Gettysburg at Hollywood Cemetery – “Gettysburg Hill”

This is a continuation of my series on famous burials in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Other posts in the series can be viewed here.

The area of Hollywood Cemetery that we’ve been exploring so far is known as Gettysburg Hill. This hill got its name from the more than 2,000 Confederate dead from the Battle of Gettysburg that are buried in this section.

This stone marks the area where the Gettysburg dead are buried.
The marker where the Gettysburg dead are buried. Photo by John Dolan.

As we know, the Confederates didn’t hang around very long after the battle. They were on the road south by July 4. There was no way for the Confederates to collect or bury all of their dead – especially those who died near or beyond the Union lines. Those men were buried largely in mass graves by Union burial details and U.S. government contractors. So how did thousands of dead from Gettysburg end up in Richmond, VA?

The southern economy was wrecked by the war. Even families who wanted to exhume their relatives to move closer to home couldn’t afford to do so. It took until 1872 for the Hollywood Memorial Association to raise enough money to have a large number of these men – mainly the dead from Pickett’s Charge – moved to the cemetery. After nearly 10 years, there wasn’t much left of the remains, and no good method for identifying them. They were buried in a mass grave, much as they had been on the battlefield.

Since so many of the dead in this area were from Pickett’s Charge, Pickett himself chose to be buried on this hill near his men. For better or worse, July 3, 1863 really had become the defining moment in his life, and would remain so for all time.

In the last few years, headstones have been added to this section for the men who are likely to have been buried here. We’ll talk about a few of them in the next few posts, but for now, here are some views of the hill that we took during our visit two years ago:

Looking down the hill from the top. Photo by John Dolan.
Looking down the hill from the top. Photo by John Dolan.
A view from the opposite direction, looking up the hill. Note the top of General Pickett's monument at the top left. Photo by John Dolan.
A view from the opposite direction, looking up the hill. Note the top of General Pickett’s monument at the top left. Photo by John Dolan.
One more view from the bottom of the hill showing all the headstones. Photo by John Dolan.
One more view from the bottom of the hill showing all the headstones. Photo by John Dolan.

In the next post, we’ll talk about one of the men who is memorialized by a headstone in this section.

Gettysburg at Hollywood Cemetery – Lewis B. Williams

This is a continuation of my series on famous burials in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Other posts in the series can be viewed here.

Colonel Lewis B. Williams
Colonel Lewis B. Williams

Right next to Pickett’s grave is the grave of one of his officers, the commander of the 1st VA Infantry, Colonel Lewis B. Williams.

As most Civil War buffs know, Pickett’s Charge was a spectacular failure. In addition to a 50% casualty rate among the rank and file of the division, every single field officer under Pickett’s command was either killed, wounded, or captured. Colonel Williams was one of the men who was mortally wounded in the assault.

It was his decision to ride his horse across the field rather than walk – the same decision made by Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett that day – that was his undoing. When a shell exploded near him, he was thrown from the horse and landed on his own sword. He died later that night.

Like Pickett, his grave is located in the Gettysburg Hill section of the cemetery within a few feet of his division commander.

The red square marks the location of the grave of Lewis B. Williams.
The red square marks the location of the grave of Lewis B. Williams.

In the video below, I give a short biography of Colonel Williams and show his headstone. General Pickett’s marker is just behind the camera.

Video by George Skillman

Here’s a close-up shot of Lewis B. Williams’ headstone. It’s very distinctive and easy to recognize from a distance.

The headstone of Lewis B. Williams. Photo by John Dolan.
The headstone of Lewis B. Williams. Photo by John Dolan.

In the next installment, we’ll talk a little more about the Gettysburg Hill section of the cemetery and how it came to be. Then, we’ll move on to discussing some of the men who probably found their final resting places there.

Gettysburg at Hollywood Cemetery – George E. Pickett

This is a continuation of my series on famous burials in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Other posts in the series can be viewed here.

We’re going to start out with one of the more famous figures buried at Hollywood Cemetery: Major General George E. Pickett.

Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett
Maj. Gen. George E. Pickett

His grave is located in the northern-most section of the cemetery near the area known as Gettysburg Hill.

The red square marks the location of George Pickett's grave.
The red square marks the location of George Pickett’s grave.

In the video below, I give a short biography of Maj. Gen. Pickett, and talk about some of the particulars of his “headstone” at Hollywood Cemetery, which was originally designed to be a monument to his division at Gettysburg.

Video by George Skillman
Here are some close-up shots of his monument, so that you can get a sense for how much it resembles a division monument (because in reality, that’s what it is). There’s a lot to it.

George E. Pickett's Monument at Hollywood Cemetery.
George E. Pickett’s Monument at Hollywood Cemetery. Photo by John Dolan.
Pickett's name and rank weren't added until later.
Pickett’s name and rank weren’t added to the monument until much later. Photo by John Dolan.
The plaque on the "front" of the monument
The plaque on the “front” of the monument. Photo by John Dolan.
A plaque honoring Kemper's brigade.
A plaque honoring Kemper’s brigade. Photo by John Dolan.
A plaque honoring Garnett's brigade.
A plaque honoring Garnett’s brigade. Photo by John Dolan.
A plaque honoring Armistead's brigade.
A plaque honoring Armistead’s brigade. Photo by John Dolan.
A plaque honoring Corse's brigade.
A plaque honoring Corse’s brigade. Photo by John Dolan.
A plaque honoring the artillery battalion that was attached to the division.
A plaque honoring the artillery battalion that was attached to the division. Photo by John Dolan.

Keeping with the Pickett theme, in the next few posts of the series, we’ll talk about a few officers who were killed in the famous attack that (rightly or wrongly) bears his name.

Gettysburg at Hollywood Cemetery – Intro

This is the beginning of a series on famous burials in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, VA. Other posts in the series can be viewed here.

Two years ago, I did a series of guest posts for Gettysburg Daily about the Confederate soldiers and officials who are buried at Hollywood Cemetery and who have some type of Gettysburg connection.

I never got all the posts that I produced up onto the site before they stopped regular operations. I’d like to re-post that work here, and also put up the never-before-seen “lost” episodes. For now, we’ll have the introduction:

Video by George Skillman

Look for more posts in this series in the coming days. As I said in the video, Hollywood Cemetery is kind of the Arlington of the Confederacy.

A special thanks to my friend, John Dolan and my dad, George Skillman for making a few trips down to Richmond with me to get the photos and videos for these posts.

The Funeral

WARNING: This post is going to basically be a diary entry about my Grandfather’s funeral and the events surrounding it. While this will probably only be of interest to family members, I just wanted to record it somewhere. I’ll make some other posts about historically-interesting things soon.

As I suppose people do, our family went into planning mode when we found out very early Friday that my grandfather had passed away. The funeral was scheduled for Monday morning, and we had to make the family come together in Lewistown, PA.

My immediate family – including my wife and son, my parents, my brother and his wife, all made plans to go up Sunday and spend the day with whatever other family members were there. As it turned out, there was quite a lot of company – my Uncle Dave and Aunt Dawn had driven from Illinois. My Aunt Marty made the trip from New Jersey. Uncle Rob and Aunt Faye live in town, and of course so does Grandma.

Grandpa's Prayer Card.
Grandpa’s Prayer Card.

We all met up at Grandma’s house, and after a brief visit, went over to the funeral home for a 5:00pm private viewing for the family. I suppose the people at the funeral home want to make sure that everything is set up the way the family likes. I didn’t take any pictures at this stage, but it was very well done, as usual – both of my grandma’s parents, as well as both of my maternal grandparents, used the services of this home, so we are very familiar with their work – sad as that may be.

The whole family went back to Grandma’s house to make sandwiches and just visit for a little while. It was a really nice time. Isn’t it a shame that you never get together with family from all across the country until there’s a death? We just don’t make enough time for things like that. Since we all wanted Grandma to try and get some rest, we left around 8:00pm and went over to the hotel.

Grandpa's name listed at the funeral home.
Grandpa’s name listed at the funeral home.

In the morning, we got ready and met up in the lobby. It turns out that Aunt Holly and Cousin Kyle had made the trip down from Canada and arrived late Sunday night. The whole family left together so that we could get to the funeral home by 9:30am. Once we got there, we met up with my cousin Michele (Uncle Dave’s daughter) and her husband Tim who had driven up from the eastern shore of Maryland.

We got our cars in order for the procession to the gravesite, and then went inside for the public viewing. There were pictures of Grandpa set out, and some flowers that family members had ordered were displayed near the casket. It was as nice an atmosphere as you can have for an event like that, I suppose.

Lots of people showed up for the viewing – more than I was expecting from the way Grandma talked about it anyway. My Grandpa had quite a full life, and that was represented by the folks who came to see him. There were friends from his days in the local police force, people he knew from church, and representatives from the VFW (as my Grandpa had served on the USS Alabama during the closing days of WWII).

Family gathered for Grandpa's funeral.
Family gathered for Grandpa’s funeral.

The service itself was very nice. Rev. Robert Zorn, the pastor from my Grandparents’ church, did some readings and had some nice things to say about Grandpa. He regularly spent Monday mornings visiting with him out at the Malta Home, so he had a few stories to tell. My Uncle Dave eulogized Grandpa, and while he announced that he was nervous about his ability to get through that experience, he didn’t waiver at all. A friend of my Grandpa’s, Tom Gross, gave a lively and entertaining tribute – if a funeral can have such a thing, Tom was the life of the party.

Finally, it was time to go to the graveside. We wound through Lewistown, and out to Juniata Memorial Cemetery where the VFW representatives, and Grandpa’s flag-draped casket were waiting for us.

Grandpa's graveside service.
Grandpa’s graveside service.

Rev. Zorn said a few words and then turned it over to the VFW honor guard who performed a flag-folding ceremony. My Grandma was given his flag and a few words of kind gratitude – an all too familiar scene. There was a rifle salute (which scared little John to the point of tears), and the playing of Taps (which seemed to soothe my son).

Dismissed from the graveside, we all met back at the church for a fried chicken lunch and some time to relax and share memories. I think we’re all grateful to the church ladies for making that happen.

Eventually, we found our way back to Grandma’s house to visit some more and to start going through the things that Grandpa left behind. Grandma wants to get his old office cleared out of books and miscellaneous papers, and in the process of starting that, we stumbled onto a treasure-trove of family history that we’ll have to go back up and start to catalog. I’ll share my initial impressions of that family history in a follow-up post.

UPDATE: I’ve added a scan I made yesterday of the Lewistown Sentinels‘ Obituary for Grandpa as a PDF.

Eastern Shore Tour: Unionville

In my first post of this series, I talked about relying on the HMDB to help me find things to explore on my trip. If it weren’t for the HMDB app (which is well worth the $2) that I have on my iPhone, I never would have found Unionville.

Unionville, MD
Unionville, MD

The fact that I wouldn’t have found it is another of those problems that I’ve been discussing in this series.

As I learned on Saturday, Unionville was a community of free black veterans and their families that sprang up after the Civil War. The land for the town was donated by a local Quaker family: the Cowgills. In fact, the original name given to the town by the residents was a nod to those donors: “Cowgilltown”. Eventually, the “Unionville” name stuck as a tribute to the army that won them their freedom. I have to imagine that life was anything but easy for these men – aside from the fighting they saw, they lived on the eastern shore of slave-holding Maryland in the period around the Civil War. Racial tensions must have been high after the war (to say the least). Perhaps having a town of their own was helpful.

The HMDB had a listing for a marker just outside of town which piqued my interest and inspired my visit. I wanted to find that cemetery.

The Unionville Wayside Marker
The Unionville Wayside Marker

It turns out that the town is really just a row of houses on either side of Maryland Route 370 (also called Unionville Road). On the southern end of town, there is a church with a cemetery behind and a Maryland Civil War Trails sign in the parking lot – this was clearly the cemetery I was looking for.

The Veterans of Unionville Cemetery
The Veterans of Unionville Cemetery

There are 18 USCT veterans buried here (USCT stands for United States Colored Troops, but on these headstones they are marked as “U.S.C.I.” which I assume means United States Colored Infantry). Several USCT units are represented by the men at rest here – I counted the 7th, 9th, 19th, and 39th – although most of the veterans here were members of the 7th USCT which was at least partly raised on the eastern shore.

I spent a few minutes walking through the cemetery, trying to find all the veterans. Sadly, swamp land seems to be encroaching on the southeast corner – which I imagine is particularly bad for a cemetery – and made for treacherous footing near more than a few grave sites.

It’s also a shame that this site is so far off the beaten path. As Civil War historians – amateurs and pros alike – we don’t do a very good job of telling the stories of these men. Many of the veterans in this cemetery were former slaves – even some who, like Frederick Douglass, “stole themselves”. These were men who didn’t just talk about “liberty”, they actually lived it. They know what that word means – probably better than any other men in American history.

Sgt. Frederick Pipes - the highest-ranking man I found here.
Sgt. Frederick Pipes – the highest-ranking man I found here.

While there are a few markers here, and the site is included on the Maryland Civil War Trails, how many regular people actually seek out those sites and visit them (let alone the USCT ones)? How will the general public ever learn about this place and these men? What can we do to better tell the story of the USCT? As a historical community, we need to come up with answers (and no, I don’t think the movie Glory is enough).

Veterans such as these men deserve a better fate than to be buried in a swamp and nearly forgotten on a back road in rural Maryland. These men were true heroes, and a new generation of children – of all races and backgrounds – should know what they did to advance the causes of freedom and equality.

Particularly these days, we can never have too many reminders.

Daniel E. Sickles, Concluded

This article is the conclusion of my series on Union Major General Daniel E. Sickles during the Civil War. Before you read this one, you should go read the first and second installments to get the full story.

After Gettysburg, Dan Sickles’ career as a field commander was over. His missing right leg (and his utter lack of qualifications in the first place) assured that. He spent the rest of his Army career as a high-profile recruiter, and as a commander in a few of the departments that the military set up after the war to oversee Reconstruction. He was also involved in some covert diplomacy to ensure that the government of what is now Panama (in the era before we built the canal) would continue to allow our troops to cross their territory on the way to ships waiting in the Pacific.

By 1867, both his daughter, Laura and his wife, Teresa had died from disease. With nothing holding him in the U.S., Sickles took a post as the U.S. Ambassador to Spain during President Grant’s administration. It turns out that he did not have the temperament for diplomacy (I’m sure you’re surprised by that revelation). He did, however continue his womanizing in Europe (reportedly even having an affair with Queen Isabella II) and eventually married Carmina Creagh, the daughter of a Spanish government official.

Returning to the U.S., he served in a few local government roles in New York, most notably as the Chairman of the New York Monuments Commission – the organization that coordinated the funding and dedication of Civil War monuments for the state of New York. This kept him involved in veterans affairs and in Gettysburg, as a large number of monuments were placed there from New Yorkers. His involvement ended when an investigation found that over $25,000 (well over $600,000 in today’s dollars) had gone missing from the commission’s funds. Sickles was forced out on suspicion of embezzlement.

Sickles visiting Gettysburg
Sickles visiting Gettysburg with a few of his old subordinates.

One of the victims of the missing money was a monument to the Excelsior Brigade that was placed at Gettysburg. The loss of funds had left the monument missing one of the elements from its original design: appropriately, that was a bust of General Sickles.

He was re-elected to Congress in 1893 and his most notable contribution from his last term in office was sponsoring the bill that created the Gettysburg National Military Park. He helped to secure the purchase of land around Gettysburg that would become part of the park, and even found a fence to put around the National Cemetery (it was the fence that had been around Lafayette Park, where Sickles had shot Philip Barton Key years before). When asked by a reporter on a tour of the battlefield why there was no individual monument to him, like there was to all the other Corps commanders, Sickles supposedly replied with something to the effect of, “the whole place is a monument to Dan Sickles!” As we’ve seen, modesty was not his strong suit.

Sickles' Fence
The fence from Lafayette Park, now in Gettysburg, that was a witness to Philip Barton Key’s murder.

Adding to his mystique, Sickles was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg. The citation read:

“Displayed most conspicuous gallantry on the field vigorously contesting the advance of the enemy and continuing to encourage his troops after being himself severely wounded.”

Not to speak ill of the man, but this is just a little exaggerated, right? Especially that part about “encouraging his troops” that was probably inspired by the cigar-smoking legend I referenced earlier. You also have to remember that the Medal of Honor was newly-created for the Civil War and there were no lesser medals (Bronze Star, Silver Star, etc.) at the time, so you were either awarded the Medal of Honor or nothing (although as an officer, you could also be given a purely-honorary promotion called a “brevet“). Just to give you an idea of how loose the qualifications were in those days, there were scores of men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for picking up flags that had been dropped by the enemy.

Sickles died in 1914 at the age of 94 in New York. His funeral was held in New York City, and he was buried according to his wishes in Arlington National Cemetery, a controversial and fascinating character to the end.

Also – If you’re interested in learning more about Dan Sickles, may I suggest James Hessler’s outstanding book, Sickles at Gettysburg? While it focuses specifically on his involvement with Gettysburg (both during and after the war) it gives a good overview of his life in the process.