State pays to help maintain area Confederate cemteries

Published: Friday, June 26, 2009

PETERSBURG — Climbing Memorial Hill in Petersburg’s historic Blandford Cemetery, one comes across simple markers that designate states of the old Confederacy: Georgia, South Carolina and others.

Atop the hill, a large memorial erected by the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg in 1890 stands in lieu of individual tombstones since Memorial Hill is a mass grave for about 30,000 Confederate soldiers. The memorial — with a soldier facing north perched atop it — has the seal of Virginia and an inscription to “Plant the fair column o’er the vacant grave. A hero’s honors, let a hero have.”

For more than five decades, the state has helped care for the mass grave of these Confederate soldiers. “The money we get from the state we use toward the beautification of Memorial Hill,” said Martha Atkinson, president of the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg.

Now, a new state law adds two cemeteries on July 1 — Skinquarter Baptist Church in Chesterfield County and McKenzie Cemetery in Grayson County — to the list of Confederate graveyards whose maintenance is supported by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

The list now includes 210 cemeteries with 11,774 graves of Confederate soldiers. Locally, five cemeteries with 237 graves of Confederate soldiers are maintained with the help of the state. However, the state list says it helps the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg maintain 140 graves, although the group uses the state money to maintain a mass grave of 30,000 soldiers.

The cemeteries are:

City of Petersburg; Petersburg Chapter, U.D.C., for Prince George County; 15 graves.

City of Petersburg; Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg; 140 graves.

Prince George County: City Point Chapter, U.D.C., for use at Old Town Cemetery; 20 graves.

Dinwiddie County: Dinwiddie Confederate Memorial Association; 15 graves.

Chesterfield County: Ettrick Cemetery, 47 graves.

Blandford Cemetery, with one of the largest number of Confederate dead in the region, has been receiving state assistance for maintaining Confederate graves for about 50 years, according to Alice Everitt, treasurer of the Ladies Memorial Association of Petersburg.

For years, the state contributed $2,500 a year for the upkeep of the Blandford Cemetery graves and last August the amount was increased to $7,500 a year after Del. Rosalyn R. Dance, D-63rd, interceded on behalf of the group.

The group sought an increase in state aid due to the number of Confederate graves it cares for. “We have 14 acres of Confederate graves,” Everitt said.

The latest cemetery to receive state assistance, Skinquarter Baptist Church Cemetery in Chesterfield County, has 12 Confederate graves.

Since the 1930s, the Virginia General Assembly has been appropriating funds to help care for the cemeteries, Andrus said. The legislature annually provides $5 per grave.

The Department of Historic Resources transfers the money to the Virginia division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The UDC, in turn, distributes the funds to organizations that care for particular cemeteries.

“The Department of Historic Resources has long been the vehicle for getting the funds to the individual organizations providing grave care,” said Ann Andrus, the agency’s state grants coordinator.

The National Cemetery Administration was established in 1862 and helped commanders bury their soldiers in cemetery plots within military posts. Sometimes the commanders were unable to bury their soldiers in plots and had to bury them at the site of their death.

Though many soldiers’ grave sites are maintained by the government, some are not. That’s a problem — and so is development that threatens some cemeteries, according to the Chesterfield Historical Society.

“Not only are cemeteries not being maintained, but they are being relocated to make way for new homes and malls,” said Peter Lipowicz of the Historical Society.

He is thankful that Virginia now will help maintain the Skinquarter and McKenzie cemeteries.

“It’s a small step in the right direction,” Lipowicz said.

Copyright © 2009 The Progress-Index.

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