WHITE COUNTY — The Dogwood Cemetery in rural White County is a special place for those who have friends and loved ones buried beneath its gray stones. The cemetery also has historical significance because of the 33 Confederate and one Union soldier whose final resting places are there. Tom Bird and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have made it their mission to restore to pristine condition not only the gravestones of the war’s dead, but the entire cemetery.
Bird explained that he is among five members of his division of the group, or “camp,” who have received training from the Historic Preservation Society on the proper way to clean and preserve gravestones. He said the process is not just a simple case of grabbing a bucket of water and a brush.
“There are do’s and don’ts,” Bird said. “If you use the wrong chemical, like bleach or Roundup, around the headstones, it can cause a sugaring effect because of the salt content in them, and you can end up causing more harm than good.”
The proper cleaning technique involves applying an algae-killing solution called D2 designed to clean limestone and granite. The stones are coated with the substance with a soft-bristle brush and tongue depressors to get into the grooves of a stone’s markings. After that painstaking process, Mother Nature takes over as rainfall washes the algae away from the stones to reveal their original condition.
In addition to the large number of known Civil War veterans’ gravestones at Dogwood, there is evidence that more soldiers may be buried there. Bird said that because graves are usually laid out in rows, when there are empty spaces between headstones it is possible that unmarked graves are present.
A mound near the center of the Dogwood Cemetery with a large rock resting on top of it has been noted by the White County Historical Society website as being a possible mass grave for Civil War soldiers because of its resemblance to a mass grave found in Pennsylvania.
Finding and preserving the graves of Civil War veterans is a worthwhile venture, not only for the families of the dead, but on a larger scale, Bird said.
“It’s our history, and it’s a part of the healing process of our nation,” he said.
Bird works with families to find the graves of their ancestors who fought in the Civil War, but said the process is often difficult-to-impossible. He said the National Registry for Confederate Soldiers is a good resource for those who are searching for information about where their Civil War ancestors are buried. Since Confederate soldiers weren’t buried in national cemeteries, many are buried in private cemeteries, while others’ graves remain unmarked.
“Battlefields are cemeteries. A lot of times soldiers were buried where they fell,” Bird said.
The Civil War veterans buried in the Dogwood Cemetery are believed to have been brought there from a nearby Confederate hospital at the site that was to become known as Egbert, according to records from the White County Historical Society.
Each member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is a descendant of a Civil War soldier. Bird’s ancestor was James Barnett Parsons, who fought in 28th Alabama Company 8 and was captured outside Nashville, Tennessee. He was held at Camp Douglas until Tennessee surrendered.
Bird’s family has a long history of military service. His father fought in World War II and was the recipient of four Bronze Stars and a Service Arrowhead from the invasion of South France. Bird also had family members who fought in the War of 1812, as well as the Revolutionary and Mexican wars.