"The war is over. The rebels are our countrymen again"

written by Enjoy Illinois on February 10, 2011 in Bill Byrnes and Central Illinois and Illinois History and Southwest Illinois with 2 comments
 

Mound City National Cemetery

That quote was from Lt. General U.S. Grant, and the statement was prompted by the exultation of Union troops around the McLean house at Appomattox on April 9, 1865, following the surrender of that part of the Confederate Army known as the Army of Northern Virginia, by General Robert Edward Lee.

I was reminded of that quote when I visited the Mound City National Cemetery this past Veteran’s Day. I went there because I expected to see a ceremony, which they actually hold on the Saturday prior to the holiday. Instead I found a more private experience.

The most noticeable feature in the cemetery is probably the large monument erected to soldiers of the United States who could not be identified after their deaths. Now our military issues tags to our soldiers, including their identification. In the War of the 1860s, soldiers who were about to go into battle, would sometimes take a scrap of paper and write their names and addresses and pin this to their clothing, so they could be identified and their families notified in case they were killed. It was a practical, though it may seem fatalistic, response to the conditions in which they found themselves.

The monument includes names carved in stone, though now weathered by time and the elements, from all the states remaining loyal to the Union in the period between April 12, 1861 and April 9, 1865. The sacrifice of these brave men, as timeworn as the memory is, dwarfs the imposing size of their monument.

Along the path to that monument, there was a gray stone, just off to my left as I approached, placed there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. This stone is there to honor the sacrifice of their soldiers, whose courage was no less than the courage of their Union counterparts. It reminded me that under this soil, they are all American soldiers, whether they were from Virginia, the first sustained English settlement in North America, or Kansas, the state which joined the Union just three months before Confederate batteries first fired on Ft. Sumter.

All of the people beneath this sod are American soldiers, Marines, sailors, or airmen. They served in our wars since 1861, the Union soldiers in combat, the Confederates went to Glory as prisoners of war. The more recent internments have been from those who served in subsequent conflicts.

The cemetery is found just outside of Mounds, a little town along the Ohio River Scenic Roadway. If you are traveling along Interstate 57, take Exit 8, Mounds Road, turn left on County Road 8, toward Mounds City. Turn right on Illinois 37, and drive through Mounds City, until you see the cemetery on your left. For more information, you can look at their website at

The flag over this place of honor is Old Glory, though soldiers who served under the Stars and Bars also rest here. There has been a great deal of controversy over those remembering the service of Confederate veterans over the years, particularly in the vicinity of Camp Douglas, the Confederate prison camp. The quote I used to begin this blog was in the spirit of unity, from a resident of Galena. I’d like to close with a plea for unity, from a resident of Springfield.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, across this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

–A. Lincoln, March 4, 1861

 “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again”www.moundcitynationalcemetery.org or contact them at 618-748-9041. There is a caretaker’s cottage on site. In fact, when I drove past the cemetery, I stopped in at a convenience store for directions, and the lady directed me to the caretaker, who had the day off, since it was Veteran’s day, and just happened to be in there for coffee. He was very helpful.