JUDSONIA — The 16 tombstones of Civil War veterans, only a few bearing fully legible inscriptions, surround an obelisk topped with a stone cannonball in Judsonia's Evergreen Cemetery.
As Memorial Day approaches, the antique monument and grave markers can evoke poignant reflections about patriotic sacrifice.
The Judsonia monument stands out among Arkansas' Civil War sites because it pays tribute to Union troops — the stereotypical "Northern aggressors" of Southern lore. As one of the 13 rebellious states that chose to secede from the Union rather than risk restrictions on slavery, Arkansas produced mostly Confederate soldiers. Some 50,000 Arkansas men fought for the South, with at least 7,000 dying from enemy fire or illness; 8,200 served on the Union side, with 1,700 deaths.
A total of 356 Civil War markers and memorials across the state are listed by the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. A great majority of them focus on the Confederacy, including sizable cemeteries in Fayetteville, Helena-West Helena and elsewhere. Little Rock National Cemetery contains graves of Union and Confederate dead, as well as burials from later periods.
But the encyclopedia reports that only four known monuments in the state specifically honor Union troops. One stands in Little Rock National Cemetery. The other three were erected by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), a national organization of Union veterans. Two are in Northwest Arkansas, at Gentry Cemetery and Siloam Springs' Twin Springs Park. The other is the one in Judsonia, 55 miles northeast of Little Rock.
When the monument was erected in Evergreen Park in 1894, the holiday then called Decoration Day had been set at May 30 by an 1868 proclamation of Gen. John A. Logan, commander of the GAR. Although the decoration of graves continued, "Memorial Day" became common parlance after World War II. Federal law in 1971 changed the date from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
At the dedication of the Judsonia obelisk, according to the site ARGenWeb.net, "two daughters of Federal soldiers, Ethel Newman and Carly Kinney, and two daughters of Confederate soldiers, Nell Young and Laura Hanson, pulled the strings that removed the curtain from the shaft. The crowd included many veterans of the Blue and the Gray, and there was no resentment to be seen or heard when they read the inscription, 'In Memory of the Defenders of the Union, 1861-1865.'"
Regarding the 16 graves of Union soldiers, ARGenWeb.net observes that "it is sometimes erroneously reported that these men were killed in battle. In truth, they were without families or burial lots and died within a few years after 1894." Legible names, researched by the local Girl Scouts in 1999, include Wm. Matheny, John P. Goshen and Isaac Copas.
A 17th military burial near the monument does hold the remains of a combat fatality, Marine Cpl. James Edward Wheeler, killed in World War II action in the Solomon Islands on Nov. 1, 1943. A recent visit to the cemetery on Judson Avenue found his grave decorated with flowers.
On the way back from Judsonia to the Little Rock area, another evocative stop can be made four miles southeast of Cabot at Camp Nelson Confederate Cemetery. In 1862, the camp housed as many as 20,000 Confederate soldiers from Arkansas and Texas. That fall, some 1,500 troops died of measles, typhoid, mumps and other diseases. They were initially buried at scattered sites in the nearby countryside.
In 1905, the state appropriated $1,000 to find the graves and rebury the remains collectively in a single trench. At the same time, 428 headstones were set up, along with a 12-foot-tall monument honoring those interred. The site was refurbished by volunteers in 1981. New headstones were put in place engraved with "Unknown CSA Soldier." A school group places flags on the graves each spring.
Details on Judsonia's Evergreen Cemetery and Camp Nelson Confederate Cemetery near Cabot can be found at encyclopediaofarkansas.net.
Style on 05/21/2019
Print Headline: Evergreen Cemetery holds memorial to Union soldiers