Shared from the 8/13/2015 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette eEdition


429 stones honor unknown Confederate dead


Special to the Democrat-Gazette/MARCIA SCHNEDLER

“Unknown Soldier CSA” is the inscription on all 429 grave markers at Camp Nelson Confederate Cemetery.

CABOT — Each of the 429 gravestones in the Civil War cemetery on the southeast fringe of Cabot is identically inscribed: “Unknown Soldier CSA.” The markers rise to a gabled point, supposedly so “no damn Yankee can sit on them.”

This is Camp Nelson Confederate Cemetery, one of Arkansas’ largest burial sites for soldiers who fought on behalf of the 1861-1865 rebellion against the United States.

Although preserving slavery was a prime factor in the Confederate states’ secession, it’s likely that few of the Rebels buried in this neatly kept setting were slave owners. They were mainly foot soldiers, enlisted to fight for their social and financial betters who owned the plantations and served as officers.

Nor were these Arkansans and Texans killed in combat. Like an estimated two-thirds of the Civil War’s 620,000 or more fatalities, they died of disease and other causes rather than enemy action.

The Camp Nelson dead were among as many as 20,000 Confederate troops who’d been assembled in 1862 about 30 miles northeast of Little Rock at what was initially called Camp Hope.

As the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture recounts, “During the fall of 1862, the camp was stricken by measles, typhoid, mumps and a variety of other diseases that proved fatal to as many as 1,500 soldiers, who were buried in graves throughout the countryside.”

One casualty was recently promoted Brig. Gen Allison Nelson of the 10th Texas Infantry, who died of typhoid on Oct. 7, 1862. While Nelson’s body was taken to Little Rock for burial at Mount Holly Cemetery, the encampment was renamed for him. The site was abandoned by the end of the year and soon forgotten.

According to the encyclopedia article, a group of local Confederate veterans around the turn of the 20th century worked to establish a formal burial ground for the scattered dead. A small tract of land was sold to the veterans for $1, and the Arkansas General Assembly appropriated $1,000 for the project.

Then, “Local crews were hired to scour the countryside looking for graves. Once located, the grave was opened, and the remains were placed in a box or barrel. They were then taken to the selected burial site and reinterred. Even though 429 individual headstones were placed in four equal sections, physical evidence uncovered in 1980 indicated that the dead were buried in a single trench.”

A 12-foot-tall monument honoring all the camp’s uncounted victims was placed at the center of the cemetery. And yearly memorial services took place until the 1930s, by which time nearly all the veterans had died. Then the neglected site became overgrown until 1980, when a Cabot High School military instructor led a restoration effort.

With state funding of $23,000, trees were cleared, the ground was leveled, a fence and gate were erected, crape myrtles were planted, and new headstones were put in place. Volunteers now maintain the site, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

There’ll be no controversy here about the Confederate flag, because it doesn’t fly at the site. The three flags that ripple in the breeze are the Star-Spangled Banner and those of Arkansas and Texas, the home states of the unknown soldiers who lie below.

To reach Camp Nelson Confederate Cemetery from Little Rock, take U.S. 67/167 northeast to Arkansas 321 (Exit 16A). Head east on Arkansas 321 (Mount Carmel Road) for about 5 miles and turn left on Cherry Road. In a half-mile or so, turn right on Rye Drive. The cemetery is open daily.

For more information, visit The website includes a fascinating 1908 account of Camp Nelson and eight other cemeteries in Arkansas containing Confederate graves.

See this article in the e-Edition Here