The Civil War Era

The Civil War Era

The formation of the Confederate States of America, the outbreak of the Civil War, and the increasing hostilities between opposing sides led to steadily growing tensions in Lexington. Men enlisted in the Union army, which was recruiting in the Bluegrass, and others slipped off to join the Southern forces in Tennessee and the western part of Kentucky. City residents became increasingly divided, and remained divided so long as the conflict lasted.

The Lexington Cemetery Company surely felt the pressures of the war and the strain of contending passion in the community. Indeed, according to a report published in the Richmond, Virginia, Whig of May 16, 1862, federal authorities in Lexington limited the number of persons who could attend the burial of Confederate soldiers, and on at least one occasion they interfered with and interment of a soldier who had been killed in battle in Tennessee.

Although the Civil War brought division among families and within families, the Lexington Cemetery Company maintained a position of neutrality. Sympathizers of each side owned lots in the cemetery, and Lexington soldiers died for both the Confederacy and the Union. There is no record of the meetings of the trustees in this period, but their official position obviously was to honor commitments to the owners of lots and to do so wholly without regard to political matters. In addition to private family lots, the trustees provided a general "Soldier's Ground" for the burial of Union dead and a corresponding Confederate lot for the burial of Southern dead.

On September 11, 1861, Captain Cary G. Gratz of St. Louis was buried in Lexington Cemetery in the lot of his father, Benjamin Gratz. He was a Union officer, and he had died August 11 of wounds received in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri. The Record of Interments book indicates that he was the first soldier of either army laid to rest here, but others soon followed.

On September 19 and 20, Colonel Thomas E. Bramlette's Third Kentucky Infantry and Colonel Frank Wolford's First Kentucky Cavalry began the Union occupation of Lexington, ending the tenuous neutrality that had existed. In the next two months four of Bramlette's soldiers and four from the 14th Ohio, the first out-of-state regiment stationed here, were buried in the Lexington Cemetery. They were interred in the twelve-grave lot of the Sons of Temperance, a fraternal society which had existed in Lexington for a number of years.

The cemetery board, realizing that there would be many more casualties, set aside a part of Section N as the "Soldiers' Ground," and on December 2 David Leech (or Leach) of the 14th Ohio was the first man buried there. The four men of Bramlette's regiment and two of the Ohioans were moved there, while the other two were sent to their home state.

During most of the Civil War the fairgrounds (now part of the main campus of the University of Kentucky) was a federal encampment. The grounds contained a handsome amphitheater which had been erected by John McMurtry, the architect-builder who had designed the original cemetery gateway. Just before midnight on December 18, 1861, the amphitheater caught fire, an alarm was sounded, and citizens thronged to the scene.

"Whilst the fire progressed," the Observer & Reporter recounted in its next issue, "an occurrence took place...that caused a far deeper feeling of melancholy than the destruction of the amphitheater." A Union cavalry officer, Lieutenant Joel D. Hickman, wearing his uniform, entered the campground and was challenged by a sentry. Probably in jest, Hickman declared "himself to be a Secessionist" and repeated the statement, whereupon the sentry shot him dead. The body of the lieutenant, who was well known in Lexington, was placed with military honors in the vault at the cemetery on December 20 and later was interred. Through some unexplained circumstance, the location of the grave was not recorded, and to this day it is not known.

When Confederate forces invaded Kentucky in the late summer of 1862, troops under General E. Kirby Smith entered Lexington on September 2, followed two days later by Colonel John Hunt Morgan's cavalry. They took over the Union military hospitals, and deaths of the sick and wounded occurred almost daily. The cemetery trustees set aside a plot in section P for the burial of Confederate soldiers, and the first to be interred there was Thomas W. Ward of the 30th Arkansas, on September 5. He was not, however, the first Southern casualty laid to rest in the Lexington Cemetery.

The Confederate occupation ended October 9 after the Battle of Perryville, and Union troopsheld Lexington until the end of the war. Aside from occasional skirmishes, little fighting took place around Lexington, and many, perhaps most, of the men buried in the cemetery died of illness in the military hospitals or in private homes where they were being cared for.

A note pasted in the front of the interments book states that between October 4, 1861, and July 26, 1865, there were buried in the Lexington Cemetery 828 "U.S. vols white," 40 "U.S. Vols cold," and 97 "Disloyal," a total of 965 Union dead. In the Confederate and private lots there were 102 Southern burials during the war, and 88 of those men had died in hospitals here.

After the war the cemetery company donated the Union lot to the United States government, which purchased an adjoining 16,111 square feet on July 1, 1867. The whole area was designated a national cemetery, and the bodies of federal soldiers from several central Kentucky counties were brought here. Servicemen and veterans of later wars were interred in this tract, and by 1932 it was filled. When the government decided not to buy additional land, the trustees set aside an adjacent lot containing 102 grave spaces which could be purchased for the burial of eligible men and women.

The Southern section was turned over to the Confederate Veterans Association on June 6, 1891, for the token payment of one dollar, and the C.V.A. on February 2 of the next year bought an adjoining lot of 510 square feet for fifty dollars. When this space also became filled, the association purchased two more lots totaling 853 square feet. It was a rule of the association that no Confederate veteran would have to be buried in a pauper's grave.

The Lexington National Cemetery for many years had near its center a large cannon known as "Long Tom," a relic of the Battle of Richmond, Kentucky, mounted on end. A heavy iron chain hung from stone posts along the roadway, and at intervals by the road were five bronze plaques inscribed with lines of Theodore O'Hara famous poem "The Bivouac of the Dead," which begins:

The muffled drum's sad roll had beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on life's parade shall meet
The brave and daring few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead

Similar plaques were located in national cemeteries throughout the country until they were ordered removed by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts in the 1940s. The commission had decreed that no tablets or ornamentation were to be left in any of the cemeteries because, it said, they destroyed the symmetry of the gravestones. Only the flagstaff remains today in the Lexington National Cemetery.

The Confederate lot has two monuments. One , erected by the Ladies' Memorial and Monument Association of Lexington, was dedicated on May 26, 1875, and was described by Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper as "probably the most perfect thing of its kind in the South." It was designed by George W. Ranck, Lexington historian, who, some persons believe, was inspired by a poem, "The Conquered Banner," by father Abram Joseph Ryan, known as "the chaplain of the Confederacy," It contains these lines:


Take that banner down! ‘tis tattered;
Broken is its staff and shattered,
And the valiant hosts are scatted
Over whom it floated high.

The Kentucky Gazette of October 7, 1874, described the monument in these words:

The base is of rugged rocks, apparently, upon which is erected a rustic cross of admirable design and execution. From the cross hangs in festoons the Confederate flag, its staff broken, and its  blazonry dimmed as if bourne down in the last battle. A broken sword beneath the cross gives a further expression to the sentiment of buried hopes and a despairing cause. Around the rocky base springs the vine and flowers of southern growth...

The upper part of the monument was sculpted in Italy. The Muldoon Monument Company of Louisville made the base and erected the monument.

The second monument, a soldier carved in Carrara, Italy, and standing on a granite pedestal, was dedicated on June 10, 1893. On the base were engraved the names of the men buried in the lot, and other names were added as veterans died. The Confederate Veterans Association and its ladies' auxiliary sponsored the memorial; but, according to newspaper accounts, it was paid for in part by others in the community, including at least one Union officer who made a large contribution.