I picked this book up in the gift shop at the Gettysburg National Park after visiting the Evergreen Cemetery first, which is the wrong way to go about it. The book includes a pullout map, which would have been handy to have as I poked around Evergreen. The map would have guided us to the people profiled in the book. I would have liked to look at their photographs, helpfully included beside their biographies, as I stood before their monuments. As it was, I enjoyed the beautiful stones in Evergreen without appreciating the history that lies beneath them — at least, I didn’t appreciate it until I read this book.
Written by the current superintendent of the cemetery (who has lived in the cemetery’s gatehouse since 1976), the book briefly explores the history of the association that founded Evergreen, then glances at the wildlife that has come to dwell there. After that, it dives into the town’s founding fathers and moves quickly to Gettysburg’s defining moments in July 1863, when the Confederate Army came to call. My favorite section quotes the memoir of Elizabeth C. Thorn, who served as caretaker and gravedigger after the Battle of Gettysburg was done.
All in all, this is an enjoyable little book. If it has any flaws, it’s that it looks as if it was designed at home. Large portions of the text are boldface, except where portions are quoted from other sources. The sketch on the cover doesn’t do justice to the beautiful, historic brick gatehouse. Despite those elements, the interior photographs are clear and the text is polished. Perhaps when a second edition is published, the book design will be updated, too.
If you order the book directly from the cemetery’s superintendent, your purchase helps restore this lovely cemetery. Here’s the link.
799 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325 (adjacent to Soldier’s National Cemetery)
Information: (717) 334-4121
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Established: 1854 Size: 10 acres Number of interments: 10,246 (according to Findagrave.com)
In November 1853, the citizens of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania met to discuss opening a graveyard “where all the dead could repose together,” regardless of sect, rank, or class. Ground purchased on a ridge overlooking the town was named Ever Green Cemetery. Somewhere along the way, its name mutated to Evergreen Cemetery.
It might have continued to be a sleepy, small-town cemetery, if the Confederate Army hadn’t marched up to Pennsylvania in 1863. Cemetery Ridge saw some of the fiercest fighting on July 3rd. Thousands of men and horses tramped through the cemetery during the battle. Both the cemetery and its brick gatehouse were damaged by artillery shells. Later, the gatehouse became a landmark in images of the battle’s aftermath.
After the war moved on, Elizabeth Thorn, wife of the cemetery’s superintendent, did what she could to bury the dead — despite being six months pregnant. Her husband Peter had enlisted in the 138th Pennsylvania Infantry, never dreaming that the war would come so close to home. In the months following the battle, Elizabeth and her elderly father dug five graves a week in the rockiest part of the cemetery. Her memoir of those days, later published in the Gettysburg Times, reports that the stench of the bodies decaying in the field across the road drove her on.
On November 16, 2002, Evergreen dedicated a memorial to the women who served in and endured the Civil War. The statue takes the form of a very pregnant Elizabeth in a Victorian gown, leaning on her shovel. There’s a photo here.
The most-visited gravesite in Evergreen Cemetery belongs to Mary Virginia “Jennie” Wade. The 20-year-old had gone to her sister’s house in town in order to escape the fighting. The only civilian to be killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, she was struck by a stray bullet while “making bread for the Union soldiers,” according to her monument. She was initially buried in the garden at her sister’s house on the 4th of July. In January 1864, her remains were moved to the German Reformed Cemetery in Gettysburg. She was reintered in the Evergreen Cemetery in November 1865. The Iowa Women’s Relief Corps replaced her original tombstone in 1900 with the monument that stands today. An American flag flies at her grave around the clock.
A wealth of other folk connected to the war lie in the graveyard, including Reverend Michael Jacobs, a Professor of Science and Mathematics at Pennsylvania College, who became the first historian of the battle of Gettysburg. Also there is William David Holtzworth, a twice-wounded Civil War veteran, who became a guide to the battlefield. He subsequently toured the battlefield with Presidents Grant, Hayes, and Cleveland, as well as nearly a dozen Civil War generals.
Other permanent residents of Evergreen include baseball’s left-handed pitcher Edward S. Plank, who was called “Gettysburg Eddie,” and poet Marianne Moore, who received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in the 1950s for her Collected Poems. Time magazine named her America’s greatest living female poet.
The cemetery, which calls itself “Gettysburg’s most historic cemetery,” contains a wealth of lovely Victorian gravestones. It is still open to burials. Ninety-minute walking tours can be arranged for groups of 10 or more by contacting Superintendent Brian Kennell at email@example.com. He is also the author of Beyond the Gatehouse, a guide to Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery. If you order your copy of the guidebook directly from the Superintendent, your purchase benefits the cemetery.
We rolled into Glen Rock, Pennsylvania about 4 o’clock. The little town lies folded into the valley between two close-rising hills. We hoped to find an ice cream parlor, but instead saw only the gas station, two antique shops, a couple of pizza restaurants, and an old historic inn/tavern/restaurant that is boarded up and for sale.
At the top of the hill, we found the graveyard. It didn’t seem to have a name. Perhaps the stone pillars that stood sentry beside the drive had once held an ornate iron sign, but the only thing they said was that trespassing was prohibited from dusk to dawn.
The sky to the east was the ominous bluish of a fresh bruise. When the sun broke through in the west, it struck the trees in such a way that they looked artificial. That had to be green silk for their leaves, it was so bright.
The grass between the gravestones was starred with wildflowers. Violets I could name, but the bright wash of mauve flowers were unfamiliar. Little buttercups and some sort of gray-green shepherd’s crooks also brightened the lawn. It was homely in the old sense of the word, in the sense of being comforting and homelike, without pretensions. I’m so used to seeing lawn tortured into even verdure or dead dry grass that this meadowland was very sweet.
Beyond the crest of the hill, thunder rumbled. We’d driven through a lightning storm as we entered Harrisburg. The winds had dashed the petals from the trees and flung them into our windshield, while bolts of lightning flashed down in the distance. Now I always turned too late to see the lightning, but the thunder continued to grumble at us. I looked up the hill to Mason and the rental car, parked on the crest of the hill.
“I don’t think the storm is coming in,” he said, when I’d rejoined him. “And anyway, I’m under a tree.”
“That’s how people get killed,” I told him, but he was convinced there was little danger. He promised to watch the storm, as I loaded some film and went back to document the little neighborhood burying patch.
The graveyard sported a lot of upward pointing fingers. One of the stones dispensed with an epitaph by saying “TEXT” and quoting a Bible verse, as if you took your Bible along to the graveyard and could read along. Another addressed the “sacred grave,” entrusting it to care for the precious form entrusted to it. One asked, “Fold her, O Father, in thine arms…”
Some of the most interesting gravestones turned out to be modern. First I came across some where the colors rubbed into the stones were just brilliant. A sprig of lilacs was honestly lilac purple. Another held a river scene with a green tree and beautiful water. The colors brought vibrancy to the bland brick-colored granite.
Also along the path stood a stone inlaid with a series of badges. The “Chief” had served as Chief of Police for many years before being elected Mayor. It was wonderful to see the man’s possessions displayed proudly for passersby.
As we drove away, I realized that not only did I not know the graveyard’s name, I couldn’t guess the street on which it was located.
We stopped at the gas station to get ice cream sandwiches out of its cooler. The rainstorm never came.
Soldiers’ National Cemetery
Gettysburg National Military Park
97 Taneytown Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325
Visitor Information: 717-334-1124, extension 8023 Dedicated: November 19, 1863 Size: 17 acres Number of interments: 3,654 Open: Dawn to sunset daily. The cemetery is closed to vehicular traffic. The parking lot for the cemetery is located between Taneytown Road and Steinwehr Avenue (Business Route 15).
Over the first three days of July 1863, there were 51,000 men wounded, missing, or killed in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The battle of Gettysburg represented the Confederate Army’s high-water mark during the Civil War, but it also changed the way bodies of American servicemen were treated. Prior to 1863, governments took little responsibility for dead soldiers. Generally, camp followers or locals buried the dead in huge trenches on the battlefields where they fell. If graves were labeled at all, the painted planks often didn’t survive their first winter. Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg embodies the nation’s first attempt to identify all the dead and mark their remains.
While the North seemed able to provide an inexhaustible amount of weaponry and clothing for its soldiers, three years into the Civil War the Southern Army desperately needed simple things like boots. General Lee had heard that shoes were being manufactured in Pennsylvania.
By the end of July 1st, Lee’s army routed the unprepared Union troops. The battle appeared as if it would be another victory for the South in a string that included Charleston and Bull Run. Union soldiers fled through the streets of the little village of Gettysburg to the hill overlooking Evergreen Cemetery south of town. Rather than pursue, Lee’s army camped for the night. They had suffered high casualties that day and did not know the size of the Union force.
Throughout the night, both sides received reinforcements. By July 3rd, the Union Army numbered 97,000 men against 75,000 Southerners. Confederate General Pickett directed 12,000 men in successive waves through an open field toward the Union line atop Cemetery Ridge. Six thousand of them died, demolished by Union cannons atop the hill.
After losing 30% of his army, Lee withdrew on July 5th. General Meade, in charge of the Army of the Potomac, chose not to pursue. His men attempted to bury their own dead, but the job was too immense. When the Union Army finally withdrew from the field, thousands of corpses lay where they’d fallen, rotting in the humid Pennsylvanian summer. Reportedly, people could smell the battlefield as far away as York, 30 miles distant.
The sad state of the unburied dead drew the attention of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin. He championed a movement to buy land from the village to provide a cemetery where all Northern soldiers could lie with their comrades. Eventually, money was raised to purchase a “boot-shaped” piece of ground alongside Evergreen Cemetery. Reburials began in October 1863, four months after the war had moved on.
These were the days before dog tags. Occasionally during the Civil War, when men suspected they were being ordered to their deaths, they’d write their names on scraps of paper and pin them inside their clothing. At Gettysburg, corpses could only be identified by company insignia or marks of rank on their uniforms, or by the contents of their pockets, so long as they hadn’t been robbed after death. Superintendent of Exhumation Samuel Weaver insisted that all temporary graves be opened in his presence, so he could personally identify the corpses. As much as he was able, Weaver recorded hair color and height of the decomposing dead, to be compared with the government service records on file for each man. Even so, stone blocks labeled “Unknown” mark more than half of the graves inside Soldiers National Cemetery.
A ceremony was planned for November 19, 1863 to dedicate the nation’s first military cemetery. Sort of as a second thought, President Lincoln was invited to speak. Months after the battle, shallow graves still littered the surrounding countryside, but the war itself had moved south and once again Northerners could travel safely. Over 50,000 people descended on the shell-shocked town to celebrate the creation of the first national cemetery.
Lincoln traveled to the ceremony by train. Standing amongst new-made graves, he delivered the Gettysburg Address: “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live…. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”
For the first time, a battlefield in the United States was seen as holy ground, consecrated not by the power of God but by the blood of men slain there. Soldiers became sanctified not by their deeds in life but at the moment of their deaths. For the first time ever, bodies of common men were not treated as an inconvenient byproduct of war, but venerated as its relics.
In the cemetery, corpses had been sorted not only by army (Confederate bodies were left where they lay) but also by the 18 states from whence they came, so that each section is marked with the number of Michiganders and Minnesotans who died in the battle. Beyond that accounting, pains were taken to name as many men as possible. In the intervening years, historians have identified many of the 1608 men labeled “unknown” by comparing descriptions made by Weaver to government records and survivors’ memoirs. For the first time, individual soldiers and their stories became important to Americans.
Nearly a year passed before reburials ceased in Soldiers National Cemetery. The 3,654 men interred there are a fraction of the 51,000 casualties. Some men lie in Evergreen Cemetery. Others were fetched home to their family graveyards. Confederate soldiers waited to be moved until 1872, when they were shipped to Richmond, Charleston, Savannah, and Raleigh, and reburied with equivalent respect. Even with the dispersal, hundreds of corpses were undoubtedly missed amongst the stands of trees punctuating the rolling Pennsylvania hills.
Soldiers’ National Cemetery became a place of pilgrimage from the start. These days, two million people visit the battlefield at Gettysburg each year, making it one of the most popular historical destinations in the United States.
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