Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Tombstone Tuesday – Blandford Church Cemetery in Petersburg, Virginia

I won't have time for research when I visit Richmond for the Virginia Antiquarian Book Fair in a few days. However, I had lovely weather for a visit last fall to Richmond and Petersburg. My goal was to find the general area where my ancestor's brother, Shadrach Maness, was buried.

Shadrach fell early in the siege of Petersburg, killed 23 June 1864. His Civil War record gives no details, but histories of the long battle of Petersburg provide two likely causes of death that correspond to that date. Snipers were picking off soldiers from a distance during that time. There was also a skirmish that day in gullies or trenches outside the Confederate line, a successful attempt to prevent Federal forces from taking the Weldon Railroad.

Oral history says that Shadrach was buried in an unmarked grave near Blandford Church, even though he has a marker in Moore County, N.C. I thought, even if it's unmarked, perhaps there would be a mass grave or some commemorative marker that I could visit.

I had no idea — Blandford Church cemetery is enormous! Stones near the church date back to colonial days and the American Revolution. I caught a caretaker as he was closing for the day and asked him where burials might be for early in the battle. He handed me a rough map, complete with street names, and waved off toward the roads behind the church. "You might try Cemetery Hill," he said. "There's 32,000 of them buried there."

As I walked down the nearest lane, I was surprised by the variety of markers. I've visited large memorial sites, like Gettysburg and Arlington with their small, uniform tombstones. And smaller, old cemeteries with elaborate stones, sometimes with lengthy epitaphs on full-size grave coverings like in Europe. Blandford has both the numbers and uniqueness.

Some of the markers were draped: urns with a draping, or these tall monuments with drapings, but all carved in stone.

These floral headstones had matching footstones.

One grave had its own hobbit-like hill.

There were statues and monuments and mini-parks, including this large arch memorial to "Our Confederate Heroes."

This monument has "Unknown" and the names of states, including North Carolina, carved on its base. Would this be as close as I could get to Shadrach's final resting place?

When I visited last fall, our country was in an uproar about Confederate monuments. This one was built in 1890. I sat in a peaceful gazebo nearby and looked off towards graves that covered the hills in front of me. Why wouldn't people want to pay tribute to thousands and thousands of young men who never got to return home? Shadrach, who volunteered as a substitute for his dear friend Quimby Wallace when the draft was in full force, was only 17 when he died.


I was glad to see a place where various Confederate flags (most with the white background) were still allowed. A cemetery as well as a battlefield, what more appropriate place?

I was equally glad to see the American flag, like these at a marker for World War II and Vietnam veterans. At the end of the War Between the States, "rebels" were given full pardon and the nation was united again. Not always on the same page, as we well know in the 21st century, but our young men and women continue to fight as one under the American flag.

Over near the church, here are some of the early graves with full stones. Some were decorated with Masons marks, some with swords, some with angels.

Different art. Different eras. At Blandford it's as if every individual has freedom to express themselves, yet all end up together in this quiet, peaceful place.

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