Students restore Civil War cemetery Ohio State University students Willie Love, left,, of Cincinnati, and Ashauna Mathews, of Canton, Ohio, spray a cleaning solution on gravestones at Chalmette National Cemetery in Chalmette, La. Between them is Jasmine Harris, of Cleveland. They were among about 50 Ohio State students working at the cemetery, as part of a nearly month-long project organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. (AP Photo/Janet McConnaughey)
Students restore Civil War cemetery
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College students on spring break have joined hundreds of other volunteers at a Louisiana cemetery. The cemetery dates back to the Civil War. The students realigned hundreds of tilted headstones and removed grime from thousands more. Some headstones mark the graves of Union soldiers. Others are from later eras.
 
College students from Ohio and Boy Scouts from Texas were among more than 800 people who pitched in. They restored graves at Chalmette National Cemetery near New Orleans. Many of the roughly 8,000 headstones were green with algae, stained with soot from nearby refineries or askew in spongy Mississippi River soil. Flooding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 also took its toll.
 
"We're sitting on a delta," said Ranger Kristy Wallisch. She is spokeswoman for Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. It includes the cemetery. "Just like our houses and other things, these headstones start to sink under their own weight, and tilt."
 
More than a century and half since the end of the deadliest conflict on American soil, custodians of many such cemeteries are still doing battle in their upkeep.
 
The Chalmette cemetery was created in 1864. That is when Union troops occupied New Orleans. Most of the Civil War-era soldiers died of such diseases as yellow fever, dysentery and pneumonia, park curator Kathy Lang said.
 
"Some enlisted, say, in December and died in May from disease. That's kind of sad," she said. But New Orleans isn't unique. About two-thirds of the roughly 620,000 Civil War casualties died of disease, not wounds.
 
The National Park Service maintains 14 national cemeteries. The Department of Veterans Affairs manages 134. The Army maintains two, including Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.
 
Wallisch said the Chalmette cemetery site includes an adjacent tract. It is where the Battle of New Orleans was fought in 1815. The cemetery has just three or four maintenance workers. That is compared to six or seven in the early 2000s.
 
And that is where the army of volunteers came in. The volunteers included about 50 Ohio State University students. They were seeking a different kind of spring break. The National Trust for Historical Preservation called volunteers ages 16 to 70 to take part in its 3-year-old "HOPE Crew." The acronym HOPE stands for Hands-On Preservation Experience.
 
The Chalmette project began in early March and concluded April 1.
 
"We get people to work with their hands, have a very real and visceral experience and closer connection to restoration," said project coordinator Monica Rhodes.
 
A volunteer crew of professionals pulled headstones from the most misaligned sections of the cemetery early on. The student volunteers took it from there. They used shovels, buckets and sponges under the guidance of restoration experts.
 
When the OSU students were there, Rusty Brenner of Texas Cemetery Restoration LLC in Dallas explained how to calculate the depth of the holes they needed. And, he told them how much gravel to add before setting the headstones precisely upright.
 
"The gravel keeps it steady," said Monet Scroggins, a student from Dayton, Ohio.
 
"Right. And it allows drainage," Brenner said.
 
Jason Church of the park service's National Center for Preservation Technology and Training said Chalmette's cemetery is in a more industrial area than most national cemeteries. It's bounded by an oil refinery and a sugar refinery. The area is beside the Mississippi River.
 
Church said more than 260 headstones have been realigned. "We're hitting water at 4 inches deep," Church said.
 
Volunteers cleaned 600 to 800 headstones a day, he said. More than 5,000 headstones and well over 1,000 smaller markers had been cleaned days before the project's close.
 
About 6,000 unknown soldiers have only small marble markers, said Courtney "Cam" Amabile, the park's resources program assistant.
 
The 6-inch tall markers aren't much higher than the fire ant mounds and mudball "castles" of crawfish burrows dotting the grounds.
 
In total, Amabile tallied up 14,121 headstones and markers at the cemetery. Wallisch said about 7,300 Union soldiers and sailors are buried at the site. All died somewhere in Louisiana during the war. The remaining graves hold military personnel who served in eras through the Vietnam War.
 
