Where the Soldiers Sleep

In the months leading up to the Battle of Atlanta late in the summer of 1864, the citizens of Oxford received more than just news of General William Tecumseh Sherman's advances south from Chattanooga; they witnessed the bloodshed firsthand. Many Confederate soldiers wounded in skirmishes along Sherman's path were taken by rail to Oxford, where the Emory College campus had been transformed into a military hospital.

Because there was no way to carry home those who died at Emory, they were buried nearby, leaving a poignant reminder of Oxford's role in the Civil War. In a small cemetery on the wooded, southern edge of the campus, thirty-one grave markers--some with names, company identifications, home states, and dates, and some marked "Anonymous"--surround a tall, gray granite obelisk that reads simply, "Our Soldiers." All the men buried there died between January and December of 1864.

"The sick were being shipped to points on the Atlanta and West Point Road," wrote Walter A. Clark, a former Emory student and Confederate orderly sergeant who published a memoir of his service years in 1900. "Sick and wounded were said to be `dying like sheep.' Having no special desire to die in that way or in any other way . . . I asked assignment to some hospital on the Georgia Railroad." In July of 1864, the ailing Clark was carried by the Georgia Railroad to Oxford.

He was recuperating there when Union cavalry forces under the command of Brigadier General Kenner Garrard raided Oxford. Clark wrote about the day in his memoir:

The old college chapel where I had attended morning and evening prayer during my college course had been converted into a hospital dining room. On July 22, a few days after my arrival, the convalescents were taking their midday meal in this room when the clatter of a horse's feet was heard. There was some commotion outside and the men hurriedly left the table to investigate its cause. It required but a few minutes to size up the situation. A few feet from the door on a horse covered with foam sat a red-headed Yankee in blue uniform and with full equipment.

This same day is recorded in the diary of Dolly Burge, a widow who lived on a plantation near Oxford and who later married Rev. William J. Parks, one of Emory's charter trustees. "A never to be forgotten day," Burge wrote.

We have heard the loud booming of the cannon all day nearly. . . . I saw the servants running to the palings, & I walked to the door, when I saw such a stampede as I never witnessed before. Here came Eliza [a neighbor] back, the road full of carriages, wagons, men on horseback, all riding at full speed. Judge Floyd stopped saying, "Mrs. Burge, the Yankees are coming. They have got my family, & here is all I have upon earth. Hide your mules & carriages & whatever valuables you have."

Of the thirty-one Confederate dead buried in the tiny plot on the Oxford campus, Marshall Elizer, professor emeritus of mathematics and town history buff, says, "Whether these bodies are under these particular stones, I doubt it. . . . I imagine some were buried at the same time. [The obelisk and the markers] were put up many years after, maybe around the turn of the century when there was a movement to get monuments done."

For many years, the cemetery was the site of the annual Confederate Memorial Day observances on April 26. Around the turn of the century, former Emory President and Chancellor Warren A. Candler wrote, "Thither go the ladies of Oxford on Memorial Days to decorate these graves; and upon the little cemetery not a little care is bestowed to preserve and beautify it. As long as a part of the educational work of Emory is continued at Oxford this spot where the soldiers sleep will be held as especially sacred."

As time wore on, the plot was forgotten and left to deteriorate, until 1978, when Elizer, former Oxford Dean Bond Fleming, and Professor Emeritus of Biology Curry T. Haynes undertook its renovation. Using a small fund from the estate of Wilbur Harwell, an Oxford native and the town's former postmaster, they planted grass, plumbed the obelisk, and straightened the markers and curbing around the edge.

In recent years, Elizer says, the cemetery has sometimes been the setting for courtships. "This is a good, quiet place to come down and hold hands and what not, and I'm sure a lot of romance has taken place here." More prevalent, he continues, are certain "depredations--initiations and that sort of thing for secret societies." He recalls having retreived a grave marker or two from dormitories through the years, but the most lasting evidence of student shenanigans is a metal capital letter D embedded in the face of the obelisk and a number 7 in its back. Presumably, the D represents Dooley, the spirit of Emory, and the 7 suggests one of the College's earliest secret societies, the Mystic Seven. Elizer first noticed the symbols three years ago."I sort of thought about having them taken down," he says, "but then I didn't."--A.O.A.

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