Posts from the ‘Cemeteries’ Category

Graves at Civil War cemetery face being exhumed after 50ft-long sinkhole forces 25 residents to flee their homes

The cemetery holds 20,000 graves including 714 Civil War veterans


A sinkhole that forced the evacuation of 25 residents from their homes has spread to an historic cemetery, threatening dozens of graves.

Officials in Allentown, Pennsylvania, have been given the go-ahead by a judge to exhume remains buried during the Civil War.

The hole, measuring 50ft long and 30ft wide, was thought to have collapsed when a water main burst and flooded under a road.

About 60 graves in Union and West End Cemetery are threatened have been roped off after several headstones tilted.

The cemetery holds about 20,000 graves, including 714 Civil War veterans. Among them is a Medal of Honor winner, Ignatz Gresser.

Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said: ‘If any sites are in jeopardy, than we are going to have to make that decision to excavate.

‘It’s a very sensitive issue. You are dealing with a cemetery. You are laid to rest and now it is being disturbed.’

Everette Carr, president of the association which maintains the 157-year old non-profit burial ground, revealed there were are no detailed historical records beyond those whose graves have headstones.

Many of the dead were buried in wooden baskets as was the custom during that era.

A dozen homes half a block from the hole on 10th Street were evacuated yesterday after firemen found a basement flooded. Five properties have been declared structurally unsafe.

‘At this point, we don’t know if the homes will have to be condemned or not,’ said fire chief Robert C. Scheirer.

‘Once we get the street secured, we will get into these homes and determine whether any have to be razed.’

Emergency workers have cut off power supplies and are now filling in the hole in with concrete.

Ann Blacker was forced to leave the home where she has lived for nearly three decades.

She said: ‘We’re afraid we’ll lose our home and everything in it. With sinkholes, you never know how far they will spread. There is just a lot of uncertainty now.’

She plans to stay with her mother. A shelter has been set up at an elementary school to accommodate evacuees who need somewhere to stay.

For photos and video on this story, click here.

150 Years Ago: Battle of Ball’s Bluff Oct. 21, 1861

Ball’s Bluff was a small battle by the standards of the Civil War, but it had ramifications far beyond its size. It was only the second significant battle in the east, and received a great deal of attention in both North and South. Edward Baker, a senator from Oregon and close personal friend and political ally of President Lincoln, was killed during the battle and became a martyr to those who took a hard line against the Confederacy. Perhaps most importantly, the defeat spurred the creation of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War by Congress; the Committee became a persecutor of those who were considered to be soft on defeating the Confederacy and destroying slavery.

George McClellan took command of Union forces around Washington, D.C., in the wake of the defeat at Bull Run in July 1861. He immediately set about training and improving the state of his army. As the good campaigning weather of fall 1861 passed, however, he began to feel pressure to advance on the Rebel forces just across the Potomac River from Washington. Probes and raids by Yankee forces over the Potomac combined intelligence gathering with training. On 19 October McClellan ordered General George McCall to conduct a reconnaissance toward the village of Dranesville, Virginia, covering a topographical survey of the area. McClellan alerted neighboring commander General Charles P. Stone of the movement and told him to keep a vigilant watch on the town of Leesburg; if the Rebels evacuated it, he could move in. A “light demonstration’ on Stone’s part would help move them on.

Stone moved one brigade to the Potomac opposite Leesburg. When an inexperienced scouting party crossed into Virginia during the night of 20 October, it mistook shadows for an unguarded Confederate camp. Stone ordered Colonel Charles Devens and 300 men to make a dawn attack. If no other Confederate forces were found, Devens was to stay on the Virginia side and conduct a further reconnaissance. When Devens found no camp, he pushed on to Leesburg, which he found empty of enemy troops. Devens requested reinforcements so that he could hold Leesburg.

When Stone ordered additional troops to join Devens, only three boats were available to ferry soldiers to the Virginia side and so movement was slow. Colonel Edward Baker was ordered to take command of the larger force, totaling 1,640 men. Baker was an inexperienced soldier, but he was also an old Illinois friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, in fact, had named his second son after Baker. After he had moved west, Baker was elected senator from Oregon. He had turned down a commission as brigadier general, because it would require his resignation from the Senate. An outspoken enemy of any who would compromise with the slaveholding South, he looked forward to an opportunity to prove his point in battle.

Baker ordered his men to form a line of battle in a clearing near the river. Immediately in the rear of his position was 100-foot Ball’s Bluff; a single narrow path led down to the Potomac. More experienced officers worried about a wooded ridge immediately in front of Baker’s line. Confederates on that height would be able to shoot down at the Union soldiers in the clearing below.

