Hodges: Silent Sentinels: The Confederate cemeteries of Chattanooga

Hodges: Silent Sentinels: The Confederate cemeteries of Chattanooga

May 26th, 2013 by Anthony Hodges, D.D.S. in Opinion Columns


Call Chattanooga Area Historical Association editor L.C. Jolley at 423-886-2090 or visit www.chattahistoricalassoc.org.

Kate Cumming had vivid memories of James Barstow as she stared at the wooden grave marker. He was an Englishman, from Yorkshire, and had joined an Arkansas infantry unit, and when he died from typhoid fever, Kate had the wooden marker made for his grave.

She thought of the others as she looked around the makeshift cemetery with numbered wooden markers on the banks of the Tennessee River.

They were all so young, and in the 11 months she had been a hospital matron in Chattanooga's Newsom Hospital, she had seen many of them die horrible deaths. Her July 1863 visit to their resting place was one of her final acts before Chattanooga's Confederate hospitals abandoned the city due to the advance of the Union armies.

Three years later, several of Chattanooga's ex-Confederate soldiers were appalled when they observed the same riverside cemetery that Cumming had visited. The inundations of the Tennessee River and the elements had made the markers difficult to read and they were located in a "low unsightly spot."

They felt more suitable ground should be found to hold their former comrades' remains, and they began to raise funds to purchase land. Within a short time, they were able to raise $750 to purchase land, from the Gardenhire estate, which lay east of and adjacent to the Citizen's Cemetery between today's Third and Fifth Streets.

The bodies were removed from the riverside location to their new resting place shortly thereafter, and a white picket fence was erected. The names on the wooden headboards that were legible were carefully preserved by the ex-Confederates. When completed, 749 known and 156 unknown had been re-interred. Among the unknowns were a female nurse and a black man. A careful review of the death dates indicated that in early 1863 the city's hospitals averaged six deaths a day.

Chattanooga's Confederate Cemetery became the focal point for many of the activities of the city's ex-Confederates who in 1885 banded together to form N.B. Forrest Camp No. 3, United Confederate Veterans.

In 1869, a Ladies Memorial Association was organized, and over the years, they landscaped the cemetery with elaborate gardens, added in 1877 a stone obelisk monument inscribed "Our Confederate Dead", and in 1902 a stone memorial arch with a Confederate flag gate.

In the last years of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, members of the Forrest Camp Confederate veterans, and sometimes their wives, were buried in the southern half of the cemetery.

From time to time, the hasty wartime graves of Confederates were found as the city expanded and they were re-interred here as well.

In 1913, the names of the men who had died in the wartime hospitals, names which had been so carefully preserved from the wartime wooden markers, were cast in iron for posterity. Large iron tablets with the names listed by state affiliation were erected to mark the burial area of the hospital fatalities. After the passage of years, only the general area of burial was known with no individual grave identification possible.

Nurse Kate Cumming would recognize many of the names on the plaques including James Barstow, the Englishman turned Confederate on the Arkansas tablet.

With the passage of the last Confederate veterans, the City took over the cemetery in the mid-1940s. In 1990, assisted by descendants of Confederate soldiers, the cemetery was cleaned and refurbished with the memorial gate re-dedicated in 1995.

In 1900, Chattanooga's Confederate veterans learned they had another cemetery to care for. Mr. William Standifer notified them that a cemetery containing Confederate graves was located on his property.

The ex-Confederates found that this cemetery was associated with the 1862 Withers Hospital at Tyner's Station, but they were unable to find any names for the 155 men they determined to be buried there. They purchased the land and put up a barbed wire fence to keep cattle out.

In 1934, the Tennessee Highway Commissioner put up a large concrete arch entrance and stone wall with local foundries donating the signage. Since 1979, the Silverdale Confederate Cemetery has been cared for by the Chattanooga Area Relic and Historical Association, and they have been recognized by the City and State for their efforts. Extensive research by this group has resulted in the discovery of names of some of the men interred there, mainly Alabamians and Mississippians. More information is available at www.carha.org.

Dr. Anthony Hodges is a Red Bank dentist and Civil War expert.