The History of Soldiers' Rest
by William Mathews
From his speech at Soldiers' Rest Re-Dedication
The importance of control of the Mississippi River was understood early in the war. As other important Mississippi River cities fell, such as Memphis and New Orleans, Vicksburg took on an even more important role, tying the western part of the Confederacy to the eastern part. For this reason, there was a Confederate military presence early in the war.
On Feb. 15, 1862, the first of many entries was made in what is now called the "sexton log." This log was kept from Feb. 15, 1862, to July 4, 1863. The log lists the dead that were laid to rest in Vicksburg by the sexton of the cemetery, Mr. Arnold. The log entries start with burial of 6 bodies in what was called in the log, Potters field. Two bodies were listed as buried in the Masonic and Vicksburg Southern lots. One body sent home to Arkansas. On April 4, 1862, there is an entry that says burials began in the "new graveyard."
The log book is arranged by date of death and contains as known:
The actual location of these graves and the meaning of the grave numbers have been lost to time. The log book resides in the Old Court House Museum. There are about 1600 names listed in the log book, which is short of the 5000 Confederate patriots who died in the siege.
In 1866, a group of local ladies formed the Vicksburg Confederate Cemetery Association. They obtained the land that is now called Soldiers' Rest, contracted to gather the Confederate dead from fields, forts, rifle pits, and trenches and lay them to rest in the area we now call Soldiers' Rest. During this time, the story is told of Yankee officer, Col. Parker, who while collecting the bodies of Yankee dead, marked, numbered, and made a record of 3000 Confederate dead. This log has been lost to time.
In 1892, the ladies began a project to raise money to erect a monument to mark the graves in Soldiers' Rest to perpetuate the memory of the heroic dead.
In 1893, the statue that stands today was unveiled with much ceremony. Following a luncheon in the rotunda of the Vicksburg Hotel, a procession was formed and they marched from the Louisiana monument downtown to the cemetery. General Stephen Dill Lee spoke for an hour and a half, paying a splendid tribute to the defenders of Vicksburg.
In 1977, there were fewer than 50 headstones erected in the area. When the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Jackson camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans ordered and put in place about 1600 stones with names based on the Sexton's list.
Since that time, there have been other stones set in Soldiers' Rest. The biggest setting was in the summer of 1998, when the UDC and SCV set 77 stones. These stones were based on a list of 77 names that Jeff Gaimbrone found behind a drawer in a desk in the Old Court House Museum.
Shortly after I joined the John C. Pemberton Camp, we identified about 25 stones (not Veteran Administration (VA) stones) to the rear of Soldiers' Rest that were being taken over by kudzu. Since then we have kept the kudzu beat back. Based on a picture in the court house museum, it appears these stones were set before about 1920 and appear to be set by friends or family after the war.
Above Soldiers' Rest
Above the VA stones set in Soldiers' Rest are a few stones of old soldiers that died in the Confederate Annex.
As a part of ensuring we identified all Confederate veterans buried in Cedar Hill, Commander Wayne McMaster came across a map of the cemetery dated 1935. On this map, Wayne found 6 lots identified as containing Confederate soldiers.
Two are just off Sky Farm Road, four are on the road to Soldiers' Rest on the left, including the lot identified as officers plot. Three of the six lots contained non-VA stones of Confederate soldiers listed in the sexton's log. The camp petitioned the city to control these areas and were given a proclamation to do what we deem appropriate. Since then, we have ensured these lots are identified as having Confederate dead. We have set some number of stones, including those set for men of the 43rd Miss. Inf. and one for Douglas the Camel.
Other Confederate Graves
Throughout Cedar Hill are stones in private lots that were set as Confederate veterans died after the war. Many of these graves had UDC Iron Crosses set. Many of these Iron Crosses have been removed (stolen).
S. D. Lee said in his address on the unveiling of the monument at Soldier's Rest,
Engraved plaque on the monument to the Confederate Dead, Soldiers' Rest.
"Confederate Veterans Hospital Annex, Erected By The Vicksburg Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy A. D. 1900. Let us comfort our heroes who gave their best years for home & country." Plaque on the monument to the Confederate Dead, Soldiers' Rest.