Actually, Confederate units under the command of Colonel Nathan “Shanks” Evans were slowly arriving on the battlefield and exchanging shots with the Yankees. At 3:00 p.m. the Confederates launched a general assault on the four regiments at Ball’s Bluff. Soon, Evans’s 1,600 Rebel soldiers in wooded cover were pouring shot into Baker’s forces in the open. For three and one-half hours, the Union soldiers held on. Baker was killed around 5:00 p.m. Unable to stand the fire and unable to retreat in an orderly manner, the Yankee formation began to crumble. Some leaped off the bluff in an attempt to reach the river, and many were killed or injured by the fall. Others climbed safely down Ball’s Bluff, but the few boats were swamped by the numbers trying to regain the Maryland side. As the Confederates fired down from the top of the bluff, boats sank and scores drowned in the river. By 7:00 p.m. the battle was virtually over and most Federal survivors were prisoners.

Union losses totaled 49 killed, 158 wounded, and 714 captured or wounded. Confederate casualties amounted to 33 killed, 115 wounded, and one man missing. The obvious disparity in losses was clear to all and trumpeted by the Confederates, while the defeat having occurred so near to Washington ensured that newspaper reporters would quickly spread the news to the rest of the country.

National Cemetery at Ball's Bluff

The effects were quickly felt in the north. For Lincoln, Baker’s death was a personal blow. When informed, Lincoln stood stunning and silent for several minutes. He walked slowly back to the executive mansion with bystanders noting tears rolling down his face. Baker was buried in a state funeral attended by the president, vice president, congressional leaders, and the Supreme Court. He immediately became a martyr to the cause of the Union, despite the fact that his inexperience had contributed to the disaster.

Nonetheless, the political establishment was intent on discovering darker motives for the disaster. Although many regular officers blamed Baker, Republicans who favored a hard war policy and the destruction of slavery blamed McClellan and Stone. On 20 December, Congress created the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War. Representatives from both the Senate and the House of Representatives thus formed a permanent committee to inquire into and investigate how the war was being directed. Investigations were conducted in secret, and the committee was soon persecuting those suspected of having Southern sympathies.

Their first victim was General Charles P. Stone. Witnesses denounced Stone, alleging that he secretly communicated with unnamed Southerners and returned runaway slaves to their owners. He was also blamed for failing to reinforce Baker at Ball’s Bluff. The Committee took their findings to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who ordered Stone relieved of command and arrested on 8 February 1862. Stone was never tried, but enough testimony was released to the newspapers to paint him as a traitor. Stone was released from prison in August 1862, and though he served again, his military career was virtually at an end. Stone’s experience remained an example and warning to Union commanders throughout the remainder of the war.

– Tim J. Watts

[Source: Heidler, David S. and Jeanne T. Heidler. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social and Military History. W.W. Norton & Co. 2002. pp. 167-169]

Additional Links:

The U.S. Army has a detailed look at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff that was published previously as Ball’s Bluff: An Overview and is now on line. You can find that here.

The Civil War Trust has a webpage dedicated to the Battle of Ball’s Bluff with additional resources, including recent efforts to preserve the historic battlefield from development encroachment. You and find their Ball’s Bluff page here.

The Balls’ Bluff National Cemetery contains 25 burial plots containing the remains of 54 soldiers. Only one, plot #13, is identified as James Allen, a soldier from the 15th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority began its Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Restoration program in 2004, to restore the park’s appearance to what it looked like in 1861. You can find more information about those efforts here.

You can read a brief biography of Senator-Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker here.

For further reading:

Farwell, Byron. Ball’s Bluff: A small Battle and Its Long Shadow (1990).

Grimsley, Mark. “The Definition of Disaster.” Civil War Times Illustrated (1989).

Holien, Kim Bernard. Battle at Ball’s Bluff (1985).

Stears, Stephen W. “The Ordeal of General Stone.” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History (1995).

Tap, Bruce. Over Lincoln’s Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War (1998).

Ceremony salutes Berks soldiers who served in Civil War

By Ron Devlin, Reading (Pa.) Eagle

Garrett Hyneman, 69, Muhlenberg Township, at the grave of his great-grandfather, Henry Hyneman, a Civil War veteran buried in Aulenbach's Cemetery. Reading Eagle photo by Jameson Sempey

Standing on hallowed ground Saturday in Reading’s Aulenbach’s Cemetery, Craig Breneiser invoked President Abraham Lincoln’s immortal words to pay tribute to Berks County soldiers who died in the Civil War.

