As the caravan of carnage neared the University of Virginia, townspeople rushed to the wagons to administer what relief they could to the wounded Confederate soldiers.
Groans and incoherent mumblings of delirium rose and ebbed as the wagons bumped and swayed along the rutted road. Aid workers gagged and grimaced, assaulted by the stench of blood, vomit and worse.
The horrors were being repeated at the nearby railroad depot as dead and wounded were unloaded there. Charlottesville was being spared from the destruction brought about by the Civil War, but not from its butchery.
The city had become a major medical site for several reasons. It was easily accessible by road and rail, it was relatively near Richmond, and it had a large number of doctors and students at the university’s medical school.
So it was that Charlottesville became a shore on which the ghastly waves of war washed up its wreckage. New convulsions of agony were delivered as nearby battles such as First and Second Bull Run, Cross Keys, Port Republic and Cedar Mountain upped the carnage.
As the Grounds of the university became ever more saturated with blood, its cemetery grew. By war’s end, 1,097 graves held the remains of soldiers, including two Confederate generals — Turner Ashby and Carnot Posey.
What initially had been intended as a temporary burial ground became the UVa Confederate Cemetery. Although few headstones had been put in place, meticulous records had been kept on where each soldier was buried.
In 1866, the Ladies Confederate Memorial Association was founded with the purpose of placing rough wooden markers on each grave with the name of the person and his unit on it. The women also collected $1,500, which they used to build a stone wall around the cemetery.
These days, members of Albemarle Chapter 154 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy help watch over the cemetery. At 11 a.m. Saturday, they and Sons of Confederate Veterans will hold a Memorial Day service at the site located on the corners of Alderman and Cemetery roads.
The speaker for the event will be Rob Craighurst. His talk will focus on Charlottesville General Hospital during the Civil War. Re-enactors in period garb also will participate.
Food vendors will be present, and refreshments will be served following the ceremony. The event is free, and visitors are encouraged to bring chairs.
The blood of war long since has dried, and birds of spring now sing above the graves containing soldiers from every state in the Confederacy. In 1890, Mrs. Charles S. Venable, the leader of the memorial association, sent an appeal for funds to all the states having soldiers in the cemetery.
“The United States Government spends great sums in protecting and beautifying the graves of the Federal dead,” Mrs. Venable’s letter begins. “Our dead are as sacred to us, and though we cannot build such beautiful cemeteries or splendid monuments, we can, without great pecuniary sacrifice, at least keep their graves green and rescue their names from oblivion.”
This they have done.