Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Civil War/Confederate Cemetery

The Civil War marker in Lewisburg, WV - Greenbrier CountyGreenbrier County, WV

Marker Text: (The Civil War) The Greenbrier area was predominately Southern in its sympathies, and furnished some 3000 men for the army of the Confederacy. It was occupied repeatedly by one or the other of the opposing armies throughout the War.

Confederate Cemetery marker in Lewisburg, WV - Greenbrier County(Reverse side – Confederate Cemetery) On the hill, 400 yards west, in a common grave shaped like a cross, lie unclaimed bodies of ninety-five Confederate soldiers, casualties of the area, including those of the Battle of Droop Mountain and the Battle of Lewisburg.

Location: On U.S. Route 60 (westbound) off of W. Washington St. on Courtney Drive in New River Library Park, Lewisburg, WV, grouped with another marker called “Lewisburg.”  Erected by the West Virginia Historic Commission in 1963.

"The town was filled to overflowing with sick and dying men. Every public building in the place was converted to their service. The pews were taken up in the lecture room of the (Old Stone) church, and its aisles filled with double rows of cots. The Academy, the Masonic Hall, the hotels, offices, and private dwellings were filled to overflowing." - Rose W. Fry

The Civil War/ Confederate Cemtery marker in Library Park, Lewisburg, WV  Confederate General Robert E. Lee, with Wise and Floyd, had been in the Kanawha Valley during 1861. Now in 1862, Federal troops forces held this region in what is now West Virginia, which as rich in salt, a prized commodity during the Civil War. In 1862 the South was anxious to regain the valley, and the North wanted to carry the war across the mountains into central Virginia. Lewisburg, WV was in the middle of these military goals.

Path to entrance to the Confederate Cemetery, Lewisburg, WV

Path to entry to cemetery from the parking lot. Two markers are in front of the fence.  Click any photo to enlarge.

  Early in June, 1861, Confederate General Henry A. Wise passed down the Kanawha Valley and General Floyd was also sent into this region. In September, 1861, Gen. Robert E. Lee with 10,000 men marched down from the northwest through Lewisburg and on to Sewell Mountain to encounter Gen. Rosecrans' force under Gen. Cox, who had command in the Valley. When winter set in, the Union troops withdrew and Gen. Lee's troops also departed. Many of Lee's wounded were nursed in Lewisburg.

  Though armies on both sides passed through Lewisburg throughout the Civil War, on May 23, 1862, the citizens of Lewisburg would not be spared the horrors of war on their doorsteps during and after the Battle of Lewisburg. Lewisburg citizens would pass on for generations stories of the day the battle was fought in the streets of the town.

Old Stone Presbyterian Church and Cemetery in Lewisburg, WV

Old Stone Presbyterian Church and Cemetery.

  "The dead were laid out in the vestibule of the church. The long roll was heard beating the funeral march, every day, as some comrade was laid to rest without the glory of the battlefield." - Rose W. Fry, “Recollections of the Rev. John McElhenney, D.D.”, Chapter X, 1893

Confederate Cemetery and view of the cross shaped graves.  Rose Fry later wrote about her grandfather Rev. John McElhenney who has the long time pastor of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg and loss of his riding horse, Donum at the hands of the Union troops. A delegation of citizens visited Union Col. Crook in his tent. The Union commander was nursing a wounded heel, and this, along with all his other worries, probably did not help his good humor. The townspeople pointed out how badly the aged minister needed the old horse to which he was accustomed, but Donum was not returned. In what was perhaps one of the pastor's few statements showing a little venom, the usually kindly minister remarked that he "didn't wish the fellow who stole him any harm, but would not object if Donum should stumble and break his neck!"

Confederate Cemetery marker at the head of the cross shaped graves

Memorial marker at the head of the cross in the cemetery.  Photo of the location of the marker below.

  Wounded soldiers were laid in the aisles of the town's churches. The citizens were refused permission to bury the Confederate dead. The bodies were laid out in the church until a trench, some 50 feet long, was dug to bury the Confederate dead were placed inside the Old Stone cemetery in this enormous grave, without coffins, unknelled and unblessed, without ceremony, they were laid away. This was probably due to the fact that (then) Union Col. George Crook knew he was holding a town where nearly all the citizens were Southern sympathizers, did not know how many of the enemy might be close by in reserve, and was afraid of sniping.

Confederate Cemetery marker in its position at the head of graves.  Crook wrote in his official report May 23: "I regret to have to report that our wounded men passing to the rear were fired on from the houses and some killed. I have instituted a search, and shall burn all the houses from which firing was from and shall order a commission on those who are charged with firing, and if found guilty, will execute them at once in the main street of this town as examples. I will send detailed report by mail."

Confederate Cemetery memorial marker in front of the fence of the cemetery.  It should be added that Crook makes no further mention of any shooting. Perhaps, he decided some Southern soldiers had been cut off and had taken temporary refuge in Lewisburg homes, and felt they were only continuing the fight. At any rate, there is no record of appointment of any commission, and no executions took place. The Union dead were buried temporarily in a field to the right of the Midland Trail west of town, later taken to their homes for permanent interment.

  After the Civil War the unknown Confederate dead from the Old Stone Presbyterian Church were moved to the Confederate Cemetery several hundred yards west of the church on a hill going west on McElhenney Road in Lewisburg. The cemetery is the final resting place of 95 unknown Confederate soldiers from the Battle of Lewisburg. They are buried in a three foot high mound shaped as a Christian cross. The cross measures 80 feet, 5 inches in length, with the "arm" extending 53 feet. There are four commemorative monuments, including one installed by the Federal government in 1956. It is enclosed by a six foot high wrought iron fence. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

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