Nearly 130 Confederate soldiers also were buried in a mass grave at Chalmette. They were moved after the war when Congress passed a law stating only Union soldiers could be buried in the national cemeteries, Wallisch said. Nearly 7,000 African-American civilian graves also were relocated, she said.
 
Boy Scouts from Corpus, Christi, Texas, also worked at the cemetery, said HOPE Crew's Rhodes. So have community groups, military groups, high school students and alumni from several universities.
 
"Everybody's giving a little bit to achieve a major goal," Rhodes said.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why might this cemetery require more care than cemeteries in other parts of the U.S.?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (46)
  • autianae-ste
    4/20/2016 - 01:26 p.m.

    The cemetery needs more care because the tombstones are older and fragile. I believe the soldiers should still be and always be remembered because they gave their lives in the most gruesome war "on American soil" and their courage should be respected and never forgotten.

  • karliw-1-bar
    4/20/2016 - 07:04 p.m.

    Chalmette National Cemetery, an infamous Civil War graveyard, is as old as the War Between States itself. Burrying more than 14,000 Civil War victims, headstones across the cemetery have been shifted around by the unsteady Mississippi soil and by reoccuring natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The graveyard has been standing since 1864.
    Another thing to add is that "Chalmette's cemetery is in a more industrial area than most national cemeteries. It's bounded by an oil refinery and a sugar refinery." This makes Chalmette prone to pollution from the two factories.
    "We're sitting on a delta," said Ranger Kristy Wallisch. She is spokeswoman for Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. It includes the cemetery. "Just like our houses and other things, these headstones start to sink under their own weight, and tilt." Because of the unstable geographical faetures surrounding it, Chamlette, therefore, must receive more care than the typical cemetery.

  • kalif-hol
    4/20/2016 - 07:25 p.m.

    i think this article was pretty cool because people are taking time out of their daily life when they could be doing something fun and for the college students where they could be doing college homework or whatever but instead they all come to this civil war cemetery and help clean and restore it to a much better well being and for it to not look trashy.

  • anthonyg1-ver
    4/20/2016 - 09:16 p.m.

    This cemetery might require more care because it is old.

  • marisola-Orv
    4/20/2016 - 10:10 p.m.

    I think that restoring the cemetery is like restoring our history we need to restore history so we never forget how they were remembered.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    4/21/2016 - 01:12 a.m.

    The students might have planned to restore the civil war cemetery which the students can be able to restore the cemetery so that the cemetery would be cleaned and get the headstones back upright. The people might have been able to see that they don't want to lose any of the civil war cemetery which they wanted to preserve the past that would last long enough for people to be seeing. The volunteers might having been working on the cemetery where the dead soldiers are buried in and they wanted to get the headstones in the right place and rewrite the names. People might have not been able to see the headstones of the cemetery to be disappearing after centuries had past and they wanted to preserve the headstones to remember the soldiers that had gone to the civil war.
    Critical Thinking Question: Why might this cemetery require more care than cemeteries in other parts of the U.S.?
    Answer: I know that his cemetery require more care than cemeteries in other parts of the U.S. because that cemetery needed to clean up the mess and rewrite the names because that cemetery contains soldiers that served in the civil war.

  • samanthas-1-ste
    4/21/2016 - 10:07 a.m.

    The cemetery is very old and needs special care. If they arent careful, something could be damaged and history would be lost.

  • matildav-nic
    4/21/2016 - 12:12 p.m.

    Because they are the people who served for our country. They fought for our rights. They deserve special treatment of them self, we still matter but they risked there lives.

  • shagot-fer
    4/21/2016 - 03:56 p.m.

    Because this cemetery includes the soliders that died in the Civil War and other wars. Also it's one of the oldest out of the other cemeteries.

  • josiec-1-bar
    4/21/2016 - 08:10 p.m.

    This cemetery might require more care than other cemeteries because, "The cemetery dates back to the Civil War.". The civil war took place is the 1800s so over 100 years ago. This cemetery will need more care because it is so old and the gravestones are probably extremely delicate which would make them hard to handle. The people who are restoring the cemetery have a very important job to keep the cemetery intact because the civil war was such an important part of American history. My opinion is that I think it is very cool that the students are trying to restore the cemetery and a part of American history.

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