This lecture is part of the 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit
Piece by Piece: The Restoration of Battleground National Cemetery by Catherine Dewey and Simone Monteleone Moffett
Good afternoon. Battleground National Cemetery, an administrative unit of Rock Creek Park is located in the Northwest corner of Washington D.C. Originally located within the battlefield associated with the Battle of Fort Stevens, today the cemetery is located on a busy thoroughfare within a densely developed area of D.C. Thousands of commuters drive by this hallowed place without noticing it or giving it a second thought. Within these stone walls is an important story of the men who died protecting the capitol and of the site established to honor their sacrifice.
During the summer of 1864, Confederate general Jubal Early was ordered to march North with General Lee to make a daring offensive attack against Washington, DC. After defeating Union forces at the Battle of Monocacey in Frederick, Marylond on July 9, Early and his approximately 15,000 troops marched Southeast towards the Capitol. At this time D.C. was defending by an expansive ring of forts and batteries making it the most heavily fortified capitol cities in the world at this time.
On this illustration the red arrow pinpoints Battleground National Cemetery’s location just north of Fort Stevens. The Battle of Fort Stevens pitted the loosely joined home guard members of the Union Army 6 Corps against Early’s battle-hardened Confederate force on July 11th and 12th. The battlefield extended along past present day Georgia Avenue Fort Stevens which includes the cemetery site and including skirmishes and supporting fire from Fort Duruce in the Rock Creek Valley in Fort Circle Parks.
The force of Union Defenders was able to hold off the Confederates long enough for reinforcements to arrive in the city. Not wishing to press his luck, Early withdrew his troops and the two day battle of Fort Sevens ended with a Union victory. After the dust cleared, 59 Union soldiers had been killed during the battle temporarily buried at Fort Stevens as seen in this photograph. 40 of the soldiers who died here in the battle were moved to what would be the site of the Battleground National Cemetery just north of the fort.
This site, located within a small clearing in the James Moory Orchard the site of the 7th street pike which is present day Georgia Avenue. It was reported that President Lincoln, who was and remains the only sitting president to come under direct fire of an enemy combatant during the time of war had personally dedicated the cemetery site. This July 1864 plan illustrates the burials around the circle and flag staff. However, although the plan only shows 38 markers, 40 markers were installed for the 40 victims of battle. An 1866 recounting by George T. Stevens recalled how the soldiers were, “laid in their graves within site of the Capitol without coffins,” and their fellow soldiers had, “marked their names with pencils on the little boards of pine.”
It would be 4 years before the government would have clear title of this 1-acre cemetery site. The first structure constructed at the cemetery was a one story wood building located on the south west side of the site. This is the present day site that is superintendents lodge. Also by 1869 a wood picket fence and flagstaff had been installed. This is the earliest photograph of the cemetery. As you can see from this photo some plantings are evident but beyond the fencing the landscape was undeveloped and remains open farmland.
Despite the 1867 act establishing a national cemetery system it would be a few years before additional improvements were made to the site. Under the leadership of quartermaster general Markus Munigs standardized plans for the lodge site features and elements that were developed new construction at Battleground National Cemetery during the 1870s. Utilizing design for a one story lodge, Battleground National Cemetery had their lodge constructed of semica stone in 1870 and 71. Utilitarian floor planning included a living room, a kitchen, and an office. In addition a stone wall was constructed at the parameter at the cost of $2,525.
Montgomery Miggs had visited the cemetery in August of 1872. In addition to indicating that there was the condition of the cemetery’s landscaping was a concern, he noted that as soon as funding was available the lodge should be expanded to include a second story mansard group. This work was executed in 1873-1874. Additional buildings located at the cemetery were noted during various inspections in the 1870s and 80s including a tool house and outbuilding. Neither of these buildings are still extant.
By the end of the 1870 s the pine markers were replaced with marble headstones and changes to the grave of the 7th street pipe on Georgia avenue the 1870s required the construction of a low retaining wall and the rebuilding of the main entrance steps to the west boundary of the cemetery steps as seen here. In this 1907 photo you can see the relation of the lot of the cemetery to the main road. They’re very close. The landscaping is more expansive and two naval canons now black the entrance.
