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 dating to the Civil War. They realigned hundreds of tilted headstones and removed grime from thousands more. Some 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 to restore 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, which 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 134 and the Army two, including Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington.
 
Nationwide budget cuts have not spared this cemetery. Wallisch said the Chalmette cemetery site, including an adjacent tract where the Battle of New Orleans was fought in 1815, has just three or four maintenance workers. That is compared to six or seven in the early 2000s.
 
That's 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," or 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 that dot 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 (12)
  • isaacr-lew
    4/20/2016 - 12:21 p.m.

    Cool story. I wasn't really concerned with this because I didn't think there was a problem.

  • charliet-orv
    4/20/2016 - 12:36 p.m.

    It's not getting the proper care it needs.

  • wyattc-lew
    4/20/2016 - 01:07 p.m.

    Good for these students, what they did is a really nice act of kindness by remembering the one who fought in the Civil War.

  • libbys-4-bar
    4/20/2016 - 08:45 p.m.

    The cemetery requires more care because these are the people who fought for us and who died to keep us safe this place is a national landmark and should be taken very good care of.

    I enjoy learning about the people who fought for us.

  • oliviam-6-bar
    4/20/2016 - 10:56 p.m.

    The Cival War Cemetery was built during the 19th century. Which was 200 years ago. The students had to "realigned hundreds of tilted headstones and removed grime from thousands more," in order to preserve the cemetery.

    Another reason that the cemetery is cared for so much is because it carries the bodies of many soldiers who fought for freedom in the United States. The students want to honor those soldiers.

  • jacks-6-bar
    4/21/2016 - 06:56 p.m.

    The Civil War cemetery requires more care than cemeteries in other parts of the U.S. because it houses admirable people who have committed admirable deeds, and is constantly disrupted by the weather, natural disasters, etc. The article states: "...About 7,300 Union soldiers and sailors are buried at the site. All died somewhere in Louisiana during the war." The reason the Civil War cemetery requires more care than others because it should be kept clean and tidy: not doing so would result it a dishonor to what the grounds house, the deceased, brave soldiers who fought for what was right in the deadliest war in recorded history. Though other cemeteries in the U.S. stress the objective of cleanliness, it merely contains citizens. Soldiers who have accomplished great courage lie in the Civil War cemetery. Despite the fact that others in other cemeteries might have put forth that magnitude of devotion to the U.S., the government sadly cannot account for all of its inhabitants. The only clear fact is that brave people had willingly served in the deadly Civil War, and most had undergone merciless deaths. The article told of the cemetery containing primarily those soldiers since the start of the war; those people's actions were already accounted for. Though others, again, must have been brave, the least one could do would be to respect the ones we are certain about for now, which lie in the Civil War cemetery.
    Another reason that the Civil War cemetery requires more care than others is that it is constantly degrading naturally. For instance, the article says that "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." Since the cemetery was considerably rotted, it, being a cemetery in general, needed care. However, the Civil War cemetery was in a considerably degrading condition rather than other cemeteries; it certainly was in need of care, compared to others. After all, most others haven't endured being as old, therefore eroded, as the Civil War cemetery, or experienced significant amounts of flooding. It was even a mess while a high priority, relative to other cemeteries in the U.S., federally, and yet it was not properly taken care of. The cemetery was definitely in need of amendment.
    I found the article quite interesting and inspiring: it was sensational to see people band, from around the United States, to honor people who have fought valiantly to protect their country that they know presently.

  • jackw-4-bar
    4/22/2016 - 10:40 a.m.

    This cemetery might require more care than others because it is over two hundred years old. If it is very old it is more liable to break. Another reason is the people in the cemetery hot in the Civil War to free the slaves. This article interested me because I am currently reading a book about Abraham Lincoln.

  • connorc-ver
    4/22/2016 - 01:17 p.m.

    This cemetery is an important part of American history.

  • alexm-ver
    4/22/2016 - 04:05 p.m.

    That was really nice of all those people.

  • dianner-2-bar
    4/27/2016 - 06:56 p.m.

    The cemetery requires more care than cemeteries in other parts in the United States because theses are people who fought for us and gave up their life for us to have a chance to live. I am very grateful for the opportunity that they gave us. I liked how in the article it had stated " 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." I love that people are cleaning the graves up and keeping them nice and clean. I found this article surprising because i did not assume that people will clean them up.

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