Friday, February 26, 2016

...a national cemetery with 1,216 unknown...

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead. 
~Theodore O'Hara “Bivouac of the Dead”

I’ve passed this cemetery my entire life and I have never once gotten out of the car to walk around. My best friend even lived *feet* from it. I guess in my younger years a national cemetery with its uniform markers was not so interesting. But today between a doctor’s appointment and a dental appointment, I went out of my way to visit Seven Pines National Cemetery.

Of course the style of the uniformed grave markers started during the Civil War when wooden markers were used. But as one might presume, wooden markers do not last. When I was researching the shapes, I actually came across this picture of wooden markers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. I’m going to cite the heck out of this picture because I usually don’t borrow other people’s pictures and I’m not that proficient in copyright laws although I know that works are protected for 75 years and this is a photograph from around the time of the Civil War. Still, it isn’t my picture so here you go.

[as cited on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration website] Detail of a photograph of Alexandria National Cemetery, Virginia, 1862-69,showing graves marked by wooden headboards. Photographer, probably Andrew Russell. Library of Congress.

Located about 8 miles of Richmond, Virginia in an area in Henrico County called Sandston, the cemetery is located at the intersection of Nine Mile Road and Williamsburg Road. 

The Battle of Seven Pines from May 31 to June 1, 1862 was part of the Peninsula Campaign of the Civil War and took place here so the land is both a battlefield and a cemetery.  Due to confusion, nine of the 23 Confederate brigades did not participate in the battle.  Regardless, each side suffered heavy casualties-- approximately 6,000 of the Southern troops and 5,000 of the Northern troops.  For war historians, this battle is significant because afterwards Confederate President Jefferson Davis put General Robert E. Lee in charge of the Confederate forces.
Husband's inscription
Wife's inscription on the back
 Today you can see slight variations in the emblems at the top of the markers. For examples of the available emblems for government headstones and markers, click here.

After the war, the cemetery was established in 1866 as a permanent national cemetery for the interment of the Union dead. The cemetery name is derived from the seven pine trees planted along the inside of the cemetery wall in 1869. Today, this is the final resting place for approximately 1,800 dead and a little over 1,300 from the Civil War soldiers.

The superintendent’s lodge from 1874 still remains on the property.

The thing that struck me during my visit was how many unknown soldiers are interred in this cemetery.

Robert Poole’s On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery does a nice job discussing the story behind dog tags including a mention of Captain Charles G. Pierce, a retired Army chaplain, who originated the idea of such tags. As Poole notes, “In the age before dog tags,  two out of five Civil War fatalities were fated to be unknown soldiers” (46).

Since several years had passed since the first casualties of the war where soldiers were hastily buried, many of the remains could not be identified. Because of this, there are 1,216 unknown and only 141 known interments. That's a bit higher odds that Poole's research.

Seven Pines National Cemetery was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. It's a tiny cemetery in comparison to the other cemeteries I tend to walk but the uniformity and structure of the place give it a large impact. I'm standing where a battle was fought regardless of the politics or support of either side; I'm standing where men died, were removed from the earth only to be re-interred into the very location that they had already been laid to rest. This little cemetery is a powerful place rich with history.


  1. What a really cool post! Thank you! This was interesting :) P.S. hope the dental appointment went well

    1. Thanks. In three weeks I'll get a crown... But not the kind with rubies though :p At least there is a temporary fix until then... But I have a bit of a fang.

  2. National cemeteries from this time are fascinating, and a bit of an intentional insult to the Confederacy. Arlington Cemetery is on General Lee's family land. Fredericksburg's National Cemetery is at the top of Willis's Hill, site of a Confederate battle victory, high ground which the Confederates held and where so many Union soldiers lost their lives. I wonder if there's a connection like this for Seven Pines?

    The Superintendent's Lodge at Seven Pines is identical in design to the one at Fredericksburg. This sent me off into an Internet rabbit hole, to find the connection between the two buildings. Found an article that confirmed that lodges built in the 1870s were the same design, Second Empire cottages.

    Also ran across a fascinating article about the corruption in the awarding and execution of the government contracts for manufacture and placement of the grave stones.

    One more ... a free Google ebook: The History of the City of Fredericksburg, 1908. (sorry for the horribly long link) I'm going to see if it will download to my ipad.

    1. I loved Poole's book because it started with Arlington being Lee's family home and then went step by step into what it has become today. It's a fascinating book that oddly parallels some of our regionalism today.

      I'll have to check out that Fredericksburg book. Thanks for doing some research for me ;)

  3. FYI: You've cited correctly. Whenever you need help with citing images drop me an email. :) I'm what you call an expert. In other words, I'm up-to-date with all the fair use/copyright laws because I'm an art historian. They are continuously changing, but we get emails periodically telling us this.

    1. Ha, I almost wrote "Franny, is this right?" I can handle in-text citations when it comes to passages but pictures are still not something I work with very often and I didn't feel like going to the MLA handbook (thank goodness my students do not read this blog!!! :-O)