The Oakwood Restoration Committee is dedicated to the preservation, protection, and promotion of the Confederate Section at Oakwood Cemetery, Richmond, VA. These “HALLOWED GROUNDS”, the final resting place of our ancestors, HEROES, from every Confederate State except Missouri, approximated at over 16,000, Confederate soldiers, deserve and will be honored with the highest standards befitting a National Military Cemetery. This vision as seen by “The Ladies Memorial Association for Confederate Dead of Oakwood” in April of 1866.
HISTORY OF THE CONFEDERATE PLOTS at OAKWOOD CEMETERY
On April 19, 1866 an organization known as “The Ladies Memorial Association for Confederate Dead of Oakwood,” near Richmond, Virginia, was organized for the purpose of rescuing from oblivion the names and graves of the gallant Confederate Dead who sleep at Oakwood Cemetery. This Cemetery, situated one mile east of the City (center).
Today approximately 16,000 of our heroes, and ancestors are resting in the “HALLOWED GROUNDS” of the Confederate section of the Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond, VA, thus making it one of the LARGEST military cemeteries in America.
These soldiers were the casualties of the battles around Richmond including the Seven Days Campaign, Gaines Mill, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill and many others. Many were patients that failed to recover in hospitals such as Chimbarazo, Howard’s Grove and Winder.
Many Union soldiers were also originally buried near the Confederates in Oakwood but in 1866, the federal government relocated the bodies of most of the Union soldiers to the beautifully maintained Richmond National Cemetery.
This is a sharp contrast to the condition of the Confederate Plots of Oakwood Cemetery. The graves in Oakwood are marked with a small square stone for every three graves with only a numerical inscription. Only a few individual graves were marked with the vast majority having no name, unit, or home state to mark their final resting place.
HISTORY AND GOALS OF THE OAKWOOD RESTORATION COMMITTEE
In 2006 the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill awarding financial support to the Oakwood Restoration Committee, which operates under the authority of the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans a 501(c)3 organization, and several years later, a historical agreement was struck between the Oakwood Restoration Committee and the City of Richmond. The City of Richmond awarded a contractual agreement to the Oakwood Restoration Committee with agreed upon capital repairs to be performed either jointly or independently by the Oakwood Restoration Committee.
Today, the City of Richmond, is very pleased with the progress of the Oakwood Restoration Committee, almost EVERY cited capital repair has been made! AND one prominent concern of the Oakwood Restoration Committee has been addressed but is pending a legal response from the Veterans Administration, UPRIGHT HEADSTONES, for each of our resting heroes.
The Oakwood Restoration Committee applied for the upright headstones from the Veterans Administration, the request was approved, the committee was directed to work with a Veterans Administration employee in Nashville, and then the hatchet came down from higher powers in the Veterans Administration and all of a sudden the upright headstones were denied! The Oakwood Restoration Committee hired prominent and skilled attorney, Mr. Pat McSweeney, and we sought out and gained the support of Sen. Jim Webb. After much communication, the Oakwood Restoration Committee requested a legal hearing. Today, we await the legal opinion from the Judge. We have been told that the “legal opinions” are running several years behind. NOW! Please understand! The LAW is on our side. Our attorney, Mr. McSweeney, advises us to hold tight! Are we frustrated? Of course, BUT we are abiding by the advice for which we have paid.
CAPITOL PROJECTS COMPLETED
The projects that have been completed, have been done so with the approval of the leadership of the City of Richmond and the Virginia Department of Historical Resources. These partners have been by our side from the beginning. AND the following capital projects have been completed:
Lt. Stafford’s grave, a South Carolina soldier, has been restored to include installation of reproduced period fencing. A re-dedication ceremony with the partnership of the Oakwood Restoration Committee and the South Carolina Division.
The restoration, cleaning, reproduction of the period fence and period plantings, of the Soldiers Monument, installed by the Ladies Memorial Association, all completed with the guidance of the Virginia Department Historical Resources, who provided us with a picture postcard for guidance.
The City of Richmond and Virginia Department Historical Resources prompted the restructuring of the “Speakers Stand” which was sinking and caving in…upon investigating the proper way to restructure we discovered a hollow foundation that was cracked and beginning to sink and crumble…BECAUSE we choose to perform our tasks in the MOST appropriate manner, we requested the City of Richmond and Virginia Historical Resources to walk the area with us, research and determine if the current location was the MOST appropriate location and we were TOLD that while yes there are some grave below the “Speakers Stand” that it was built there as a memorial to those who rest in the Confederate Plots and that historically it MUST be in the same footprint as originally placed.ALL plans and materials were approved by the City of Richmond and Virginia Historical Resources.
The final capital repairs on our list are the gates into the Confederate Plots and the need to protect this area from destructive outsiders. There is discussion of installing a period fence however, no decision has been made. We are in the process of working with the City to design acceptable Confederate Cemetery gates. This project will be a partnered project with the City of Richmond.
OTHER SUCCESSFUL ACHIEVEMENTS
Oakwood Cemetery, Confederate Plots, are now listed on the prominent and nationally recognized Virginia Civil War Trails Program, an informational kiosk stands inside Oakwood Cemetery adjacent to the new flag pole installed by the Oakwood Restoration Committee.
