Saturday, August 31, 2013

Point Lookout cemeteries — Civil War prisons, part 2

Around 4,000 Confederate soldiers (4,500 total including one nurse) died at Point Lookout prison camp during its two years of operation.

The dead were originally buried in five cemeteries: one for Union soldiers on the Potomac River side, two for Confederates in the middle, the "Collored Burying Ground" just above the peninsula, and another one in the middle for  smallpox victims of all races and politics.

Maryland's Confederate memorial
A year after the Civil War ended, the U.S. Government gave up the lease to the point and tried to straighten up the neglected cemeteries. Some of the Union names had been lost to sand and erosion. The unknown were reburied with the known in their own enclosure, and later moved to a national cemetery (Arlington, I believe, but can't find the source).

The other four graveyards were consolidated on the Chesapeake Bay shore. The government bought that plot of land in 1867. The Confederate dead were moved two more times, along with a marble monument erected by the state of Maryland, eventually winding up in a mass grave in the nearby town of Scotland.

At least the government marked the grave, now on federal property, with an impressive monument and the earliest known names (NPS website).

Beitzell's book adds many names from other records. A simple wooden enclosure at the cemetery houses a binder with an updated list (look near the base of the flag).

Only tiny contraband flags to honor the dead
Because I grew up in our modern United States, I didn't notice at first that Confederate soldiers are buried under the flag of the "enemy." The War was doubly awful because people on both sides were Americans. What more appropriate place for a Confederate flag (or even both flags) than over those who died under it?

But a group of POW descendants noticed, and figured out a way to honor the dead.

The Descendants of Point Lookout POW Organization bought a piece of land right at the entrance to Point Lookout and built a Confederate Memorial. On private property.

Please excuse the plexiglass glare.
Beneath each of the original southern state flags is a plaque with a diary or letter excerpt from one of that state's POWs. Memorial bricks pave the ground, and the base of the statue houses an original "bean pot" from the prison camp.

I walked around and read some of the signs. As I read, fascinated by history about black soldiers and especially photos, I noticed a flyer next to the photos on the announcement board. The DOPL organization had scheduled a memorial service on Saturday. I would still be in town.

Thomas Maness didn't die at Point Lookout, but for the first time in my life, I realized I was the descendant of a POW.

Next (Sept. 20), part 3: A modern memorial

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