Nashville City Cemetery

By dancingintheraine

July 24, 2008

Category: Uncategorized

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Located, figuratively, in the shadow of Fort Negley on St. Cloud’s Hill, Nashville City Cemetery was opened on January 1st, 1822, and is the oldest continuously operated public cemetery in Nashville.

It is located on 4th Avenue South at Oak Street, literally 1001 Fourth Avenue South, and it is a grand credit to the William Strickland, the architect. It has a long and illustrious history as the final resting place for a cross section of early Nashville citizens, from the everyday to the famous, including Nashville founders, James and Charlotte Robertson. A walk through the cemetery is truly a walk through Nashville’s history. The gravestones tell stories of individuals and families from the 1820’s to the present. Early settlers were also brought here for burial, while they died elsewhere, which I found interesting.

Nashville founders James Robertson and his wife, Charlotte Reeves, are buried side-by-side here. Charlotte was a woman of pluck and courage: she saved her husband (and probably the entire settlement of Fort Nashborough) during an ambush of Robertson’s party by Indians. The quick-thinking heroine of the Battle of the Bluffs came to the rescue that day on April 2, 1781 and the small, struggling band of settlers survived to build their station into the frontier town of Nashville. Charlotte Reeves Robertson is among the illustrious dead, including four Civil War generals, who rest in the City Cemetery.

The gates are opened from 08:00 – 17:00, seven days a week, all year. There are a limited number of park patrol officers, and it is a standing request for visitors to help protect the site. Headstone rubbings are forbidden, as many of the older headstones are in fragile condition. There are many signs within the Cemetary and an informational board in the breezeway of the Keeble Building to assist visitors with self-guided tours. There are guided tours on every second Saturday of the month. They are absolutely free and begin at 10:00 and last for about 30-45 minutes. If the weather is inclimatic, the tour will be given the following Saturday. Oh, and there are Nashville City Cemetary books available if you want to learn about particulars of the place beyond this blog. When I emailed inquiring information, they tried to get me to buy a book instead of answering my questions!

The book that he referenced me to is called “The Nashville City Cemetery – History Carved in Stone” by Carole Standford Bucy and Carol Farrar Kaplan

What I did learn was that the original Interment records from 1822-1846 were lost during the Civil War years. The original Interment Records from 1846 to the present are the property of the Metropolitan Governmental Archives here in Nashville. By 1850, over 11,000 people were buried. A project has been launched to transcribe all the data in the Interment Records of the 20,000 people buried in the cemetery, and is nearly complete. While the names of everyone buried are properly recorded since 1844, placesment of said people can be a little iffy, especially in the cases of African Americans, slaves, and poor whites. If they could even afford a momument, they were usually made of wood and those disappeared in a grass fire that began in one of the graineries that was next to the cemetery in the 1920s. There was a survey done in 1911 so we can tell what was there as compared to what is there now as compared to the ones done today. That is on the library link.

As to the Civil War, Nashville was occupied by the Union army and there was one undertaker that buried all soldiers along where the railroad tracks are. The majority of these were Union soldiers, though some were Confederate. At the end of the war, the Union soldiers (about 12,000) were moved to the National cemetery out on Gallatin Road north of the downtown Nashville area. The Confederates (about 1500) were moved to Mount Olivet on the Lebanon pike which is south of downtown. Photographs of the cemetery taken from the fort during the Union occupation of Nashville (1862-65) show many wooden crosses marking graves in the cemetery. The crosses were presumedly destroyed during the war, possibly used as firewood. The bloody battles of Shiloh in April 1862 and Stones River in early 1863 filled Nashville’s makeshift hospitals to overflowing. Undertaker W.R. Cornelius, who had the Federal contract for burials, buried Federal and Confederate dead separately at the City Cemetery. More than 15,000 were interred in the open field to the southwest of the cemetery. Blacks who fought for the Union were buried at a distance. In 1867, when the Nashville National Cemetery was dedicated, all of the Union dead were relocated and buried together there. It should be noted that most of the Confederate soldiers killed during the Battle of Nashville were buried at Confederate Circle in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

Gen. Bushrod Johnson:
An Ohio native and West Point graduate, Bushrod Johnson served as head of the military department at the University of Nashville before the Civil War. He purchased a lot for $20 in 1858 and buried his wife Martha there. An able commander during the war, he died in 1880 in Ohio and was buried there. In 1975, he was returned to Nashville to lie beside his wife at the City Cemetery, following an impressive military service.

Gen. Felix Zollicoffer:
A newspaper editor and politician in Nashville, Zollicoffer led Confederate troops in East Tennessee at the beginning of the war and was shot and killed at the Battle of Mill Springs (Fishing Creek), Ky. on Jan. 19, 1862. He is buried with his wife at the City Cemetery.