A flag program has been instituted and a different Confederate flag from each Confederate State flies monthly and all of our Confederate partners are participating in this program.
New Confederate named street signs have been designed and installed to help with directional assistance.
The committee has installed section markers to help with location and identification of each section AND last but not least we have on-going landscaping and have researched period plantings which are installed when appropriate.
The Churchill Neighborhood Association has given their blessing on all of the improvements and the positive direction of the Oakwood Restoration Committee.
The Oakwood Restoration Committee and the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans have purchased two vacant lots adjacent to the Oakwood Confederate Plots with future plans of building a visitors center for the Confederate Plot section of Oakwood Cemetery.
BACK TO OUR PRIMARY CONCERN AND INTEREST
This brings us back to our PRIMARY interest, UPRIGHT HEADSTONES…the focus of the Oakwood Restoration Committee is and has always been to install an upright headstone for each resting hero. The goal of this Committee has been to make Oakwood Confederate Plots the “Confederate Arlington Cemetery” of the South. We will get there, BUT, patience is needed, it takes time to work through the avenues of a “hostile” government, and it will take time to install each headstone.
The people of the South have always had the patience required to accomplish our desired tasks and those tasks demanded of us.
The Oakwood Restoration Committee asks that those of you who have been supporters continue to be supportive and those who are just learning about us become supporters…please help the Oakwood Restoration Committee, Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans 501(c)3 continue to preserve, protect and promote the “Hallowed Grounds” of the Confederate Plots of Oakwood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.
May God Bless the South,
Mike Pullen, Chairman
The Richmond city council established Oakwood Cemetery in 1855, probably to offset crowding at the popular Shockoe Cemetery. When the Civil War began in 1861, it became evident that the number of dying soldiers in the city would require emergency burial measures. The authorities took a few to Shockoe Cemetery; many thousands more ended up in Hollywood Cemetery and Oakwood Cemetery.
Civil War burials began at Oakwood almost immediately. City council authorized that use on August 12, 1861, and by September the cemetery saw daily burials of soldiers from nearby training camps who died from various diseases.
The majority of soldiers buried at Oakwood received an individual grave, although during certain periods—probably when the number of corpses overwhelmed the interment crews—they were stacked. Most of the graves with multiple burials contain only two men. There are a very few known instances of three, four, or even five men in one grave. The practice of placing several men in one grave received unfavorable press and it is likely that the burial crews only resorted to that practice during emergencies.
Nearly all of the Confederate dead buried at Oakwood during the war came from the hospitals and camps at the eastern end of Richmond. Men who died at Chimborazo and Howard’s Grove hospitals almost always went to Oakwood. So, too, did the soldiers who died in the smaller hospitals that dotted that side of the city. There does not appear to have been any special dividing point that dictated whether a body went to Oakwood or Hollywood. But in a general sense that unofficial line appears to have been at about 18th Street. Men who died in hospitals west of there usually went to Hollywood instead of Oakwood.
A South Carolina soldier witnessed the burial process at Oakwood in 1862 and took the time to write about it. “The hearse comes along with its load of corpses and on the brink of each grave it deposited a coffin on which is placarded the name, company and regiment of the soldier whose remains it contained. No vault was dug, the coffin was lowered into this ditch-like grave and without ceremony the dirt was shoved in, and a small board bearing the number of the grave was placed at the head….”
By September 1, 1862, after just one year of use, the Confederate section of Oakwood contained 5483 burials. The pace of interments slowed thereafter. That same year a Richmond newspaperman predicted a positive future for “This new and beautiful ‘city of the dead.’” “In future…it will become the Mecca of all visitors, because when the names of the honored dead are spread on the monumental tablet, there is hardly any resident of the Confederate States who will not be able to recognize among them one whom they have known in happier, if not better, days.” “Nobody could wish a more delightful resting place,” concluded the writer.
The precise number of wartime burials is not known. Although published figures vary widely (between 12,000 and 18,000), there is good evidence that the lower number is closer to the truth. Mr. John Redford, who served as the cemetery’s caretaker/custodian from its 1855 creation until well after the Civil War, said in 1868 that there were about 10,000 identified men and between 2000 and 3000 unidentified Confederate soldiers in Oakwood.
Union Dead at Oakwood
Federal soldiers who died in Richmond as prisoners of war received temporary burials at Belle Isle, Hollywood Cemetery, Shockoe Cemetery, and Oakwood Cemetery. Precise records do not survive—if they ever existed—to document the specific numbers. Several prominent Union officers who died in Richmond during the war ended up at Oakwood. That list includes Colonel Seneca Simmons, of the 5th Pennsylvania Reserves; Capt. H. J. Biddle, of General George G. Meade’s personal staff; and Major Robert Morris of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry (“Rush’s Lancers”). Notorious raider Colonel Ulric Dahlgren also received a very temporary burial there in 1864 before being removed in great secrecy. The Union dead had their own section on a hill, separate from the Confederate burials, although it is not known which of Oakwood’s various hills served that purpose.
