The stories told by tombstones: Looking at Civil War veterans’ graves

From the Knoxville News Sentinel (Knoxville, Tennessee):

New Civil War exhibit pairs with State Museum display

A new exhibit at the Museum of East Tennessee History uses photos of graveyards and tombstones to tell the Civil War stories of 18 individuals.

“In Death Not Divided: Civil War Tombstones and the Stories They Tell” was curated by East Tennessee Historical Society Director Cherel Henderson. Opening Nov. 12, the display tells stories of men who fought for the Union and the Confederacy. It’s shown as a companion exhibit to “Common People in Uncommon Times: The Civil War Experience in Tennessee.” That traveling exhibit was organized by the Tennessee State Museum. First shown last fall at the Smoky Mountain Heritage Center near Townsend, the state exhibit has been moving around Tennessee to mark the 150th anniversary of the war.

“Common People in Uncommon Times” includes 10 panels filled with photos and stories of people from President and East Tennessean Andrew Johnson to Cades Cove farmer Walter Gregory who died of measles less than a month after enlisting in the Union Army. Two cases of artifacts include Gov. William G. “Parson” Brownlow’s walking cane with a concealed sword blade and a leather-bound Bible carried by a Tennessee Confederate soldier killed in battle in 1862.

“In Death Not Divided” is based on the historical society’s continuing project to find and survey Civil War burial sites. But Henderson knew the location of many stones and their stories from her past research and from talking with soldiers’ descendants. Burial places highlighted in the exhibit range from Bristol to Chattanooga; Henderson said the stones offer “very compelling stories representing a whole range of different experiences.”


Henderson says “In Death Not Divided” individualizes the war in which an estimated 620,000 died or were wounded. “I don’t think we can grasp the significance of 620,000 suffering. These stones introduce us to the individuals, and you can see the war in a different perspective. Those 620,000 become real people. You see that this is not about romance and glory but it’s about real people and real suffering.”

(More here)

The article goes on to highlight several of the stories presented within the exhibit.  There are interesting tales of divided families, spies, and post-war contentions..  and of course a few mysteries along the way.  Both exhibits run through January, with hours and admission details in the article.

Gravesites are significant, and tell us a lot – not only about the person below the headstone, but also those living today.