Motivation for the Project

Motivation for the Confederate cemetery project

My interest in this subject began on the very cold and miserable day in January 1999 when I buried my father, a native of “Hop’town” and a Kentucky Colonel, in an old Meacham family plot at the City cemetery. I noted a few dozen yards down the road there was the majestic Latham Monument to the “UNKNOWN CONFEDERATE DEAD”. Several years later, when researching my family history at the county public library, I came across the booklet The Story of a Monument published in 1888 and was moved by the heart-breaking account of the Confederate camps on the outskirts of town during that fateful winter of 1861-62. So many men (and many teenaged boys) suffered horribly from the harsh weather, being without proper clothing and blankets, and tormented by disease.

Then, in 2010, I read an account of the discovery in 1899 of an old notebook, which had a layout of the graves and the names of those buried in each. A cemetery of 227 graves presents a rather large archaeological target. As a professional archaeologist (semi-retired) who has excavated burial grounds of different ages, from the Neolithic to the 19th century, I felt that these graves could and should be found. And I thought it would be an opportunity to give back something to "Hop'town" whose wonderful people had provided many happy memories in my youth. I managed to get a couple of small grants, but spent over $5000 of my own funds to hire workers and machinery, plus cover my own costs in the three fieldwork sessions of 2012, 2014 and 2015.

I add here a little description of my Hopkinsville roots. My father's parents were from long-standing Christian county families; both died of TB when he was very young, and he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Florence Henderson (nee Anderson), and uncles and aunts on his mother's side. An orphan from very modest beginnings, he worked his way through college by playing in a dance band, and went on to become one of the country's great neurosurgeons. But he never forgot his roots, and instilled in his children a profound respect for family and all those who contribute to one's upbringing.

I visited Hop'town every year for the annual family reunion, from the time I was born until I went off to college. My great uncle Wallace Henderson Sr had lots of stories of local history, and another great uncle, Arthur Bowles, had all manner of genealogical information. I failed to take much interest, as a kid, and later as a teenager was more interested in Wallace Jr's sports car and his female companions! But eventually a fascination with both subjects (local and family history) did take hold, along with some regret that I did not take advantage of the rich heritage those relatives offered while they lived. In 2000 I made a special trip to visit Jack Amis and Nancy (daughter of Arthur and Louise) at Lexington, to study Uncle Arthur's papers. And now I have come full circle, as Uncle Wallace was very interested in the Civil War activities in the city. He wrote a paper on the subject in the 1950s and interviewed an elderly lady who was seven years old when Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife and child took up lodgings in their house in 1861. To think that I might have met that lady myself, though of course it would have meant nothing to me at the time.

It has been extremely gratifying to have been able to locate 98 of the Confederate graves thus far (rows 1 to 9), including some of fellow Tennesseans who served under Col. Forrest.