Remembering the Cost
By Sarah Steele Wilson
Aug 1, 2012, 16:38
photo by Sarah Steele Wilson A Tiffany window commemorating the work of the Ladies Memorial Association.
Surrounded by Tiffany windows commemorating the Southern states’ contributions of the Confederate cause, Martha Atkinson called attention to two plaques adorning the walls of Blandford Church, where she is site manager.
She said that while the names on those plaques might not mean anything in particular to the people gathered in the church on Monday night, they were the names of once living men who meant something to someone.
“They were flesh and blood,” she said. “They had hopes and dreams and plans for the future. They didn’t make it home because of what happened the morning of July 30.”
They were the Confederate men who died in the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864. Monday night’s tour of Blandford Cemetery was devoted to their memory.
Had the Battle of the Crater and its inventive plan to tunnel under Confederate lines to detonate an explosive charge been a success for the Union, Cemetery Hill, where Blandford is located, was to be the point where the Union soldiers were to re-form before continuing into the streets of Petersburg.
Blandford Cemetery is now the resting place for approximately 30,000 Confederate soldiers who were re-interred by the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg.
While the Union dead from the Civil War rest in National Cemeteries, the Confederate men killed while in secession from the United States were not eligible for burial in them.
“That’s why it was so important for the ladies here in Petersburg to begin their organization and raise funds to have these Confederate soldiers properly buried,” Atkinson explained.
The mass grave containing 30,000 confederates is located on Memorial Hill in the cemetery. Atkinson said the granite arch marking the entrance to that part of the cemetery was installed in 1914, replacing earlier wooden and metal archways.
Of the 30,000 men the ladies brought to the cemetery between 1868 and 1900, the names of many are unknown, Atkinson said.
She said the men whose names are known have incredible stories.
Albert Curtis Hartsfield had been wounded and was recovering from measles in Richmond when he received leave to walk home to North Carolina. He made it to Petersburg where he collapsed in the streets and died.
“He was just one soldier of 30,000 who has a story,” she said. “He was hoping to get home, but he didn’t make it. And just imagine, mothers, sitting on the porch every evening, every morning, thinking they were going to see their son walk home.”
Dennis Nugent, who was on the tour, said that his great grandfather had been held at the Northern prison at Point of Lookout in Maryland, and had walked home to Dinwiddie County after the war.
“My great grandfathers, all four of them, fought for the South,” he said, noting they were buried at Blandford.
Atkinson said the cemetery at Blandford is the resting spot for veterans from every war, from the Revolution to Afghanistan.
“It’s important for me to appreciate and to know that these men who have served are in a proper resting place,” Atkinson said, leading the tour up the hill towards the memorial to the Confederate soldiers that the Ladies Memorial Association installed on June 9, 1890. Its dedication attracted 10,000 people.
The memorial is topped by a Southern soldier. Atkinson said it was important for the women of Petersburg to commemorate the service of their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers.
“I love this cemetery,” said Barbara Hardin, whose grandmother was a member of the Ladies Memorial Association, explaining why she came out on Monday night. “They give a wonderful program. I learn something new every time I come.”
Prince George resident Anne Roberts was enjoying her first visit to the cemetery and said she had learned a lot during the tour.
“It’s a beautiful place and more folks from this area need to come back to here to come and visit this,” she said. “It’s very interesting.”
Atkinson said the cemetery contained many interesting stories and enough features to justify tours focusing on subjects ranging from funerary art to sentimental inscriptions on grave stones.
“There’s so much we could talk about, we could be out here for three hours,” she said.