Book Review–Civil War Graves of Northern Virginia

Mills, Charles A. Civil War Graves of Northern Virginia (Images of America). Charleston: Arcadia Publishing.  2017. 128 pages, ISBN 9781467124225, $21.99.

The grounds of Virginia practically ran red with the blood of the Civil War. With bloody battles such as The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Manassas I and II, Chancellorsville, and dozens more, thousands of men lost their lives in the Old Dominion. Even more were injured, many to a level they never returned to a normal life.

In his introduction author Charles A. Mills estimates there are more than 1,000 cemeteries in northern Virginia. Using this as a baseline it is easy to see that a book of only 128 pages can only scratch the surface.  Once mammoth cemeteries such as Arlington National Cemetery are taken into account that lessens even further the inclusion of smaller and lesser known cemeteries.

Mills relies on two sources for images in the book; his own images and those from the Library of Congress collection. Unfortunately this leads to some images being relatively already well known and then the problem with inconsistent quality of author taken photos. An example is shown on page 70; two images of stones from Falls Church both of which could have been taken at a different time of day and had better results. Library of Congress images often contain standard photos of generals and other war era scenes.

I also noted a few issues throughout the text that could have been remedied. On page 18 Mills uses the number 600,000 in regards to Civil War combatant and non-combatant deaths. Recent scholarship has placed that number to be around 750,000, a number that has been gaining much more acceptance. On page 111 a photo of Abner Doubleday recounts the story of his being the inventor of baseball. A short line then attempts to throw doubt on that story; “an honor that some contest.” A review of one of the leading baseball statistical websites disproves the baseball story and it would have been better left out.

These qualms aside I did enjoy this book and made fast work of it. There are some fascinating stories included and while there were more non-cemetery photos than I would have preferred in many instances it was important to the story to show background history. I particularly enjoyed seeing church cemeteries such as Pohick Church, the parish church of George Washington. Anybody with an interest in cemeteries can not help but be moved by Arlington National Cemetery and Mills does a fine job representing both historical and modern images of perhaps the greatest cemetery in the United States.

For those with an interest in cemeteries this is a book that should be added to your collection. If you are interested in Civil War memory this is one you might consider thumbing through though it will probably not end up on your bookshelf. For the average Civil War enthusiast this is a book well worth including in your library despite the reservations mentioned above. The photos are well worth the overall minor quibbles I had regarding text.

Thanks to Arcadia Publishing for providing a complimentary review copy.


New St. Augustine Historical Society Marker to be Placed

The Saint Augustine Historical Society invites you to attend the unveiling of the historic marker “ST AUGUSTINE ON ANASTASIA ISLAND” on September 8, 2016, at 11:00 A.M. in the open field (overflow parking lot) just north of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm (999 Anastasia Boulevard).

Through the generosity of the Alligator Farm and Mr. David Drysdale, the Society is able to place this marker in a highly visible and easily accessed location.


St. Augustine, the oldest European-settled city in the United States, was located on Anastasia Island from 1566 until 1572. Spanish settlers had founded the city on the west shore of the Matanzas River on Sept. 8, 1565. They built homes and a fort. The fort and the supplies inside burned. On May 18, 1566, a council voted to relocate the city to the barrier island across from the first location. St. Augustine moved to the barrier island for protection from hostile Native Americans and European enemies entering the port. Documents describe in detail the city’s 6-year presence on the island–two forts, government buildings, barracks, a jail, homes, wells and fields for crops. No physical evidence has yet been found. Quarrying in the 17th and 18th centuries and erosion probably destroyed the remnants of the city on the island. Sixteenth-century reports note that the island city was two leagues (5-6 miles) from a strong house on San Julian Creek, placing the city in this general area of high ground and near the 16th-century inlet. The relentless ocean eroded the town’s location. In 1572 St. Augustine returned to the mainland.

Death Date of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass, Courtesy Library of Congress.
Frederick Douglass, Courtesy Library of Congress.

Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 and died on February 20, 1895.

