Confederate General Buried Far From the Battlefield

Robert Selden Garnett, the first general killed in the Civil War, was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, but his family did not want visitors to the cemetery to know it.

Named brigadier general in 1861, Garnett briefly commanded Confederate troops in western Virginia before being shot dead in the battle of Corrick’s Ford on July 13, 1861.

According to research by the cemetery, one of his last cries on the battlefield was “Three cheers for Jeff Davis!”

But that Confederate pride did not follow Garnett to the grave.

Union forces turned over Garnett’s body to his family, who buried him in Baltimore. Four years later, the family decided he should lie in Brooklyn alongside his wife and son, who had died before the war. They exhumed Garnett’s remains and secretly re-interred him in Green-Wood, leaving his grave unmarked for fear of anti-Southern sentiments.

Earlier this month, and 150 years after his death, Garnett finally received a headstone at the historic cemetery, as a result of the painstaking research of volunteers. He is one of 75 soldiers of the Confederate army whose remains have been discovered in Green-Wood by the researchers, who have been sorting through records since 2002.

So far, Jeffrey I. Richman, the historian of Green-Wood Cemetery, has documented 4,600 people who fought in the war, nearly half of them in unmarked graves.

But the Confederate veterans who were laid to rest far north of the Mason-Dixon line, with no acknowledgment of their service etched in stone, particularly intrigued Mr. Richman.

“It seems a number of them had economic ties to New York before the war,” he said. “Some of the Confederate officers were looking for economic opportunities and came up.”

Gilbert Elliott, a shipbuilder and first lieutenant from North Carolina, was one of those Southern sympathizers who settled in the heart of Yankee territory.

At 19, Elliott commanded a Confederate crew in North Carolina who built the Albermarle, a 152-foot ironclad warship that tormented Union forces for much of 1864. Mr. Richman said the research showed that Elliott, like many of the other Confederate veterans found in the cemetery, spent his final years living around New York, associating with his former battlefield foes.

“They were going to dinners with the Union guys, hoist a few for old times’ sake,” Mr. Richman said. “They’d go to reunions together — they weren’t hostile to each other.”

Mr. Richman’s research began as a casual project among Civil War buffs in 2002 to identify the graves of about 200 veterans buried at the cemetery. But the historians quickly ventured deeper into archives, requiring the efforts of volunteers from as far away as California and Florida.

The team discovered 2,000 graves that were missing, unmarked or severely damaged, and obtained gravestones for them from the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. Calls and e-mails from descendants of Civil War veterans searching for relatives’ remains are received almost every day.

“We joke that our Civil War project has lasted more than twice as long as the Civil War itself,” Mr. Richman said. “And we’re still going.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. Richman has noticed a surge in interest in the cemetery’s research coinciding with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The sesquicentennial will be commemorated at Green-Wood on Memorial Day weekend with a candlelight procession led by Civil War re-enactors on horseback, musket salutes and music.

But the research is far from over. By Mr. Richman’s estimate, more than 3,000 unrecognized veterans’ graves may still be in the cemetery, home to about 600,000 souls.

“With the price they paid, the least we can do is recognize their service to their country, and make sure they have a gravestone that shows where they lay,” he said.

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