Confederate Cemetery Speaks to Compassion of Oxford, Tragedy of War
Posted on August 6, 2014
Commentary by Steve Vassallo.
What inspired me to come to Ole Miss more than any other reason — history! If you have not yet read the book “The Education of A Lifetime,” you need to do so. Everyone who loves Ole Miss must read this book! I could not put it down until I finished. The book is extremely well written, but the historical aspects of it are simply fascinating. I did not know that the same individual who designed Central Park in New York also laid out our beautiful campus. History is what makes Ole Miss unique. Our location and campus setting reflect the natural beauty of this region of the United States.
One of the more interesting features of the Ole Miss campus is the Confederate Cemetery located behind Tad Smith Coliseum. What inspired me to research this story was a similar initiative that occurred in Nashville in the early 60’s. A writer for the Nashville Tennessean decided to do a story on the City Cemetery near Lafayette Street. Once published, hundreds if not thousands of people flocked to the cemetery. Many may not previously have even known of its existence. It’s amazing to me that we have graduates here who do not know of the existence either of the subject of this story.
Shiloh was one of the deadliest battles in U.S. history. On April 6, 1862, more men would die there than in the previous history of our nation! Many of the wounded could not be cared for in Corinth, Miss., so the overflow came to Oxford and Ole Miss in an attempt to save their lives.
The Ole Miss campus was basically converted into a hospital during the war as classes were suspended. In researching this story I was unaware that the Confederate Monument in the Circle was the exact location where the University Greys stacked their books before leaving for the war. Alexander J. Quinche who became a professor of Latin and modern languages in 1860, was the principal custodian of university property during the Civil War. His friendship with Grant was attributed (as the primary reason) Ole Miss was not destroyed as was Oxford.
Nearly 2,000 patients were treated on the Ole Miss campus during this period (1862-64). Of this number, an estimated 700 died. Hospital records were lost when Federal forces captured Oxford in 1863. Many of those who perished here were interred in the campus cemetery. It is believed that at least 11 of those interred were Federal soldiers. If this is correct (and I believe it to be), it shows compassion beyond description of those who were serving Ole Miss at that time! Shortly after the war, the Union soldiers were reportedly removed and re-interred in the Corinth National Cemetery.
One myth that I dispelled in researching this story is this: The cemetery was never a mass grave as many believe. There were individual graves oriented in an east-west direction. There were 432 anomalies discovered and verified by remote sensing research. Many of the names of those buried in the cemetery appear on the large stone monument located at the center of the cemetery. The majority of those buried remain unknown.
The Albert Sidney Johnston Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy is responsible for the monument and brick wall. In 1936, the original iron fence was in a state of disrepair and replaced by bricks from the previously-burned Gordon Hall on campus. At one time, there were individual grave markers in the cemetery that were destroyed some time around 1900. The featured photo that accompanies this story highlights the entrance that few have ever seen, including this writer. Many thanks are extended to the Cofield Collection, Archives and Special Collections, University of Mississippi Libraries for allowing us the use of this extremely rare photo.
Regardless of what our thoughts and views are regarding the Civil War, it remains forever a part of our nation’s history. If we can take the lessons learned from history and apply these to our current lives, we will be leaving a greater place to future generations. The history associated with this campus is what makes it even more special. If time allows me in 2015, I intend to do a story on every building on campus starting with The Lyceum. Thanks to Robert Khayat and others, we can be proud of the fact that the beauty of our campus is second to none! Let’s keep it that way.
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