In addition to the 40 soldiers that were buried there, by the end of the 19th century 4 other burials had occurred. The superintendent’s wife and his 3 children were buried at the cemetery between 1873 and 1878. Only 3 headstones however mark the 4 graves. A storm in October 1878 destroyed the original flagstaff and it was this new flagpole that was installed with the ornate face by the end of 1878. Additional sites installed at the cemetery included monuments honoring those soldiers who had died in the various regiment included the 98 volunteers, 122nd New York volunteers, 150th Ohio National Guard, and the 25th New York volunteers. Plaques in the cemetery regulations were installed on the main walk and 3 plaques reading “Bivouac of the Dead” were installed around headstones. A one story brick totalitarian building was constructed on the northeast corner of the site and was used for a variety of things including a public restroom for visitors, storage, and a tool building.
Behind the headstones along the eastern walls, Rostrum was constructed in 1921. This open pavilion was designed for use during Memorial Day ceremonies. The door columns are constructed of concrete marble walls and wooden tablature. A one story brick kitchen addition was constructed at the east of the log house in 1930 and 31. Interior remodeling in 1934 brought new walls ceilings floors and a new bathroom on the second floor. The interior of the building and its features reflect three different building campaigns. It is an excellent way to show us the evolution of the building.
In 1933 the War Department transferred Battleground National Cemetery to National Park Service. In March of 1936 the last remaining veteran of the Battle of Fort Stevens was laid to rest at Battleground National Cemetery. At the age of 92 Edward R. Campbell was a privet for the 2nd Vermont infantry for the Battle was the only survivor of the battle to choose to be buried at the cemetery so with his passing the cemetery was officially closed to new burials. There’s a total of 41 soldiers and 4 civilians at Battleground.
Ranger Ron Harvey, the interpretive ranger at Rock Creek Park began to study the life of the soldiers buried at the cemetery. As he begun his research he realized that 5 of the headstones didn’t match up to the records that he was finding. After 9 years of research using primary and secondary sources he determined that the 5 graves that each had different names than what they were actually listed as.
A Grave 19 which was listed as William Trey the actual person buried is a private Willham Frey of the 21st cavalry. At Grave 11 George Garman is actually Corporal Edward Garman of the 61st Pen Infantry. Grave 15 Ag Mackentire is actually Private Thomas Mackentire of the 61st Pen Infantry. Grave 2 which is listed as Mark Sternum is actually a sergeant Richard Castle 43rd North Infantry and Grave 9 which is listed as E.S. Babbitt as part of the New York infantry is actually a civilian.
With the changes in the burial locations and markers it was determined that at some point there was just a mix up of the names as it got transferred to Marble headstones. A new grave site has been installed to identify these particular headstones to visitors rather than change the headstones themselves so it is at this point that it is just part of the piece of the historical battleground.
In 2005 the D.C. preservation league listed battleground cemetery as one of the 11 most endangered places in D.C. I would have to disagree considering what we just saw, it really wasn’t that bad. As more funding for the site became available the NPS was able to begin addressing the needs of the site. One of the first steps was conservation of the regimental monuments. The 150th Ohio National Guard monument was in very good shape it just cleaned it with detergent. The New York 122nd New York volunteer monument had some biological soiling up there at the top, some mineral deposition staining underneath the front seal and the front seal had not been maintained.
The soiling was removed with D2. The mineral deposits were removed with a little pressure micro abrasion machine and the seal was cleaned and waxed. The other two monuments were in a similar condition to the 122nd and the same procedures were completed. While working on these we started planning for treatment of the headstones. Since we had very little funding available at the time we decided to host a joint volunteer day with the association for preservation technology.
Basically apt provided the pizza and labor we provided the work. Nearly all – oops. Nearly all stones have extensive biological growth obscuring the names. Many of the stones had also become titled as the ground shifted over the last 100 years so we gathered volunteers from APTDC the US park police the local community and Potomac area trail association and jumped in. We carefully dug around the stones, drug them out with rope and man power, and made an interesting discovery. There were names on the portion under the ground which gave Ranger something else to consider in his research.
