Monday, April 14, 2008

Green-Wood Cemetery and the Civil War Project

My husband and I have been volunteers for almost six years in the Historic Fund Civil War Veteran Project going on in historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. The project has been working since 2002 to identify and remember the Civil War veterans who lie at rest in Green-Wood Cemetery.
Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the world’s great cemeteries and is a National Historic Landmark. Founded in 1838 as the third rural cemetery in America, it was a leading tourist attraction by the 1850’s, attracting 500,000 visitors per year, and is now the final resting place of over 600,000 persons, including some of history's most memorable figures. Of those buried there, it is now believed that at least 3,000 were veteran soldiers and sailors of the Civil War, many sadly lying in unmarked graves, or under gravestones that have been so badly weathered that the stones have become unreadable.

More than six million men served in the Civil War during the years of 1861 -1865, and approximately 500,00 were from New York State. Over 600,000 men nationwide were killed and many more were wounded during the Civil War.

When the project first started it was thought, based on earlier informal searches, that perhaps there were 500 or so Civil War Veterans interred in Green-Wood Cemetery, but now six years later under the guidance of Jeff Richman, Green-Wood Cemetery's official historian, we, along with other volunteers, have found more than 3,000 buried veterans within the cemetery! We have scoured not only Green-Wood’s grounds but also cemetery records, pension and enlistment archives, government databases, regimental histories, published obituaries and death notices. We have also filled out more than 1,200 applications for new markers since the Department of Veterans Affairs supplies them if originals are unreadable or lost.
Please take the time to watch a very poignant video about Green-Wood's Civil War Veteran effort on the New York Times website here.
In the pictures below you can see my husband and other volunteers poring over the cemetery's burial ledgers searching for names of men who were of Civil War service age, to then cross-reference them against military muster lists and other references. It is tedious but satisfying work, especially as some very interesting stories emerged about many of the men we identified.

A close up photo of some of the exquisite penmanship in the burial ledgers.

In conjunction with this research, Jeff Richman wrote and edited this book, Final Camping Ground: The Civil War Veterans at Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, in Their Own Words.

This unforgettable book is a profusely illustrated account of the Civil War primarily in the words of Green-Wood Cemetery’s veterans—their letters, their journals, and their battlefield reports. The book is supplemented by a searchable computer CD containing a biographical dictionary of 3000 veterans, with more than 700 pages of text and hundreds of photographic portraits.
From the book's introduction: "Here are the veterans of the Civil War in their own words, many of which are published for the first time. They write from camp, just trying to survive. They write from the front, awaiting battle. And, they write from the battlefield, where they lie dying. Their words reflect their patriotism, their humor, their dedication. These men sacrificed so much for their country—their careers, their health, their lives. They deserve to be remembered. Here they are, in their own words. "
On Memorial Day, May 28, 2007, there was a dedication ceremony to mark the success of this project at Green-Wood, and many dignitaries, Civil War reenactors, descendants of Civil War soldiers, and the volunteers were in attendance.
Below is a photo of the 1.200 new Veteran's Administration headstones laying flat, awaiting placement on the grave sites of the Civil War Veterans interred in Green-Wood.

Some photos of Union and Confederate reenactors at the Memorial Day celebration, in soldiers field.

One of the more interesting stories that emerged from our Civil War Veteran research was that of the Prentiss brothers, two brothers buried side by side in Green-Wood Cemetery. One fought for the Union, the other for the Confederacy, and both were mortally wounded in the same battle at St. Petersburg, VA. Even though they had vowed to never again speak to each other when they joined opposite sides of the conflict, after they were wounded their nurse, the now famous poet Walt Whitman, reported that ultimately they achieved reconciliation before their deaths. Below is a photo of the new gravestones for the Prentiss brothers, The Union Clifton Prentiss on the left, and his Confederate younger brother William Prentiss on the right.

Next photo, is of the new gravestones installed in front of their nearly illegible original gravestones.

The Prentiss brother's unusual story has been recounted in a newly published fascinating historical fiction novel.

Two Brothers, One North One South by Author David H. Jones.

How gratifying that their story has been preserved and retold, and how honored we are that their final resting place has finally been recognized by our Veteran's Administration for the generations to come!

Below a view from one of the hills of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, looking towards Manhattan.

There are many more fascinating stories about the veterans buried in Green-Wood, as well as the many other famous people who are buried there, such as Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ebbets, Samuel F.B. Morse, Peter Cooper, Horace Greeley, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Henry Ward Beecher, General Henry Halleck, Lola Montez, Laura Keene, Elias Howe, and “Wizard of Oz” Frank Morgan, and infamous such as “Boss” Tweed, Bill "The Butcher" Poole, Albert Anastasia, and Joey Gallo, among others.
Consider taking one of the many guided tours available of the cemetery's beautiful grounds, as it is also a remarkable arboretum, wildlife sanctuary, sculpture garden, a place of architecture, landscape design, and history. The cemetery is open to visitors everyday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., weather permitting, see the web site for contact and further information.

It is certainly a wonderful place of interest to visit if you come to New York City! Bookmark and Share


Rosie's Whimsy said...

I always learn so much reading your blog. That you for that....really...knowledge is wealth :-) Rosie

Tara said...


This is so great! We went to Gettysburg last year and found that to be an unbelievably moving trip when we did all the tours and saw ALL those graves! Just awe filled.
My children are 14th generation New Yorkers through their Dad, and about 7 of his ancestors served in the Civil War, one on the Confederate side!