Gen. Richard Ewell:
Known as “Old Baldy,” Ewell commanded Confederate troops in the Eastern Theater, including the Battle of Gettysburg. During the war, he married Lizinka Campbell Brown of Nashville, and after the war they retired to Spring Hill, Tenn. They both died in January 1872 and are buried together at City Cemetery on the lot of her parents, George Washington and Harriet Stoddart Campbell.

Lt. Andrew Willis Gould:
Lt. Gould was stabbed to death June 26, 1863 in Columbia, Tenn. by his commanding officer, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, during an altercation. Forrest was shot and wounded.

Capt. Driver and Old Glory
Buried here is New England sea captain William Driver, a loyal Unionist whose sons fought for the Confederacy. Capt. Driver was overjoyed when Union troops occupied the city in early 1862, and it was his old Union flag, nicknamed Old Glory, which was flown above the state Capitol. Old Glory now resides at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. The picture of the flag above is the one referenced.

William Carroll
Born in near Pittsburgh, PA in March 3rd, 1788, he was a General in the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. He then became the Governor of Tennessee from 1821-1827, and then again from 1829-1835. He died on March 22, 1844. Carroll County, Tennessee is named for him.

Thomas Claiborne
Born in Brunswick County, VA on May 17th, 1780, he became a Democratic lawyer, and later served as a member of the Tennessee State House of Representatives from 1811-1815, and then again from 1831-1833. He was also a U.S. Congressional Representative from 1817-1819, and a member of the Freemasons. He died on January 7th, 1856,

Francis Brinley Fogg
Developed Nashville’s public school system in 1852. During the formative years of Nashville, Fogg practiced law from an office on Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue, north) near Deadereick Street. His son, Henry Middleton Rutledge Fogg, was his law partner. The story goes that Henry was killed in Kentucky during the Civil war while serving as an aide to Confederate General Felix Zollicoffer. The General had Henry’s body delivered to Nashville to the Fogg home. The Fogg home is where the new Nashville Public Library presently stands. He was the first chairman of the city school board in Nashville. Hume-Fogg High School located at 700 Broadway on 8th Avenue was opened in 1855 in honor of Fogg.

Mabel Lewis Imes & Ella Sheppard
Two of the original Fisk Jubilee Singers. The Jubilee Singers was formed to serve as a public relations and money raising entity to save and support the university during its financial difficulties. The Jubilee Singers went on tour in 1871 to raise money which took them to the North, East, the White House in Washington, and even to Europe. The tour raised money to get the university out of debt, buy land for the campus, and build Jubilee Hall, which is still there today. The Fisk Jubilee Singers still exist on campus. Mabel (1858-1936) is in Section 30, ID#300009. Ella Sheppard died on June 9th, 1914.

The City Cemetery goes through cycles of care and neglect and at some point, the Parker monuments were laying on the ground and were covered up by concrete, asphalt or whatever up Oak Avenue. They look to be the last graves in that section and are at the property line. After they were covered up (and we don’t know by who), the city comes along and puts up a fence assuming that the asphalt was beyond the cemetery property. A relative of these folks found that the 1911 survey listed the monuments and after inquiring a lot and persistently (Yeah for her), the dig was done and the monuments, grave sites were located. And the fence line has been moved.

When someone was buried at the city cemetery, there were no maps drawn. Most interments say things like “Across from Zollicopher’s lot” or “in the McGavock plot”. On the other side of the railroad tracks at one time was the Catholic Cemetery and these guys were moved, if they had families to move them. And a lot of prominent Catholic Nashvillians were moved when Cavalry was opened. It was the fashionable thing to do at that time.

The Masons were a highly influential organization in Nashville history. Cumberland Lodge #8 purchased an 80′ x 50′ in 1845 (which cost $200.00 at the time) as a burial place for its members. Buried here is Wilkins Tannehill, who served as mayor and wrote the Masonic standard manual.

The Nashville City Cemetery Assocation in cooperation with the Metro Historical Commission is actively working to restore the cemetery and increase awareness through public participation. In 1958, Mashville Mayor Ben W. West led an effort to restore and preserve the cemetery. In 1972, it was listed in the National Register of Historical Places due to its historical and architechtural significance (#72001235). In response to the disrepair, vandalism, and neglect over many decades, former Mayor Bill Purcell and the 2007 Metro Council approved the Mayor’s Capital Budget request for a $3MM project to restore the City Cemetary.

The repairs and improvements are obvious, simply walking through the site. The Davidson County Master Gardeners have been working in the Cemetery since 1998. They have uprooted, replanted, and pruned as they seek to return the grounds to an appearance of 19th century accuracy.

The marker above is probably my most favorite in all of the cemetery. It is for a young school teacher.


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