My connection to Douglass is through my research for my book ST. AUGUSTINE & THE CIVIL WAR (Civil War Series). It turns out Douglass, who had personally met with Abraham Lincoln on several occasions, gave a speech in St. Augustine in August 1889.

Douglass was visiting nearby Jacksonville to give a speech at the Sub-Tropical Exhibition. Douglass was convinced to take a train ride and speak in the nearby city. He was given an afternoon reception at the Genovar Opera House located on St. George Street. He later spoke to a racially mixed audience of approximately 700. His speech was an abbreviated version of his Jacksonville lecture.

Unfortunately the Genovar Opera House and other nearby buildings burned to

The Frederick Douglass Monument located in St. Augustine. Courtesy Robert Redd.
The Frederick Douglass Monument located in St. Augustine. Courtesy Robert Redd.

the ground in April 1914.

In June 2009 the City of St. Augustine erected a small marker on St. George St. commemorating the speech and Douglass’s trip to the city. The marker is easy to pass by. It is located near Treasury Street on the left hand side as you are walking toward the Plaza. GPS N29.53.638 W081.18.772

Book Review–A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments

A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments cover.
A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments cover.

Reaves, Stacy W. A History of Andersonville Prison Monuments (Civil War Series). Charleston, Arcadia/History Press. 2015. ISBN 9781626196247. 139 pages, 132 pages text. $19.99. Index, bibliography, b/w photos.

Prisoner of war camps are never a pleasant place. Those that Union and Confederate soldiers endured during the Civil War were horrific. Death rates were exceedingly high. This is due to several factors; lack of food, lack of medical care, an uncaring attitude from those in charge, poor hygienic condition and others were most common. Who is to blame for these conditions if often debated with no clear answer ever agreed upon.

When Civil War prisons are thought of I would venture that the name Andersonville would be the most commonly mentioned. While no doubt the most famous, or infamous as the case may be, it was hardly the only one with deplorable conditions. The fact that it held Union prisoners and that its commandant, Henry Wirz, was put to death for his actions, and perhaps the fact that the grounds are still available to visit have led to the prison’s notoriety.

Author Stacy W. Reaves has written  a book discussing the memorials and monuments that have been placed around Andersonville. The book is broken into three major themes: the founding of the prison and what it was like, efforts to preserve the land and tell the story of what happened there (of primary importance is the Women’s Relief Corps who at one time owned the majority of the prison property), and finally efforts from various northern states to erect monuments to their lost men.

The majority of the book, approximately 90 pages, deals with individual monuments and the efforts made by various state agencies and groups to have them placed. While the majority of photos are modern there are some excellent photos of veterans gathered at monuments which helps bring a real sense of humanity to the book.

Michigan monument at Andersonville, dedicated in 1904. Courtesy National Park Service.
Michigan monument at Andersonville, dedicated in 1904. Courtesy National Park Service.

My personal favorite in the book is the Michigan memorial. This monument, which cost approximately $6,000, shows a mourning Columbia bringing a laurel victory wreath to place on the graves of the dead from Michigan. It is a monument that is different from the majority of those seen and it looks to be beautifully carved.

While there are several statements included putting down the southern efforts while failing to acknowledge northern prison problems (page 14) it is important to note the inclusion of information on the Wirz monument. This monument, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1909,  is not located within the park service boundaries but rather in the town of Andersonville.

While not a complete look at all monuments this is certainly a book that anybody interested in Andersonville, Civil War prisons, Civil War memory, or cemetery iconography should take a look at. The text is brief, only 139 total pages with plenty of photos, and can be read through in an afternoon.

Thank you to The History Press for sending a complimentary review copy.



Alachua County, FL to Move Confederate Monument

"Old Joe" located at the Alachua County Administration Building. Courtesy
“Old Joe” located at the Alachua County Administration Building. Courtesy

In the seemingly unending assault on anything Confederate, the Alachua County Commission has agreed to move the Confederate monument located at in downtown Gainesville to the Matheson History Museum.

As it always seems this issue has brought out all kinds of people from both sides wishing to voice their opinion. The funny thing, a year ago how many of them even knew the monument was there and if they knew, did they care.

Read about the move in the local paper here.