This is such amazing work-good for you and your hubby!


PS> I am going to bet you have both been watch the Joh Adams series on HBO--fascinating!!

Anonymous said...

Hiya, what a remarkable post! That would be a fascinating place to visit.

Amber Cargile said...

What a fascinating post! As a veteran myself, I thank you for the work you are doing to honor our nation's fallen!

Edie Marie's Attic said...

Hi Pat!
Wes and I are in awe of your post! We watched the video you linked which was great. I have always been a lover of cemeteries since childhood (going to put flowers on all the family graves) and my dad & I would go through and look at all the tombstones. This is such an incredible project and it honors all those who paid the ultimate price. We have to tell our oldest son about it. He is so interested in history and especially military. Green-Wood Cemetery will be on the top of my list when I finally get to NY! You will be second! LOL Thank you so much for all you and your husband do.
Hugs, Sherry

Vee said...

Such an incredible task! You must feel honored to be a part of it all. That video was indeed poignant.

The thing that I was happy to see is that the new stones are not replacing the old. They are in addition to whatever is there, if there is something there. Those old stones are a history lesson in themselves.

Thank you for telling us about this incredible part of history and in such an interesting way. I simply had no idea.

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

Pat, I can’t tell you how very proud I am of you and your fellow volunteers for your work on this project. I watched the video and it brings to tears to my eyes. I am so sentimental about respecting those who came before us, their work and their sacrifices. No where is the feeling more palpable than in a cemetery. Another coincidence…my parents work on the historic cemetery in the town that I grew up in. It consisted of neglected corner of a cemetery that it still used. Buried there were the founders of the town, a number of Civil war veterans and even a Revolutionary war veteran. The city had been using that corner of the cemetery as, essentially a compost area, dropping refuse from the rest of the “new” cemetery in that “corner”. Shame on them! The restoration was done as a project of our Quester chapter (I think you would love Questers). The club raised the needed money as well as doing much of the physical labor. They worked for years, digging up the sunken stones and repairing them. The veterans administration replaced the soldiers stones, but they , my parents, restored the other stones. I was living in another state at the time or I would have been right there helping them. I did a little work on some gardens they put in when I first moved back to the state at the tail end of the project. I’m so glad there are people like all of you to do this special work!!
I would love to get to Brooklyn someday and see this cemetery. Another awesome post by Pat!! You rock!!

Unknown said...

very interesting reading, esp for me, i read it twice, tks a million for sharing :)

Mary said...

What a huge undertaking, and a fascinating post! Thanks for sharing it. I'm off to watch the video now...

PAT said...


This is an amazing post about an amazing project. Thank you so much for your work and thank you for writing about it, here!


Cape Cod Washashore said...

WOW! That is fabulous! And what a labor of love! My gr-gr grandfather served in the Civil War throughout its duration. Fortunately he is buried at a local cemetary with the rest of the family, and he does have a memorial plaque and stone.

Junie Moon said...

This is a truly touching project and I'm so glad to learn more. I've read the Walt Whitman piece about the two brothers, so sad. Thank you for sharing this information and the pictures.

Proud Italian Cook said...

Such an amazing and rewarding project! It is a true labor of love! Awesome post Pat!

Penny from Enjoying The Simple Things said...

What an wonderfully informative post! I admire you, your husband and the other vounteers...

Tara said...

Good morning Pat
I showed my Mom and Dad this post. They are from Brooklyn and said they used to go here as teenagers to smooch! They are in their 70s now, will celebrate 50 yrs next week, and got a big charge out of remembering this!



Rue said...

Good morning Pat :)

Wonderful post!! My husband and I love learning about the Civil War, so this story particularly interesting to me. Beautiful cemetery.

I'm sorry you had a similiar birth. They do grow up too fast.

Have a beautiful day!

MJ Ornaments said...

Hi Pat,
Thanks for an amazing post. I've always been so interested in the Civil War. What a great project you're involved in, and keep up the terrific work. (Is it hard to read those ledgers sometimes?)
Take care,

Mrs. B said...

Wow Pat, another amazing story! How wonderful that you and your hubby volunteer for this. I can imagine that it would be very tedious, but so rewarding when you make progress in recognizing the veterans! This looks like a fascinating place. Hopefully I will get to visit someday. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

Just A Girl said...

Hi Pat,
I hope you had a great weekend. It looks like you've been very busy. What a rewarding project to work on. It seems like the civil war happened so many years ago when really in the span of history it wasn't that long ago. It's sad to think of all those men dying and families being split apart over such issues. Are you and your husband involved in re-enactments? I've been to a couple and they're a lot of fun.

Jillian's Bella Rosa Antiques said...

Hi Pat,

Thank you for sending me this link to you Civil War post. Very very interesting! Such history and you both are helping to preserve that!

My ancestor was buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in 1913. We at least knew that information from papers my Dad found in my Grandmother's house. I don't think he has a marker and I've tried to contact the same department you all have ordered your tombstones from, and they never got back to me. What did I do wrong?

Thanks again!


Joanne Kennedy said...

This is a wonderful thing you and your husband do. Whenever I make it to New York you better believe I will be taking this tour.

I tell you, I'm going to have stay at least a month now that I'm learning all this stuff.

Oh how I wish I could live there forever...