We documented the names and reburied them with gravel and bricks for the foundation. Once reset the stones were cleaned with D2 but when we stepped back we saw that the stones were set too high. We had used the current specified height that someone had provided rather than the historic specified height so we determined the proper height, set a new, broke a few more backs, and completed the project.
The next piece of restoration that we received funding for was the conservation of the metal elements at hollowed ground. These included the 5 cast iron and pole tablets which are very poor condition. The flag pole, the cast iron Gettysburg address plaque, and the bronze cemetery plaque. We had some documentation of what the treatment should be with the exception of the flag pole and the Gettysburg address plaque. We started looking at other national cemeteries to find an identical flag pole and an original pack to help guide us with our restoration without luck due to time constraints.
Shortly after I contacted Sarah leech of the VA she came across some regulations that told us how to paint it, the remaining question was how exactly the missing were attached since we only had one remaining. Couldn’t find any other flag posts to base our registration on so we took another look at the 1900 photo and were able to figure out that the guards were all the same way. Our next question dealt with the rosets on the Gettysburg plaque. Bronze rather than cast iron I happened to plug in Gettysburg tablet into Google and came across 1909 quartermasters report which did not tell us what the rosets looked like but did guide us in recreating the historical finish of the copper plating which was mentioned right here. Once the paint was removed we did indeed find remnants of the copper plating. The project began with removal of the flag pole elements, removal of the left paint on the flagpole. The scaffolding went all the way up to the top we think it’s about 60 or 70 feet and the casting of molds for recreating the same or damaged elements.
We expect the project to be completed next month. The net perhaps the most exciting is what was originally 3 projects but due to funding via the American Reinvestment and Recovery act, or ARRA or for those of you who don’t know government speak, the Stimulus Act= we will be able to complete the entire project as one.
The first part of the restoration is the Rostone rotten wood and damaged ceiling peeling paint and stone combined to reflect a poorly maintained structure. The roof will be repaired the ceiling will be plastered the concrete columns will be sealed and repainted steps will be replaced. During the process we tested a low water microabrasive which obviously left the stone a little bit too white. So we’re still working with other conservatives to figure out what the best treatment is. The next part is the exterior of the house the exterior will be cleaned once again we’re still working on figuring out what will be the best method for cleaning. We tried some micro abrasive but because the material was white it made these dark semica stones very white.
Selective stones will be replaced with historic stone some of these stones have next to nothing left, they’ve caved in. They’ll be replaced with historic stone covering under the kitchen addition of 1931 and others will be repaired the mortar will be cut out and placed with a more compatible border in color and properties. The final windows will be replaced with wood to match the historic photographs and the slate will be replaced since it is at the end of its expected life. New mechanical electric systems will be installed hiding them in the baseboard and plaster repair will be completed and the interior completely repainted.
In September the National park Service softball team volunteered at the cemetery to help us clean new growth that has appeared on the stones in honor of public lands day September 26. Now all we need to do is conserve and put them in the building across the street which is how they were originally oriented.
Battleground National Cemetery, established in 1864 as a result of being chosen by Abraham Lincoln, is located on Georgia Avenue, NW, in Washington DC. Designated as the final resting place for forty-one of the soldiers killed during the Battle of Fort Stevens (July 11-12, 1864), Battleground National Cemetery is one of the smallest National Cemeteries in existence. Managed by Rock Creek Park as one of its administrative units, the cemetery is one of only 14 managed by the National Park Service. Despite the management challenges of having the cemetery being geographically separated from Rock Creek Park proper, the site itself is in reasonably good condition and well preserved. Although it had been identified as being one of the most endangered historic places in Washington, DC by the DC Preservation Leagues in 2005, the one-acre cemetery and its main features are intact. The headstones and monuments have not been vandalized, cast iron plagues have been left in tact and there is no graffiti found any place on the site. With the exception of the recent theft of a “US National Cemetery” sign at the main entrance, volunteers working with Rock Creek Park staff and the vigilant eyes of the neighbors have helped in protecting the cemetery when interpretative rangers are not on site.
