The Fredericksburg City Cemetery was established on February 10, 1844, when the Legislature of Virginia issued a charter to the Fredericksburg Cemetery Company. The cemetery faced present-day William Street, its east side adjacent to Washington Avenue. It can be entered at the gate located at the junction of Washington Avenue and Amelia Street. The original iron and sandstone entrance gate, although no longer used, still stands facing William Street.
The damage inflicted by the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, and the impoverished condition of the town’s citizens following the war, made proper maintenance of the two-acre city cemetery difficult to accomplish. Many efforts of varying success were initiated to improve its grounds, culminating in the formation of the City Cemetery Company Auxiliary in October 1925.
In 1866 the Ladies Memorial Association (LMA), Fredericksburg Chapter, purchased two acres of land adjacent to the city cemetery for the interment of fallen Confederate soldiers. The war had taken the lives of a frightful number of soldiers on both sides. Twice the number of casualties died from disease as opposed to death on the battle field.
The purpose of this post is to present information on the founding of the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery to include its purpose and design. I will conclude with the story of one soldier, Captain James Keith Boswell.
Shortly after the conclusion of the Civil War, almost before all of the Southern armies surrendered to Federal forces, many communities, especially in Virginia, began to deal with the vast numbers of dead that dotted fields and forests. While individual efforts of citizens were commendable, it was recognized that the task of identifying, collecting and reinterring would take time and money.
Early in the war, deaths received elaborate funerals. This effort declined as casualties increased, with death from distant battles and ever present death by disease occurring at distances too far from family members to collect their love ones. Most soldiers were buried in fields where they died rather than in family plots of prewar times. Enemy dead were often in mass graves with no individual designation.
After four years of war, graves of soldiers north and south were scattered across the landscape, especially in Virginia. As life slowly returned to normal, people came across hastily buried or uncovered bones and moved decomposing bodies as they resumed farming or worked in their backyards.
For the North, the Federal government took the actions of finding and reinterring the dead. During the summer and autumn of 1865, Union burial crews had begun the process of recovering the remains of their own soldiers in shallow or mass graves on the southern battlefields. This massive reinterment project would send crews across the South to scout for grave sites and organize cemeteries for Union soldiers similar to those that had been created during the war such as at Gettysburg and Arlington. By 1870, 300,000 Union soldiers had been reinterred in 73 national cemeteries, at least 17 of which were in Virginia. The US Congress refused to do the same for the Confederate soldiers they viewed as being in rebellion.
For the impoverished South this finding and reinterring the dead was not easily accomplished. New groups and associations were formed by drawing upon the wartime energies of the population that had supplemented the Confederate government’s efforts to maintain their armies in the field. Notably many of these groups were led by women. In the time of Reconstruction, when activities of men might be considered treasonous, women were considered apolitical and therefore able to take up this needed and almost overwhelming task.
Ladies Soldier Aid Societies and local hospital efforts morphed into equally devoted Ladies Memorial Associations that honored the soldiers who had not received proper funerals or burials during the war years. LMAs became a means to express southern solidarity among ex-Confederates. They were at the forefront of post-war battles over confederate memory. In the wake of defeat, LMAs fostered southern identity. Southern cemeteries became physical reminders of the cause, even though it was a lost one. The annual memorial activities kept the identity alive for current and future generations.
LMAs throughout Virginia, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Petersburg, Lynchburg and Winchester to name a few, sent out pleas to the rest of the South in letters and newspapers for funds and information on the location of the fallen. By the autumn of 1868, more than twenty associations had organized in Virginia.
The Fredericksburg LMA sent out their plea, a portion of which follows: “To all true hearted women and men, who would rescue from oblivion the memory of the brave, who died in defence [sic] of home and country, we present this appeal: The stern pressure of military necessity made it impossible, properly, to care for the remains of the gallant dead who fell on the bloody fields of Fredericksburg, Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Courthouse and in scores of skirmishes which, in a war less terrible, would have been reckoned as battles.
“Our Association proposes to preserve a record, and, as far as possible, mark the spot where every Confederate soldier is buried in this vicinity, whither he fell on these memorable fields or otherwise died in the service. To the bereaved throughout our suffering South we pledge ourselves to spare no exertion to accomplish this work.
“In a land stripped of enclosures and forests, desolated and impoverished as ours, we cannot, without aid, guard these graves from exposure and possible desecration; we can only cover them with our native soil. And, with pious care, garland them with the wild flowers from the fields. But, with the generous aid and cordial cooperation of those who have suffered less, but who feel as deeply as we do on this subject, we confidently hope to accomplish far more — to purchase and adorn a cemetery, to remove thither the sacred dust scattered all over this region, and to erect some enduring tribute to the memory of our gallant dead….”
The fund raising results enabled the Fredericksburg LMA to purchase two acres of land adjacent to the City Cemetery.
Within the City Cemetery, there were already over 200 of the Confederate dead buried along the western edge during the war years. Many of these had died of disease rather than from battle wounds. At the time of purchase, the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery was positioned to the north of the City Cemetery along an open slope that provided a panoramic view of the Battle of Fredericksburg to its south and west.
In 1985, a plaque was attached to the wall of the combined cemeteries honoring the work of the Ladies Memorial Association.
On the newly purchased site, the land was laid out in the form a ‘Cross of Honor’ measuring approximately one acre in size. To this memorial area were reinterred more than 3,300 additional Confederate dead. Approximately 2,200 were unknown. Initially, each grave was marked with a wooden post of cedar upon which was recorded the available information regarding name, military unit and state, when available.
The remainder of the two-acre site was sold to individuals and families associated with the civil war. The moneys raised from the sale were used to maintain the Memorial Area, along with the remaining land.
In the 1880’s, the wooden grave posts were weathered, some severely, with portions of information rendered difficult or impossible to read. At this point, the Fredericksburg LMA conducted an inventory of all Confederate grave posts in both cemeteries and recorded this information in the Register in the rear of its minute book. Georgia Marble headstones were ordered, engraved and installed.
Fundraising continued for a monument to be located at the center of the Cross of Honor. This monument was constructed from local stone. The stone used is gray granite and was taken from the nearby farm of Mrs. Mary Downman, of Spotsylvania county. The monument contains inscriptions of Confederate states on shields:
On the east side — South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina.
On the north side — Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas.
On the west side — Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas.
On the south side — Georgia, Florida, Alabama.
The monument stands to a height of twenty feet; it is made up of a five foot mound of dirt and is five feet and six inches high base and a ten foot high zinc statue. On the west side, cut in the granite, are muskets; on the south side, a castle with battlements; on the north side, sabers; on the east side, cannon and the inscription “To the Confederate Dead.” On each corner of the monument is a column of red granite, a gray granite plinth and base. The cornerstone was laid on the 4th of June, 1874, and was completed and unveiled on Memorial Day, June 9, 1884.
The statue of a Confederate soldier, at dress parade, which crowns the apex, is of zinc, and was manufactured by the Monumental Bridge Company, of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
According to Caroline Janney in her book on the LMAs, roughly 28 percent of the 260,000 Confederate dead are buried in LMA cemeteries in five Virginia communities. These include:
Hebrew (Richmond) 30
Hollywood (Richmond) >18,000
Oakwood (Richmond) >16.000
Blandsford (Petersburg) >30,000
Stonewall (Winchester) 2,489
I conclude this post by highlighting an individual Confederate soldier, Captain James Keith Boswell. Captain Boswell’s grave is one of those within the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery improved as part of the marker replacement program started several years ago by the LMA. This effort has been supported by local Civil War Round Table, the Society of the Order of the Southern Cross, grants and individual donations. This upkeep effort researches the oldest civil war soldier’s stones which was either broken beyond repair and or illegible. Then they ordered replacement flush markers to identify the soldiers. It has been a great help to the Fredericksburg LMA.
James Boswell died by friendly fire on the night of 2 May 1863. At the time of his death he was accompanying Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson in a reconnaissance between the Union and Confederate battle lines during the Chancellorsville Campaign.
In my next post I will provide a representative sample of some of the other Confederate dead located at the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery.
In this post, I am indebted to work of Caroline Janney in her work on Ladies Memorial Associations. I suggest a reading of her book for those who wish to follow this subject in more depth.
Janney, Caroline E., Burying the Dead but not the Past, Ladies’ Memorial Association and the Lost Cause, Chapel Hill, NC, The University of North Carolina Press, 2008, p 44 and Appendix.
Quinn, S.J. The History of the City of Fredericksburg Virginia, Richmond, VA, Heritage Press, 1908, p 185-190.
Hodge, Robert A., These We Know, Brief Biological Sketches of 644 of the More Than 3,500 Confederate Soldiers Buried in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Ladies Memorial Association of Fredericksburg, 1993. Available at Central Rappahannock Regional Library and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, p 2.
Krick, Robert K., Roster of the Confederate Dead in the Fredericksburg Confederate Cemetery, Fredericksburg, 1974. Available at Central Rappahannock Regional Library and Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, p 2.