Civil War Wednesday: Oakland Cemetery

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Formed as the Atlanta Cemetery in 1850, today’s Oakland Cemetery stretches across 48 acres of beautiful grounds within sight of modern Atlanta. Numbering among the 70,000 interred at Oakland, 6,900 Confederate soldiers and others who held prominent positions during the Civil War.[1] Recently, this writer spent the better part of an afternoon strolling through the grounds of Oakland. Each step forward carries one back in time, affording a connection with the past, and providing a moment – amid the tranquil settings – to reflect upon the nineteenth-century conflict, which tore the nation apart.

Leaving Big Shanty in April 1862, the Andrews Raiders stole the locomotive General, and proceeded northward in hopes of disrupting Confederate supply lines in the region. James Andrews, the leader of the party, did not count on a determined individual who refused to just watch his beloved engine steam away. William Fuller, the conductor, began chasing the General on foot. Two of his crew, Jeff Cain and Anthony Murphy joined him in pursuit. Years later, on their respective passing, all three of these men received internment in Oakland, and a historical marker identifies a nearby spot, where seven of the raiders stretched a rope in June 1862.

3Fighting for possession of Atlanta intensified during July 1864, as Major General William T. Sherman’s forces attempted to capture the city; standing in their way, the Army of Tennessee under the command of General John Bell Hood. During the July 22 Battle of Atlanta/Bald Hill, Hood watched his troops engage from the home of James Williams. The site, now within the confines of Oakland, contains a Georgia historic marker.

Healing, in the form of remembrance, took place in many towns across the country, and Atlanta proved no exception. The Ladies Memorial Association worked tirelessly to raise funds to commission the design and sculpting of the Confederate Monument, which they dedicated in early 1874; 20 years later, the ladies arranged for the “Lion of Atlanta” to guard the fallen. During the war, many of the Federal soldiers killed during the Atlanta Campaign received internment in the cemetery. After the war, most of them found their final resting place at the National Cemetery in Chattanooga. Today, 16 of the boys in blue remain at Oakland, each providing a lasting reminder of the war’s cost, both North and South.

Lion of Atlanta

Lion of Atlanta

Several prominent politicians, civilians, and military leaders from the Civil War era call Oakland home. The original six acre section of the cemetery contains the gravesites of Atlanta’s wartime mayor, James Calhoun, along with diarist Carrie Berry.

Alexander Stephens, vice-president of the Confederate States of America, briefly rested in the Cotting-Burke vault after his death in 1883. Eventually, he made his way home to Crawfordville.

One of Georgia’s most famous officers, Major General John Brown Gordon, fought in many eastern theater battles with General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. After the war, Gordon served his beloved state as a U.S. Senator and as governor.

The Confederate Memorial Grounds also contain the burial sites of Brigadier General Alfred Iverson and Major General Ambrose Wright.

Whenever your Civil War trails lead to Atlanta, visit historic Oakland Cemetery and walk the grounds of the past beneath the shadows of today. For more information, please visit http://www.oaklandcemetery.com.

[1] Ren Davis and Helen Davis, Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery: An Illustrated History and Guide (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012), 4.

All photos courtesy of the author.

MikeMichael K. Shaffer is a Civil War historian, author, newspaper columnist, and lecturer. He can be contacted at: www.civilwarhistorian.net.