Despite these positives in a difficult environment, the cemetery has suffered in the past from a lack of a holistic approach to maintaining the site. The headstone were crooked and sinking, as well as being barely legible as a result of biological growth. The ornamental, cast iron flagpole and base had suffered extensive degradation as a result of pieces being lost either by theft or heavy corrosion causing the pieces to fall. The Rostrum, constructed in 1921, was suffering from extensive damage due to a leaking roof. The detailing on the plaques were worn away and made it difficult for visitors to read the inscriptions. The four granite monuments, dedicated to the regiments that participated in the battle, were in need of conservation treatment. The Superintendent’s Lodge, a Montgomery Meigs design executed in 1871, enlarged in 1873 with an addition from the 1930s, had been vacated and in need of rehabilitation.
In 2005, the National Park Service, with the help of the National Capital Regional architectural conservator and Rock Creek Park maintenance staff began working to improve the appearance of the site. Regular mowing and trash collection became a priority. Treatment was carried out on the four granite monuments. A cemetery preservation volunteer day, utilizing local groups, reset and cleaned the 28 Civil war era headstones. In anticipation of the upcoming Sesquicentennial, National Park Service staff has developed a systematic approach to tackling some of the larger projects that will allow Battleground National Cemetery to be brought back to the condition it so rightfully deserves. Several projects are currently underway that will rehabilitate, restore, and interpret the site for visitors and to honor those buried there. Conservation treatment projects for the 70 foot flagpole and its ornamental base, the 1880 war department plaques that contain the Bivouac of the Dead poem and cemetery rules and regulations, the cast iron plague inscribed with the Gettysburg address and another national cemetery bronze plague began in 2009. In spring 2009, Architectural and Engineering construction documents were completed for the rehabilitation of the Superintendent’s Lodge and Rostrum.
The rehabilitation project has been chosen as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) and is slated to begin by September 2010. The final piece of the holistic approach to returning Battleground National Cemetery to its rightful condition is the installation of wayside exhibits to correctly interpret the importance of the cemetery as well as the story of the mislabeled headstones. An exhaustive investigation by an interpretative ranger on staff uncovered the fact that five of the headstones incorrectly identify the man buried in the grave. For the first time in almost 150 years, these men will now be known to the public.
As a result of these various efforts executed across different disciplines, Battleground National Cemetery will once again be the condition expected of the hallowed ground of a National Cemetery.
Catherine Dewey, originally from Chicago, graduated from University of Kansas with a BA in Classical Antiquities in 1993. She went on to earn a Masters in Historic Preservation, with an emphasis on conservation from University of Pennsylvania. Since that time she has worked in several locations including Ukraine, Italy and Egypt as well as closer to home in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, Chicago and New York. She currently works for the National Park Service, National Capital Region as an architectural conservator, serving the region’s parks including the Mall, DC and several battlefields. Catherine has been treasurer of the DC Chapter of the Association for Preservation Technology for the past 5 years and is the new treasurer of Washington Conservation Guild. She has served as Program Chair/Chair for the Architecture Specialty Group of AIC and is an out-going member of the Emergency Committee of AIC.
Simone Monteleone Moffett graduated from Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, VA with a BA in English and from the University of Pennsylvania with an MS in Historic Preservation. Graduating in 1998, Ms. Moffett started her career as an architectural historian with EHT Traceries, Inc. in Washington, DC. Ms. Moffett’s work focused on writing National Register nominations and Federal Historic Preservation Tax Credit projects in Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland. After four years with Traceries, Ms. Moffett became the Senior Architectural Historian for Parsons and Versar, Inc., working on architectural inventories, compliance and mitigation projects for the military and various departments of transportation, and continuing to write National Register nominations. After a year of being an independent consultant, Ms. Moffett joined the National Park Service and currently serves as the Cultural Resource Specialist for Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC.