Sons of Confederate Veterans repairs four graves

Published 12:08 pm Thursday, October 23, 2014

Eddy Cresap, left, and Zane Russell, prepare two tombstones for restoration Wednesday at Soldiers’ Rest in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Eddy Cresap, left, and Zane Russell, prepare two tombstones for restoration Wednesday at Soldiers’ Rest in Cedar Hill Cemetery.

Time has been cruel to Henry R. Allen’s memory.

Allen was barely out of boyhood when he was killed here, 500 miles from his home in Missouri. For untold years, the slab of stone at his gravesite — perhaps the only marker dedicated to the young Confederate private’s 18 years on this Earth — was broken and being swallowed by grass at Cedar Hill Cemetery.

On Wednesday morning, Allen’s gravestone and three others from the 19th century were repaired in an effort led by the local John C. Pemberton Camp of Sons of Confederate Veterans.

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Allen’s grave was discovered broken from its base and flat on the ground; its edges long covered in grass.

“It looks a lot better than it did laying on the ground with lawnmowers running over it,” said Wayne McMaster, commander of the local SCV camp. “Although it was probably a lawnmower that took it down.”

Allen, a member of Company C of the 3rd Regiment, Missouri Infantry, was 18 when he was killed during the second Union assault on Vicksburg on May 22, 1863. He was one of five men from his regiment killed here in heavy fighting near Stockade Redan.

After his death someone — perhaps family members — placed a simple tombstone at his grave engraved with his name, age, death date, military unit and the words “killed at the Siege of Vicksburg.”

It’s unclear when the gravestone was placed, though it is unlikely a stone would have been erected for the private during the 47-day siege of the city.

“Unless we can find some history on it somewhere, it’s almost impossible to tell,” McMaster said.

Under city policy, tombstones are considered private property and the responsibility for repair of damaged stones falls on family members.

For people like Allen, who died so young and so far away from home, it’s unlikely any family member has visited in more than a century. Many other graves throughout the cemetery are in a state of disrepair with no ancestors alive or nearby to fix them.

SCV members take responsibility for graves of Confederate soldiers buried in Soldiers’ Rest and throughout the cemetery.

Wednesday’s repair job also extended to the stones of Jerry McKenna who died in 1888 and Jacob Weis who died in 1883. Neither man has a marker identifying them as a CSA soldier. The fourth stone repaired — J.G. Sparrow — displays a large CSA logo.

The repair process is tedious and requires shovels, clamps, wire brushes, and industrial epoxy, and plenty of bug spray to kill the unwanted creepy crawlers who live under neglected, broken tombstones.

Neglected graves and ancestors are as old as the cemetery itself.

Some of the men who are buried near Soldiers’ Rest were Confederate soldiers who died at a veterans’ home known as the Confederate Annex, said SCV member Eddy Cresap, who assisted with the gravestone repair.

“When the old veterans died and their families didn’t come pick them up, that’s where they were buried generally,” Cresap said.

That’s not to say that family members of long-dead Confederates don’t visit the graves at Soldiers’ Rest or other dedicated Confederate plots in the cemetery.

“It’s early in the morning, but this is one of the few times I’ve been out here that someone didn’t come up hunting an ancestor,” Cresap said.

Soldiers’ Rest, which continues the graves Confederates killed during the Siege of Vicksburg, remains a major tourist attraction for people seeking a family connection to the war, McMaster said.

“This cemetery brings a lot of people to Vicksburg,” McMaster said.

Those visitors are getting views of broken tombstones and dead trees, John Bullard, who lives on Skyfarm Avenue near the cemetery, said during a recent public hearing on the cemetery.

Bullard presented the city with photos of tree stumps covered in poison ivy and trees that had been scarred by lawnmowers and weed trimmers.

“You give me six men with a pick-up truck and two chainsaws and it can be fixed in a day,” Bullard said. “It’s just not being done, and the whole area is like that.”