Separate but Equal? Gettysburg’s Lincoln Cemetery

By Savannah Labbe ’19

The most well-known cemetery in Gettysburg is, of course, the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Another cemetery in Gettysburg that receives less attention is the Lincoln Cemetery, currently located on Lincoln Lane. This small cemetery is home to around thirty Civil War veterans. Why were these men not buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, a cemetery created for all veterans of the Civil War? The answer: they were African-American. While they were allowed to fight for their freedom, even in death, these men were still not equal to the white soldiers they fought beside.

Some Union soldiers were willing to fight for abolition, but many did not believe in racial equality, even in the army ranks. The most famous of example of this is General William T. Sherman, who detested the freed slaves who followed his army as it marched through Georgia and South Carolina. He also had to be forced by Abraham Lincoln to allow black soldiers in his army, remarking in his memoirs that his army “preferred white soldiers.” The Civil War was also often seen in its immediate aftermath as a war about reunion, with the abolition of slavery being a necessary side effect. Burying African Americans next to white soldiers could therefore hamper reconciliation efforts between North and South, as cemeteries often became places of shared memory and reverence for both sides. With this in mind, it is not surprising that these veterans of the United Sates Colored Troops were not allowed in the main cemetery in Gettysburg, and another place for them to be buried was needed. The cemetery created to fill this need was what would eventually become Lincoln Cemetery.

Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

In 1866, a group was formed for the express purpose of finding a good place to bury the community’s African American veterans. This group was called the Sons of Good Will, and it originally had three members: Basil Biggs, Nelson Mathews, and Thomas Griegsby, all of whom were African American. Biggs was also involved in reinterring bodies in the Soldiers National Cemetery, hired as a laborer by the government. This was a very lucrative opportunity for Biggs and others who wished to make money to pay for all the property that had been destroyed during the battle. Perhaps his experience doing this spurred him to create a similar cemetery for African American veterans of the Civil War.

In 1867, the Sons of Good Will bought a half-acre of land in a neighborhood located in what is still known as the “third ward” of Gettysburg, where African Americans were required to live–attempts to move out of it were always denied by the local government. It was on the outskirts of town, and as such, its residents were always subject to getting their land taken away as the town expanded. A prominent landowner in this part of town, Eden Devan, sold the first plot of land to the society for $60, to be paid in two installments. Most of the land that the cemetery was created from was bought from African American members of the community, just like this first half acre. The cemetery came to be known as the Good Will cemetery after the society that founded it. It would eventually house not only the thirty USCT veterans but also many members of the African American community.

In 1906, the Lincoln Cemetery merged with the other black cemetery in town, which was located near the AME Zion Church. The church no longer could afford to maintain their cemetery and appealed to the Sons of Good Will for help. This led them to the decide to disinter and reinter all the bodies in the Good Will Cemetery, which now became the only African American cemetery in Gettysburg. In addition, the town wanted the land that AME Zion’s cemetery was located on, and they pushed for the consolidation of the two cemeteries. In 1916, after the Sons of Good Will ceased to exist, due to the death of most of the members, so some of the land on Good Will Cemetery sat was sold to Lincoln Lodge 145, was an African American Elks Lodge. The members of this organization became the cemetery’s caretaker, especially in 1920 after all of the lots were sold and entrusted to their care. This is how it came to be known as the Lincoln Cemetery. The Lincoln Lodge was responsible for the cemetery until around 1934, when its last member became incapable of caring for it. After that, the care of the cemetery fell into hands of concerned citizens and members of the community.

As no one in particular was in charge of the cemetery, it fell into disrepair. This was a common problem in African American cemeteries everywhere, and it followed a pattern of destroyed African American cemeteries in towns whose white cemeteries were kept in pristine condition. In many instances, this pattern continues today. An example of this is in Richmond, Virginia. The African American East End and Evergreen Cemeteries there are overgrown with many headstones knocked over, while the nearby Oakwood Cemetery is kept in good condition, as the Virginia government provides money to the Daughters of Confederate Veterans for its upkeep. In a similar situation, the Lincoln Cemetery became overgrown, so much so that one could hardly tell that it was there. Often, people used the cemetery for parking. Headstones were knocked over, and the cemetery became a mess.

