Alexandria, Virginia: A Negro Funeral in Virginia

A Negro Funeral in Virginia. Harper’s Weekly, February 21, 1880.

While rambling on the outskirts of the camp one day last week, we noticed a rather remarkable and primitive funeral, and were led to the discovery of a cemetery whose locality we had not before imagined. On a little hill south of the camp of the 14th V. R. C., and behind a long negro-hut, had assembled in the slush and fog peculiar to that day, a small party of negroes of varied age and sex. They  were patiently awaiting the arrival of a rickety wagon, drawn by one horse – containing a whole family on the seats, and a box underneath. On reaching the hill, the riders, with those already assembled, formed a circle around a newly dug grave. The box was quietly taken from beneath the seats of the old wagon and lowered and covered with earth. At the distance we stood we could not distinguish that any of the usual religions or burial services were performed; indeed, had it not been for the shoveling and the circle, we could scarcely have known that it was a funeral at all. The grave filled, the family were soon reseated and driven off, while the others straggled in a variety of directions. Curiosity impelling a visit, we found nine newly made graves, with no enclosure, and no head-boards to tell of the dead, and nothing to keep the bulging earth in its place, save large cobble-stones loosely stuck in the ground. A more unassuming cemetery we certainly never saw, and are doubtful if such are usual even to the South, where it is customary for each family to have separate burial grounds for their dead. This one has not the remotest resemblance to such. It is simply primitive and odd in all respects, and can be known to few of the neighbors save those immediately interested in its immortal and silent occupants. It is in singular contrast to the Soldier’s Cemetery on the hill north of Augur Hospital, which for beauty and arrangement is really creditable and worthy as a resting place for the dead who die in their country’s cause. But thus we go, never knowing the great difference between two burial places within view of each other! We take pride in that which is our own, and which, with its solemn beauty, administers to our vanity, and we cannot, in thus pointing out the larger, ridicule the more lowly and humble, for in that rickety wagon and in that small and quiet circle, were hearts mourning as sadly and as bitterly as though a stately procession had winded the hill to the music of the “Dead March,” and to the leading step of the chaplain. With the rough filling of the grave on the lesser hill, doubtless some heart sank silently under the wet clay and slush – which, when beating, beat as warmly and tenderly as any of the more fortunate in their places of final repose.” – The Soldier’s Journal, January 11, 1865

2 thoughts on “Alexandria, Virginia: A Negro Funeral in Virginia

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: