From the Richmond Dispatch, 6/5/1867, p. 1, c. 6
THE DEAD AT OAKWOOD – WORK OF THE OAKWOOD ASSOCIATION.—We have been called upon frequently during the last few weeks to notice the efforts of the Hollywood Association to promote the objects for which it was organized, and have been please thus to record the marked success which has made the name of Hollywood known, and well known, throughout the length and breadth of the land. But while the noble women of the west end have thus evinced their patriotism and gratitude, those of another portion of our city have not been unmindful of the gallant dead.
Oakwood is situated just beyond the eastern boundary of the city, and although it does not boast the fine, picturesque situation, the beautiful scenery, and the expensive monuments which abound in Hollywood, is yet a not inappropriate place for the burial of the dead. As a public cemetery it is yet young, having never been completely enclosed, and had not the war burst upon us with its melancholy fruits, the ridges which mark the graves of the dead would have been almost insignificant in number. But, alas! the war did come, and in its train brought thousands who fell on the battle-field, or bowed beneath the hand of disease were carried to hospitals, and in Oakwood found their graves. Convenient to the hospitals of Chimborazo, where hundreds of soldiers were stretched upon couches of suffering, daily the dead carts filed their way through the streets beyond the city limits to this enclosure, where graves were dug, the bodies interred, and a penciled shingle placed at the head to mark the resting place of a Confederate soldier. Thus the ridges increased in number until the war was brought to a close, and more than thirteen thousand southern soldiers were interred in this one cemetery. Over a few graves the hand of affection had reared a white tablet or marble slab with the name and rank of the dead. The penciled epitaphs on hundreds had become effaced, the names of some had never been known, while a large number of head-boards had been entirely carried away by night-prowlers, who, invading the cemetery, hesitated not to rob the dead in order to provide themselves with fuel. Three thousand graves could not be at all identified, although there is a complete register of the names of all who have been buried in the cemetery.
Such was the state of Oakwood when woman came upon the scene, and viewing the down-trodden mounds, the rapidly vanishing head-boards, and the desolated condition of the weed-grown grounds, her generous heart was moved in its inmost depths, and alive to the promptings of patriotism, she resolved to commence the task up upbuilding these waste places. Appealing to High Heaven for assistance, the work was at once begun.
Many difficulties stared the ladies in the face after they had organized themselves into a memorial association. The work of marking and mounding thirteen thousand graves is by no means a slight one. To do it well heavy responsibilities must be incurred, a large sum of money must be raised, indefatigable efforts must be made, time must be devoted to the work; but womanly hearts stopped not to think of these. The great fact continually before them was this: “Our dead are neglected.” And as they read the sentence upon the dilapidated gates of Oakwood, heard it in every breeze which swept across the grassy graves, their resolution was formed that as long as we have aught to spare they shall not be forgotten.
On the 10th of May, 1866, the ladies visited their field, and strewing the burying-ground with flowers, took the first step in the labor of love. Since that day their efforts have been indefatigable, their purpose has remained the same, and though no trumpets have been blown to prepare the people, and no boasts have accompanied their quiet exertions, a great and good work has been accomplished. The results of one year’s work are far beyond our expectations. Neat oaken head-boards, plainly marked with the name and rank of the patriots who sleep below have been erected over about ten thousand graves, all which have been identified being thus distinguished. Nearly three thousand unknown graves remain, and the Association are now considering how these unknown heroes may be best and most appropriately honored.
Some propose that over each mound a head-board of neat design be placed with the simple inscription, “Unknown, C.S.A.” Others suggest that one grand monument be raised to commemorate the patriotism and valor of the heroes whose names have been lost. Both schemes have their earnest advocates, and many arguments may be used on either side. In a few days, however, the matter will be decided, and judging from the taste and good sense heretofore evinced by the Board of Managers and efficient Executive Committee, we have reason to believe that their decision will be the best.
The anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death is the Memorial Day of the Oakwood Association, and while it was thought best to refrain from any public demonstration on its last recurrence, many of the ladies visited the cemetery, and strewed, without display, the earliest flowers of spring upon the graves of the noble dead. Quietly they
“Brought flowers to deck the patriot’s grave,
And blest the vernal sod,
Where sleep those fallen ones whose deeds
Are written with their God.”
No memorial association in the southern States has accomplished a greater work in so short a time, and additional admiration is extorted from the friends of the cause by the evident disposition on the part of its members to carry out the scriptural injunction, “Let not thy right hand know what thy left hand doeth.” Their reward is the satisfaction which ever results from the consciousness of duty performed or a kind service rendered, and the name of the Oakwood Association will be forever deeply graven upon the hearts of the noble mothers and sisters for whose departed loved ones the ladies’ gentle hands have cared.