“They made the ultimate sacrifice by giving their lives at the altar of their country in order that – as Lincoln said at Gettysburg – a nation might live and a government of the people, by the people and for the people should not perish from the Earth,” Breneiser said.

Breneiser, an amateur Civil War historian, was the featured speaker at a ceremony observing the 150th anniversary of the start of the conflict that claimed the lives of 620,000 Americans.

While Aulenbach’s is the final resting place of 522 Civil War soldiers, Saturday’s tribute was dedicated to 15 who were wounded or killed during the war.

Cemetery manager Sandy Stief marked their graves with American flags and lanterns whose flames flickered in silent reverence as about 50 people gathered in their honor.

“It’s amazing how many Berks County residents served in the Civil War,” Stief said. “Berks County played a crucial role in the outcome of the war.”

Stief’s great-grandfather, George Burkhart of Reading, was a captain with the 55th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, and was wounded in battle. Stief’s husband, Donald, donned a Union Army uniform and portrayed Capt. Burkhart, whose unit was at Appomattox Court House when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered April 9, 1865.

The 45-minute ceremony began with Berks County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach hoisting a Civil War-era flag with 33 stars in its field of blue.

Actually, there were 34 states at the start of the Civil War. Kansas had been admitted Jan. 1, 1861, about three months before the war started with the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.

Eleven of the 34 states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America under President Jefferson Davis.

Re-enactors in Union blues snapped to attention as Garrett Hyneman, a member of the Ringgold Band, blew taps.

One of the soldiers being honored was Hyneman’s great-grandfather, Henry Hyneman of Reading, who fought in 24 battles with the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry. Henry survived the war, but suffered a stroke while attending the 50th anniversary of the battle in Gettysburg.

He died a few days later.

“To me, the Civil War is a very personal thing,” said Hyneman, 69, Muhlenberg Township, a retired elementary school principal.

Munching on hardtack, a crackerlike staple fed to the troops, participants got a taste of battlefield fare Civil War-style.

Biting into a hard crusted wafer, Leinbach observed: “It’s like saltines without the salt, but a lot harder. Then again, if you’re hungry, I guess it did just fine.”

Breneiser, whose great-great grandfather survived the infamous Andersonville prison camp, characterized the war in eloquent terms.

“In the end, the Civil War was the crucible that forged the country we know today,” he said. “It was personal, and the men who went to war, North and South, instinctively knew they were doing more than just fighting; they were building a future.”

Contact Ron Devlin: 610-371-5030 or


Civil War-era cannon balls stolen from Ohio memorial

SOUTH CHARLESTON, Ohio (AP) — Police say someone has stolen the remaining Civil War-era cannon balls from a military memorial in a western Ohio cemetery.

The Springfield News-Sun reports that the nine cannon balls were all that remained of a pyramid of 30 or 40 believed to have been installed in 1909 to honor those who served or died in the Civil War. They were atop a soldier’s memorial in South Charleston’s Greenlawn Cemetery.

The president of the village’s heritage commission says the hollowed-out cannon balls were part of a larger grouping gradually reduced over a century of theft. George Berkhofer says they weighed between 32 to 40 pounds each and were about 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

Authorities speculate they could have been taken for sale or scrap purposes or as a prank.

Battle Over Civil War Graves

From the AP/NBC Washington

A military graveyard is causing controversy in Virginia, and its not located in Arlington.

A group is demanding better grave markers for more than 17,000 soldiers buried in Richmond that fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, wants federal funding to place individual, upright markers in the graveyard for dead soldiers, the Times-Dispatch reported.  The graveyard is named Oakwood Cemetery, and is one of the largest for Confederate war dead.

“You would not believe the people all across the country with ancestors out there who want this done,” said F. Lee Hart III, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s and the head of the group’s committee to restore the cemetery.

One of the group’s supporters is U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va.  He wrote a letter petitioning the Veterans Affairs to release money for the refurbishment.

Currently, six by six inch marble blocks serve as the marker for 3 soldiers each.  According to the Sons of the Confederacy, these blocks are in disrepair.  “The stones are all damaged, a lot of them are illegible,” Hart told the Times-Dispatch.  “It’s disgraceful.”

The VA estimated that the total cost of new, upright markers would be $3.2 million.  The Sons of Confederate Veterans asked for ten new upright, granite markers last year from the VA, but were turned down.  An agency official wrote such markers “would have an adverse effect on the historic setting and potentially archaelogical resources.”

But Hart has pointed out that the cemetery had originally been marked by Confederate women’s group with upright grave markers made of wood, which eventually rotted.

The month of April was marked as Civil War History Month by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

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