In the 1970s, the Gettysburg College service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega cleaned up the cemetery as one of their projects. Eventually, care of the cemetery was given back to the AME Zion Church, which appealed to the town to help with maintenance. The town agreed. The Lincoln Cemetery Project Association was established in the late 1990s to help preserve the cemetery and raise awareness of its existence. Now, there is a locked fence around the cemetery due to concerns of vandalism and a lack of respect for those buried there. The association also holds an annual Memorial Day service complete with a parade, and the cemetery is in much better shape than it has been over the years. There are also waysides around it that provide interpretation in order to help people learn about the history of the cemetery and understand that even though the USCT veterans buried in the cemetery fought for freedom and citizenship, they were still segregated in death. The Lincoln Cemetery Project Association works to preserve not only the cemetery itself but also its memory and the memory of African Americans who fought in the Civil War

This cemetery is interesting for many reasons, one of them being the fact that, despite its existence, two African American Civil War veterans were still allowed to be buried in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Why were these two allowed to be buried here when everyone else was denied access? One of these men was Charles Parker, a member of the 3rd USCT. He was originally buried in Yellow Hill Cemetery until 1936, when he was reinterred in the Soldier’s National Cemetery. Yellow Hill Cemetery was located in Butler Township, and the surrounding area was home to a thriving African American community until it was abandoned in the 1920s. The cemetery was left without anyone to care for it, so many of the bodies in the cemetery were moved to the Lincoln Cemetery. Parker’s reinternment was part of Worker’s Progress Administration project to locate all the graves of Civil War soldiers. In Gettysburg and the surrounding towns, this job was taken up by Henry Stewart. When Stewart found Parker’s body, the Yellow Hill Cemetery was in serious disrepair, so the decision was made to move him to Soldier’s National Cemetery.

The story of Henry Gooden, the other African American man buried in the Soldier’s National Cemetery, is more perplexing, however. Gooden died in 1876 and was reinterred in 1884. This raises many questions as to why Gooden was allowed to be buried there when only one other African American man was. There is scant information on Gooden. Perhaps he especially distinguished himself during the war. It seems unlikely that he would have been allowed to be buried there without anyone really noticing or caring, given the racial feelings of the day. Gooden was buried in the United States Regulars plot in Section D, as part of the prominent Civil War section of the cemetery, alongside white soldiers, with the same granite marker. He was given an equal place among the rest of the dead; the records do not provide an answer as to why this was so. Gooden’s case is an unusual one, as he was the one of the very few that was granted equality in death. In contrast, the African Americans in Lincoln Cemetery remained unequal, have largely been forgotten about, left behind by history, in a cemetery that was poorly taken care of for far too long. These men were good enough to fight beside white men, but only two were good enough to be buried beside them, a perfect example that freedom did not mean equality.


“Area Speaker Invited to Centre County.” September 17, 2005. The Gettysburg Times.

FREED WESSLER, SETH. “BLACK DEATHS MATTER. (Cover story).” Nation 301, no. 18 (November 2, 2015): 20-25. Accessed March 4, 2018.

History.” Sons of Goodwill/Lincoln Cemetery. Last modified 2013. Accessed February 24, 2018.

Myers, Betty Dorsey. Segregation in Death. Gettysburg, PA: Lincoln Cemetery Project Association, 2001.

“Salute to USCT Set for November 19.” November 12, 2008. The Gettysburg Times.

Sherman, William T. The Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1889.

“1,565 Graves of Civil War Veterans Located.” October 17, 1936. The Gettysburg Times.

“The Vegetables Really Get More Tender Care”: An Introduction to Death and Dying in the Civil War

By Zachary Wesley ’20

The Victorian world was one of ceremony and order, even in death. Deathways–the practices of a society regarding death and dying–in 19th century America focused on elaborate rituals that earned the country the grisly distinction of possessing a “culture of death.” The American Civil War presented a four-year window in which many of these traditions were radically challenged in both the North and the South, as loved ones died anonymous deaths far from the embrace of kin. Nevertheless, the warring populations attempted to maintain important traditions even as the horrors of war surrounded them, thus allowing the deathways of the antebellum years to survive even into the early days of the 20th century.

“The Good Death” and the ars moriendi (the art of death) are two common names for what was expected of a “proper” death during the Victorian Era, a concept that drew heavily on themes from Protestant Christianity. Ideally, the dying individual would be surrounded by loved ones in their final moments, speaking inspirational words and repenting of any sins that they might still harbor. When death finally came, it was to be faced fearlessly and calmly, once more inspiring all who were present with the promises of a reunion in heaven. From the point of death, the rituals of mourning began. Clocks were stopped at the time of death, blinds and shutters were drawn, and mirrors were turned to face the wall (or at the very least covered) to prevent the spirit of the departed from becoming trapped or dooming a user of the mirror to certain death. Black mourning dresses became the standard dress for women during this time, while men donned black suits or perhaps mourning armbands.

