When the Ladies Memorial Association of Wake County was organized May 23, 1866, one of their first objectives was to find a suitable spot for ‘our heroic dead’. Mr. Henry Mordecai told Mr. P. F. Pescud after a request for land with a financial offer, “Mr. Pescud, the Ladies Memorial Association is welcome to as many acres of land as they need for such a sacred purpose”.
A plan for the grounds submitted by Mr. Pescud resulted in “the first Confederate Cemetery in the late Confederacy of which Mr. Pescud has any knowledge.” The deed to “Soldiers’ Cemetery” is dated March, 1867. The tremendous task of moving 546 bodies of the Confederate dead from sites in many areas of Wake County was preceded by clearing trees and stumps and otherwise putting the donated land in proper condition.
The cemetery was laid off in eight divisions with the first four numbered designated for North Carolinians. Division 5 was delegated for the 44 Georgia dead, Division 6 for the nine from Mississippi, Division 7 has four rows of South Carolina soldiers and Division 8 contained 106 unknowns, plus 70 soldiers from most of the remaining states.
George W. Whiting was chairman of the committee to ascertain where the soldiers were buried and to have their remains disinterred and removed to the cemetery. He, assisted by Misses Blanch Bragg, Annie Lovejoy and Sue B. Pescud, remarked in pencil all the headboards at the graves they found, and prepared a list of the names before the graves were opened. Mr. Pescud and the ladies received and superintended the reinternment of the remains. The work was begun February 22, 1867, and occupied several weeks.
Most of the Confederate dead in Wake County were buried during the war in Rock Quarry Cemetery, just across from the old Fairgrounds Hospital and the Pettigrew Hospital (later the Soldier’s Home). When the Federal Army came to Raleigh, they took possession of the hospitals and the cemetery. A Federal officer in command of the cemetery selected it for the internment of their own dead. A later threat was supposedly verbalized that if the Confederate soldiers buried were not removed in two days, their bodies would be thrown in the road.
The threat stirred to activity all the loyal citizens of the town, and preparations sped up for their removal to the Soldiers’ Cemetery, even while the grounds were being prepared. The work was done almost entirely by young men of the city who fought side by side with their fellow comrades, a labor of love. With picks and wheelbarrows they were assisted by women relatives walking by their side. In that early day, 1867, they moved 494 from Rock Quarry Cemetery, 20 from the city cemetery, 14 near Henry Mordecai’s, eight from Wake Forest, six from Camp Mangum (current site of the State Fair and Meredith College), two from Camp Holmes, and one each from Chapel Hill (a young Alabama lad), Mrs. Price’s farm and Flowlet’s farm (last two locations currently unknown).
In 1871, 137 bodies were removed from Gettysburg and reinterred in the Soldiers’ Cemetery. In 1883, 107 dead were removed from National Cemetery at Arlington and laid to rest in two mass graves in Oakwood. Beginning in the late 1800s, veterans from the Soldiers’ Home were transferred to the cemetery. In 2010, there are 1,388 Confederate and two Union Soldiers buried in the Soldiers’ Cemetery in Oakwood.
Charles E. Purser, “A Story Behind Every Stone”
The Scuppernong Press, 2005