The view from East Mountain out over the valley where Fayetteville now sprawls is impressive. On a clear autumn day, you can see the courthouse, old Washington County jail, and just a glimpse of one of Old Main’s towers. Imagine how surprised the Confederate dead would be if they could sit up from their bare wooden boxes and look out over the land they fought to keep. Over 600 gray-clad patriots who fought and fell in the War Between the States’ battles of Prairie Grove, Pea Ridge and elsewhere around this corner of Arkansas lie together in a quiet grove on East Mountain. How they came to rest upon this hillside of Fayetteville is a story of determination and devotion of about 40 women of Fayetteville.
The War Between the States left devastation and destruction over the Southern States where the majority of all battles were fought. Mass graves, lonely graves in pastures and roadsides held the remains of Union and Confederate dead. In 1866, Congress passed a bill establishing national cemeteries and to collect and bury the Union dead. In all, the United States government spent over $4 million to collect and bury the Union dead, but left Confederate remains where they lay. Thus, when the National Cemetery was established in Fayetteville in 1867, but only for Union dead, Fayetteville women who cared about the Confederate dead determined to establish a cemetery for Confederate soldiers.
On June 6, 1872, a “call to the ladies” was printed in the Fayetteville Weekly Democrat, urging those interested in remembering the War Between the States’ Confederate dead to gather on Monday, June 10, at the Methodist Church on the Northeast corner of West Center and North Church Streets. At that meeting, the Southern Memorial Association of Washington County was formed and as early as August of 1872, two ladies were named to solicit contributions of money, tools, supplies, and labor toward the building of an enclosure. It took that original handful of women almost a year, but on April 11, 1873, a plot of “three acres more or less” on East Mountain was purchased from Charles W. and Serena Walker–appropriate and hallowed ground, since members of the Walker family were already at rest there. According to a book entitled The Association by Rowena McCord Gallaway, a Mr. J. D. Henry was employed by the ladies of the SMA to gather up all those dead who had been buried where they fell. For $1.40 each, Mr. Henry brought remains from Pea Ridge to the new Confederate Cemetery, put them in new coffins, and reburied them in plots set out at compass points for Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri. It cost $2.50 for Mr. Henry to transport a soldier from Prairie Grove or elsewhere. Those first graves were decorated and the Confederate Cemetery was dedicated on June 10, 1873.
According to a correspondent for the Van Buren Press, “These brave ladies were met on all sides with prophesies of failure but…they pushed the good and pious work and have purchased two acres of ground that is beautifully located near this town, overlooking it, had the lot fenced, painted and have removed to it three hundred bodies and have them buried in beautiful order.”
Just one month later, SMA President, Mrs. Lizzie Pollard and Mrs. Caroline Cravens, Recording Secretary, wrote to the Van Buren Press asking for financial help, reminding its readers that there was no government money allowed for their worthy endeavor to obtain decent burials for Confederate soldiers. The ladies wrote, “Help us gather the moldering bones of our soldiers from the barren hillsides and place them beside their fallen brothers to rest where their graves may be bedewed with the tears of their kindred and strewn by the hand of affection with brightest flowers.”
The original sandstone and foot boards placed in 1876 gave way in 1903 to marble stones. Not all identities of the soldiers buried on East Mountain were known. Of those whose names were known (about 121), the first Arkansan interred at the Confederate Cemetery was a Lt. Pawly from Mack Rieff’s Company. A Lt. Bliss of the Engineering Corps is the first Missouri soldier buried at the Cemetery, and only T.H.D. marks the first grave in the Texas. Of the other Arkansans, some are remembered only by family names, others by their fighting units, still others by their homes: Pullman, Stand Watie’s Regiment; Dock Lewis, Cave Creek; Pope, Benton County; Hiram Thornsberry, Brooks’ Regiment; and a soldier known simply as Black.
In 1885, work was begun to replace the wooden fence with the rough hewn stone wall that still stands. It was completed in 1890.
On Saturday, May 1, 1897, the cornerstone monument, atop which the statue of a proud Confederate Soldier guards his comrades was laid “in the presence of an enthusiastic multitude.” The monument cost $3000, a huge sum at that time, but the ladies of the SMA worked diligently, raising the money one dollar at a time. The monument was dedicated a month later, on June 10, 1897 with these words inscribed on one face:
THESE WERE MEN WHOM POWER COULD NOT CORRUPT
WHOM DEATH COULD NOT TERRIFY
WHOM DEFEAT COULD NOT DISHONOR
A crowd, conservatively estimated at 20,000, including University cadets in Confederate gray, formed a hollow square around the monument that Thursday afternoon and waited in silence for Lizzie Pollard of the SMA to unveil the statue. As the band struck up “DIXIE”, wrote W.S. Campbell in his 1928 History of Fayetteville, “Strong men wept; the spot was forever hallowed by bone, blood, and tears.”
Through the years, Southern women have kept the memory alive when no one else would. In 1926, a native brown stone arch was built to mark the entrance to the Confederate Cemetery, decorated with iron gates and bronze tablets and, according to Campbell’s history, plans were underway for “classic reference to valor, sacrifice, patriotism, done in bronze and placed where eyes of all ages may spell out the devotion of today and the darlings of yesteryear.”
In 1947, the SMA approached the United States Government asking that it accept conveyance of the Confederate Cemetery and provide for its care and maintenance. Toward the end, two bills were introduced in Congress by Senator J.W. Fulbright. Neither met the approval of the War Department, so the women continued their work and were later thankful that what seemed at the time like a setback, has enabled the SMA to own the Confederate Cemetery and to care for it as the members of the association see fit, without being under obligation to the government.
In 1955 Scotch Pines were planted and dedicated by Lt. Barry Weaver and Quartermaster Duval Fagen, members of the local Albert Pike Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans.
A revival of sorts occurred in the SMA in the late 1990s after a long period of disinterest on the part of all but a few faithful members who kept the organization going. Several women in the Fayetteville area became enthusiastic members of the association and took on the challenge of maintaining the Confederate Cemetery and of perpetuating the original desire of the founding ladies and that being to maintain a beautiful resting place for the Confederate dead.
The year 2001 brought the SMA the challenge of the restoration of the storm-damaged monument. Sixteen months after the damage, the SMA, with many generous contributions, re-dedicated the restored statue and monument. The year 2002 again brought challenges as the old trees in the cemetery were badly in need of pruning and in November, Arkansas’ First Annual Arborist Service Day was held at the Confederate Cemetery with many professional arborists donating a day’s labor. All the old trees got much needed care. Estimates are that up to $20,000.00 worth of services were donated that day!
The early 21st century has seen an increased membership as well as more awareness and respect for the Confederate Cemetery. Several area Boy Scouts have taken on projects in the cemetery which contributed to their Eagle Scout awards. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, both near and far, have also volunteered work and donated funds for the upkeep of the cemetery.
When another hundred years have passed, will the Confederate Cemetery on East Mountain still stand as a tangible reminder of the brave men who died for a way of life they held dear and the proud women who loved and honored them? The current membership of the SMA thinks the answer is yes. As of 2019, the SMA has a membership of about 50 members. We think the future holds much promise of our hope to pass on the responsibility and dedication to the next generation.