The women of the family often prepared the body for burial, though undertakers might be summoned by wealthier families. Viewings and vigils often preceded the funeral, with vigils lasting a full twenty-four hours. If a family had them, servants watched over the body during the night. Candles remained lit and flowers were often placed near the body in part to mask decay.  The course of the funeral ultimately depended on how well-to-do the deceased individual was, as funerals “held with tasteful decorum were a sign of good breeding.”  One example of such a funeral early in the war can be found in the July 22, 1861 issue of the Richmond Dispatch. Lieutenant Humphrey H. Miles had been killed in action four days earlier near Manassas Junction while leading soldiers of the First Virginia Infantry and was laid to rest on Saturday the twentieth in Hollywood Cemetery. The newspaper account describes the funeral procession “evinced the respect with which the deceased was regarded.” As a member of the Masons, he was buried with full Masonic honors, while his wife and children were left to “to mourn the sad fortune of war.”

rose woods
The above photograph, taken by Alexander Gardner, depicts dead of the Second South Carolina Infantry in the Rose Woods at Gettysburg. Note the shallowness of the grave. Photo credit: Gettysburg National Military Park.

As Lieutenant Humphrey’s death occurred so early in the war, his family was fortunate enough to receive his corpse for burial, though Northern and Southern families alike faced the terrifying reality that they would not know a loved ones’ final resting place or hear their final words as the war progressed. In some cases, doctors, nurses, chaplains, and other soldiers might record the final words of a dying soldier, sending it on to the family he left behind. These “proxy” relatives became essential middle-men in the wartime disruptions of accepted deathways, providing closure to families. Expected final words or knowledge of how death came became a grim luxury for countless Northerners and Southerners, who often brooded on the same question: did he die a “good” death? Heroic battlefield exploits confirmed for many that a soldier in question had died well, fully embodying the Victorian virtues of romantic masculinity. Nevertheless, loved ones’ thoughts often returned to fears of an anonymous death on the battlefield, where the likelihood of recording a soldier’s final words–nevermind providing a proper burial–was slim.

In the aftermath of battle, the sheer volume of the dead often overwhelmed the armies’ burial parties preparing to march again. At Gettysburg, for instance, some estimates placed the weight of human and animal corpses awaiting burial parties on July 4, 1863 at a staggering six million pounds. Although some “fortunate” cases saw comrades retrieve dead friends or family members for burial at home, far too many soldiers lacked this luxury. Common burials in  the form of mass graves marked the battlefields. Even when individual burials were possible, the standard marker of a “decent” burial, the coffin, was a rarity. Shallow graves eroded by wind and rain often yielded their inhabitants to the air. Hogs who searched for the rotting corpses of fallen soldiers became a ghastly and frequent sight in the months after a battle. One Chaplain described the treatment of the dead as a process similar to how farmers “cover potatoes and roots to preserve them from the frost of winter; with this exception, however: the vegetables really get more tender care.” Soldiers and civilians alike were appalled by the conditions their heroes faced in death, ultimately sparking the movement that led to the creation of the first national cemeteries. This sense of unity in honoring the Union dead, however, reached its most powerful expression following Abraham Lincoln’s death on the morning of April 15, 1865. Returning wounded continued to fill Northern cemeteries as ministers across the Union sought to provide context to the shocking loss of the president, declaring him the “last casualty of the Civil War,” even as personal losses continued to mount. The victory of the Union cause coupled with the death of Lincoln created a powerful fusion of civic duty and Protestant Christian deathways.

President Lincoln’s funeral procession depicted in Harper’s Weekly. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.


During the uncertainty of war, countless loved ones at home turned to the traditions of death and mourning for a sense of closure. The comforting familiarity of these rituals fostered “a belief they could move through their despair.” Mourning attire also represented a sense of larger unity, with many Southern women seeing the black folds of mourning dresses representing the grim reality of Southern losses in the conflict. In the North, too, the toll of death was felt in countless households. The death toll of the war numbered greater the entire male populations of Alabama or Georgia or more than twice the entire population of Vermont at the time. The formerly-Protestant traditions of death and dying customs expanded into Catholic and even non-Christian households as loved ones and soldiers searched for closure with the loss of loved ones and brothers in arms. Lincoln’s death became the ultimate, national example of how the nation understood mourning customs, and indeed did much to formally cement these traditions as part of American culture at large for at least half a century after the war.


Bell, Caryn Cossé. “A Black Patriot and a White Priest: André Cailloux and Claude Paschal Maistre in Civil War New Orleans (review),” The Catholic Historical Review 88, no. 3 (2002): 618-620. Accessed January 25, 2018.

Bell, Clyde. “What Happened to Gettysburg’s Confederate Dead?,” From the Fields of Gettysburg:  The Blog of Gettysburg National Military Park, July 26, 2012. Accessed December 6, 2017.

