of Honor topped each post. Over time, Vicksburg 77 and J. C. Pemberton Camp 1354 Sons of Confederate Veterans set VA (Veterans Administration) stones for the soldiers known to be buried there. Because no individual graves had been identified, the stones were set in alphabetical order.
Recently, J. C. Pemberton Camp SCV members, who assist Vicksburg 77 in the care of Soldiers’ Rest, found under overgrown kudzu a small grouping of old grave markers that appeared to be set in place soon after the war by families or by men the deceased served with. The majority of the men buried in this grouping are Louisiana soldiers. An old photo in Vicksburg’s Old Court House Museum shows this grouping of markers was in place before 1920. All these soldiers were killed during the siege. In fact, there were more Louisiana soldiers killed in the defense of Vicksburg than any other state, probably because they were in such an exposed position where there was more fighting. In addition, there were more Louisiana soldiers in Pemberton’s army than any other state.
One marker among them is especially notable – it is written in French. Alex D. Broussard, Co. A, 26th Reg., Vol. de La Louisiana, Décédé La 21 Nov 1862. On 24 Sep he had been promoted from Private to Corporal. He was from Lafayette Parish, LA, and had just enlisted 10 Mar 1862.
On the western edge of Soldiers’ Rest is a lovely, old magnolia, and in its shade are the graves of a number of CSA veterans who chose to rest near their old comrades. Several of these men were from the Confederate Veterans Hospital Annex, built about 1901 by the UDC for the old soldiers, “whose disabilities prevented them from supporting themselves.” Throughout City Cemetery itself are the graves of CSA veterans who were interred in family plots and rest under civilian or VA monuments.
Many soldiers do not yet have grave markers and efforts toward that end are ongoing. However, one grave marker near Soldiers’ Rest is of special interest because it marks the final resting place of Douglas the Camel. Douglas was the equipment bearer for the 43rd Miss. Inf. until a Yankee sharpshooter cruelly took him in his sight. Colonel Bevier of the First Missouri Brigade was on the defensive lines at Vicksburg and near Douglas. He saw him fall and heard the dismay of the men. “Murderer!” they called. The Colonel ordered six Southern sharpshooters to take aim and take the heartless Yankee shooter down. They did so in short order. Douglas had served well and faithfully. His record included the Iuka, Corinth, Central Mississippi Railroad, and Vicksburg campaigns. The 43rd was fond of Douglas and was quite proud to be called “the camel regiment.” They mourned the passing of their friend and helper.
In January 1892, Mrs. William H. Stevens succeeded as President of the Vicksburg Confederate Cemetery Association, and steps were taken to arrange for a monument to the soldiers. The following year, the monument was completed and in place, structured regally of white granite. Four gray granite cannon barrels supporting the top platform on which stood at ease a Confederate soldier facing south. On the base was carved “Confederate Dead,” and inscribed on the granite below the soldier were the words:
rests some few of those
The monument was dedicated in 1893 and the much admired General Stephen Dill Lee was the main speaker.
”Defeat and poverty cannot check homage to the memory of these fallen men,” he said. “It is a duty to preserve the record and honor of such sacrifice, such privations, such patriotism, such endurance of hardship.
“This is why we raise monuments to our honored dead.
“While we live, nothing is needed to keep alive the memories of our comrades who fell on the field of battle, but we wish to make our lost cause consecrated forever to the hearts of our descendants.”
A number of veteran reunions have been held at the Confederate Cemetery Soldiers’ Rest. In November 1909, M. D. Ellington of Durant was among six hundred attending an annual reunion in Vicksburg of the Mississippi Confederate veterans. He had been part of the Vicksburg siege and he told fellow veterans how he was determined that upon surrender on 4 Jul, the Yankees would not take his sword from him. To be certain of this, he buried his sword on the battlefield. Now, forty-six years later and his memory of the event quite vivid, he and friends walked the battlefield to the spot and exhumed the rusty sword, a precious relic.
Vicksburg 77 hosted its first state convention in 1900 and invited participants to see the Vicksburg Hospital Confederate Annex. With the help of various Mississippi UDC chapters and the State Legislature, Vicksburg 77 was able to complete this hospital annex for the care and comfort of the veterans. Many of the veterans who died at the Annex were interred on the edge of Soldiers' Rest with their fellow soldiers.
On 25 Apr 2013, Vicksburg 77 and J. C. Pemberton Camp 1354 hosted a re-dedication of the Monument to the Confederate Dead. The keynote speaker was Betram Hayes Davis, great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis through his daughter Margaret (sister of Winnie, “Daughter of the South”). A religious man, as was President Davis, Mr. Hayes Davis spoke of the sacred duty handed down to us to honor the sacrifice of life, family, and fortune made by our brave soldiers and our responsibility to pass this privilege to the coming generations.
One hundred and twenty years earlier, Gen. Stephen D. Lee had said the same thing in his own way as he dedicated the new Confederate monument. His words rang over the graves of the Southern fallen.
“We wish to hand down to our posterity a feeling of reverence for their heroic forefathers, who risked their lives and lost fortunes for their country.”
A “feeling of reverence,” indeed, is in the air on the breezy hilltop of Soldiers’ Rest, no cannon or rifle fire or smoke, only quiet.
Warm Southern sun
Green sod above
For Houghs’ gift of land, the early UDC Presidents, and the helpful Union Colonel, see Confederate Veteran, Vol. III, Apr 1895, pgs. 100-101, Nashville, Tenn.
For Vicksburg Chapter and Annex, see Confederate Veteran, Vol. IX, pg. 304.
For Alex D. Broussard see http://www.fold3.com/image/271/83880011/ and Howell, Grady, To Live and Die in Dixie: A History of the Third Mississippi Infantry, CSA, pg. 146.
For Douglas the Camel see Johnson, Forrest Bryant, The Last Came Charge, Berkley Publishing Group, New York, 2012, pgs. 6-7.
For Gen. John S. Bowen’s burial in Bethesda Presbyterian Church Cemetery, see http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/where-is-general-john-s-bowen-buried.110804/
For burial of Gen. Bowen, see Jackson, MS, Clarion Ledger, Vol. 51, Issue 19, pg. 2 (Wed., June 22, 1887); Confederate Veteran, Vol. XVI, April 1908, pg. 159; Daily Commercial, Vicksburg, Miss., pg. 1 (Friday, Feb 10, 1862).
For buried sword anecdote, see Confederate Veteran, Vol. XVII, Feb 1910, pg. 25.
For service record on Brig. Gen. Isham W. Garrott, see http://www.fold3.com/image/271/67289041/
NOTE: This was first published in the UDC Magazine, August 2015, pgs. 14-16.