The Union graves at Oakwood “are generally marked,” reported an observer in April 1865. The following month the city’s express office was crowded with coffins of exhumed Federalists from Oakwood. “They are now being disinterred in great numbers,” presumably by Northern kinsmen who took advantage of the sudden access to the former Confederate capital city. By the spring of 1866, all of the remaining marked Union dead at Oakwood had been removed to the newly created Richmond National Cemetery on the Williamsburg Road. At least 200 identified dead and 162 unidentified dead were transferred. If any remained behind at Oakwood, it was accidental.
Despite the claims of beauty in 1862, Oakwood bore a seedy and disheveled appearance by war’s end. Visitors “found the plots most unsightly. Many of the graves had settled badly; handmade, wooden headboards were missing or damaged [and] names obliterated…” To address this, a large number of women from the various churches on nearby Church Hill gather on April 19, 1866, at the Third Presbyterian Church. They emerged from their meeting as part of a new organization: “The Ladies Memorial Association for the Confederate Dead of Oakwood Cemetery.” The association’s several hundred members created a constitution that articulated precise goals. They wanted to see the Confederate section “well enclosed and each grave turfed and marked by a neat head-piece, properly inscribed. This accomplished, ever afterwards to keep the grounds in proper condition.”
“Armed with shovels, rakes, and other gardening implements,” the women worked to tidy the cemetery. On the first Confederate Memorial Day, May 10, 1866, ex-major general Raleigh E. Colston delivered a brief speech to an assembled crowd, and the ever-popular Reverend Moses D. Hoge prayed in an “eloquent + feeling strain.”
The women aggressively and successfully raised money to pay for the headboards they hoped to erect. The first 1,000 probably went into the ground in July 1866. Three months later they contracted for another 2000 and by the summer of 1867 all of the Confederate graves were “marked with name, regiment, and State.” A May 1870 visitor to the cemetery wrote that at each grave “is a mound… and at the head of each grave, a thick plank of wood stands, painted white, rounded in the head, with name and regiment of each solider in black letters.”
The ladies next turned their attention to the erection of a marble monument to commemorate all of the Confederate dead in the cemetery. State legislatures around the South contributed to that cause ($1,000 each from North Carolina and Georgia, to name only two). For a period of more than five years the association weighed its options, accepted bids, and raised money. Eventually “Mr. Burt” received the contract to create a granite shaft, at the cost of $1,300. The cornerstone was laid before “an immense crowd” in May 1871, and the monument itself probably followed within the next year or two.
Tradition always has stated that Confederate battlefield dead were brought into Richmond’s cemeteries after the end of the war. If that happened at Oakwood in any substantial numbers, no written record of it has been found. In May 1869 the ladies arranged for “a numbered of dead” from Malvern Hill to be transferred to Oakwood, but available sources suggest that no more than five bodies were involved in that episode.
By 1877 the wooden headboards erected in 1866 and 1867 had rotted to such an extent that the “City Council Committee on Cemeteries” asked permission to remove all the headboards. The Oakwood Association resisted that suggestion for a few months, but finally consented in the autumn of 1887, “as there was no means of having them renewed and it was an inevitable fact that they could not remain in their decayed condition.” The city promised to replace the wooden headboards with more permanent markers, but apparently did not do so. For approximately 15 years the Confederate graves at Oakwood remained unmarked.
By 1900, the Association said that Oakwood contained 16,128 Confederate burials, of which 8,000 were unidentified. A renewed interest in the cemetery and its appearance early in the century produced a 1902 Memorial Day event that drew 10,000 spectators. The annual parade and address always featured prominent Confederates: General Fitzhugh Lee in 1903 (with Miss Mildred Lee as guest of honor); James Power Smith; General William R. Cox in 1911; and Douglas Southall Freeman in 1916, to name only a fraction of well known orators who participated in the Oakwood ceremonies.
In 1901 Virginia allotted $100 to begin installing “marble blocks” at the graves. Two years later the General Assembly provided a further $200 “for headstones.” The process of installing those stones apparently took many years. In 1930 the General Assembly appropriated a further $30,000 to mark the remainder of the graves with marble blocks, and instructed the city of Richmond to provide care of the plots.
Sometime between 1900 and 1922, the gazebo/speaker’s stand was erected, probably displacing or even covering some of the solider graves in the process.
By 1954, just one decade before the Oakwood Memorial Association faded into oblivion, its promotional pamphlet claimed that the cemetery contained 17,000 burials.
Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Committee
Purpose: Improve the Confederate Section of Oakwood Cemetery focusing on the installation of grave markers.
Lee Hart III – Facility Engineer
B. Frank Earnest – Public Relations
Brag Bowling – Lobbyist
Edwin Ray – Treasurer
Fred Chiesa – Webmaster / F&D
Phillip Wood – Historian / Reporter
C. Kelly Barrow – Commander in Chief, Sons of Confederate Veterans
Ed Bearss – Chief Historian Emeritas
Doug Nash – Adjutant in Chief, Sons of Confederate Veterans
Bob Krick – Historian
Cathy Bowling – Director of Development
Michael Thomas – National Honor Roll