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Vintage Books, 2008.

Hodes, Martha. Mourning Lincoln. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015.

Lieut. Humphrey H. Miles.” Richmond Dispatch. July 22, 1861. Accessed February 15, 2018.

Loeffel-Atkins, Bernadette. Widow’s Weeds and Mourning Veils: Mourning Rituals in 19th Century America. Gettysburg, PA: Gettysburg Publishing LLC., 2012.

The Evolution of the Military Dog Tag: From the Civil War to Present Day

By Savannah Labbe ’19

In doing research for my previous post on the U.S. Christian Commission, I came across an intriguing artifact: a Civil War era identification tag, or dog tag. When I picture a military dog tag I see a metal rectangle suspended from a necklace, like those worn by today’s soldiers. One doesn’t usually associate dog tags with the Civil War, which is why I was interested to find one. However, it is not surprising that the basic human fear of dying unknown, of robbing one’s family of closure and certainty, was present during the Civil War just as it is today. This is why there are accounts of Civil War soldiers crudely fashioning their own dog tags before going into battle. At Cold Harbor, soldiers wrote their names and addresses on a piece of paper and pinned them to their uniforms before charging to their deaths during the suicidal attack that occurred at that battle. There are also accounts of soldiers making dog tags out of old coins and pieces of metal and wood. In addition, they would carve their initials into items of clothing or carry around photographs of family members to help ensure their identification.

During the Civil War the government did not have the capacity or the willingness to issue dog tags to every soldier. A request was made to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to issue a dog tag to every Union Soldier, but it was denied. Thus, soldiers had to look elsewhere for their dog tags, prompting some of them to make or purchase their own. They could buy silver or gold disks with their names stamped on them from the sutlers that followed the army. The U.S. Christian Commission also issued identification tags and distributed approximately 40,000 personal identifiers to Union soldiers.

A Civil War dog tag that would have been issued by the U.S. Christian Commission. Photo credit: Special Collections, Musselman Library.

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Frederick H. Kronenberger: Attempting to be a Man

By Tiffany Santulli ’13

In her book War Stories, Frances Clarke outlines the importance of being seen as a man in Victorian society. For a soldier and his family it was important to know that if he should meet a tragic end, his death would be seen as a triumphant one. These concepts can be found in the story of Frederick H. Kronenberger, a young clerk who enlisted in the Second New Jersey Volunteer Regiment during the Civil War.


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Writing on the Operating Table Part Two: The Letters of James Langstaff Dunn, Civil War Surgeon

By Sarah Johnson ’15

After discussing the war letters of James Langstaff Dunn through the lens of Gerald Linderman’s Embattled Courage and challenging the idea of mass disillusionment among Civil War soldiers, it becomes necessary to revisit the Dunn letters to discuss a more helpful framework for viewing Dunn and his war experience. Frances Clarke’s War Stories: Suffering and Sacrifice in the Civil War North sets up the Civil War against a backdrop of notions of Victorian suffering. By using Clarke’s approach, Dunn is revealed as an individual dedicated to cultural notions of suffering and sacrifice for cause and country.
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Burying the Dead

???Burying the Dead ???Burial Parties were sent out, and those who could get away from their commands went out to view the scene of carnage, and surely it was a scene never to be forgotten. Upon the open fields, like sheaves bound by the reaper, in cr…

This post was first published on the Civil War Institute’s previous blog901 Stories from Gettysburg.

“Burying the Dead “Burial Parties were sent out, and those who could get away from their commands went out to view the scene of carnage, and surely it was a scene never to be forgotten. Upon the open fields, like sheaves bound by the reaper, in crevices of the rocks, behind fences, trees and buildings; in thickets, where they had crept for safety only to die in agony; by stream or wall or hedge, wherever the battle had raged or their waking steps could carry them, lay the dead. Some with faces bloated and blackened beyond recognition, lay with glassy eyes staring up at the blazing summer sun; others, with faces downward and clenched hands filled with grass or earth, which told of the agony of the last moments. Here a headless trunk, there a severed limb; in all the grotesque positions that unbearable pain and intense suffering contorts the human form, they lay. Upon the faces of some death had frozen a smile; some showed the trembling shadow of fear, while upon others was indelibly set the grim stamp of determination. All around was the wreck the battle-storm leaves in its wake—broken caissons, dismounted guns, small arms bent and twisted by the storm or dropped and scattered by disabled hands; dead and bloated horses, torn and ragged equipments, and all the sorrowful wreck that the waves of battle leave at their ebb; and over all, hugging the earth like a fog, poisoning every breath, the pestilential stench of decaying humanity”

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