Confederate cemetery fix sought before anniversaries
Feb 12, 2013
VICKSBURG — The effort to maintain and restore the resting place of thousands of Confederate dead is suffering from the same problems the Confederacy met — a shortage of manpower and sparse funding.
With a year full of sesquicentennial activities to commemorate the Siege of Vicksburg, repairs are in the works for Soldiers’ Rest at Cedar Hill Cemetery, where an estimated 5,000 Confederate soldiers are buried.
Some gravestones are broken and others are have inched slightly out of their rigorous military formation but, otherwise, the cemetery is in good shape, said Wayne McMaster.
At 75, McMaster is a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy volunteers and a caretaker for the Confederate burial plots.
The problems are minor and easily fixed with volunteer labor and enough money to buy materials, he said. But the sheer weight of the stones— 240 pounds each — is enough to slow repair work because the markers become unwieldy for one person, McMaster said.
“If I had a million dollars, I could spend it all out here,” said McMaster.
Betty Davis, 76, of Vicksburg, said she visited the cemetery about three weeks ago and was shocked that it is not kept as pristine as Vicksburg National Cemetery.
“When I go to where our Confederates are buried, it breaks my heart,” Davis said. “You don’t want anyone seeing it in the condition it’s in.”
When Congress established national cemeteries in 1862, only Union war dead were allowed to be buried there. Confederates often were buried where they fell and later reinterred in Confederate cemeteries, which are not publicly funded.
“Until recently, I thought that Confederates were taken care of with our tax dollars,” she said.
Most of the markers have been discolored by weather and a greenish lichen growing on the stone.
“All the experts say don’t wash the tombstones except with Dawn soap and a sponge,” McMaster said. “There’s a lot of stones, and I don’t think I could get enough volunteers. Besides, I think they look good and old.”
Theft also has plagued Soldiers’ Rest. Confederate flags placed on graves often are stolen, and most of the cemetery’s original iron crosses of honor have been stolen, McMaster said.
“I really hope that people are just taking them for souvenirs and don’t have any bad intent,” McMaster said.
Confederate veterans are scattered throughout the cemetery, but the majority of them are buried in Soldiers’ Rest, which once was a potter’s field, McMaster said. The grave markers in Soldiers’ Rest are arranged alphabetically and grouped by state. Markers for Confederates in other parts of the cemetery range from military-issued to ornate.
The military-issued markers mostly seen in Soldiers’ Rest were installed in the 1980s, but a handful of markers date to the siege.
“Everyone we’ve got in Soldiers’ Rest was killed in the Siege of Vicksburg or died in the hospitals here,” McMaster said.
Some Confederate veterans chose to be buried in the cemetery well after the war, including one who died in 1917 at a veterans’ home, McMaster said.
Several plots are still available for families who wish to move their relatives to lay in rest with their comrades.
Some of the most popular Confederate markers in the cemetery include Douglas the Camel, the mascot of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry, three Confederate generals and Daniel Mountjoy Cloud Sr., who was assigned to kidnap President Abraham Lincoln.
Soldiers’ Rest is expected to play a major role in sesquicentennial activities for Sons of Confederate Veterans in April when the central monument honoring the Confederate dead will be rededicated and in July when Vicksburg hosts the national conference for Sons of Confederate Veterans, said William Mathews, who is helping organize the conference.
The convention, which begins July 18, is expected to draw more than 1,000 people to Vicksburg, he said.
“We’ve talked about a memorial service out there that Sunday,” Mathews said.
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