Beauvoir cemetery provides a fascinating history lesson

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - After serving as the final home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis Beauvoir later became the confederate veterans home.

Confederate soldiers, along with their wives or widows, were allowed to live there for free.  When they passed away, many were buried at what's now the confederate cemetery at Beauvoir.

There are countless stories attached to the rows of moss-covered stones. Men and women of the confederacy found their final resting place there.

Many were post-war residents of the confederate soldiers home at Beauvoir.

"They basically honored the last wishes of the veterans," Beauvoir Curator Richard Flowers said. "If they wanted to be buried here, they were. If they wanted to be sent back to their home county and buried in a family plot, they also were."

"We served over 2,000 widows, veterans and wives of veterans during that period of time.  And approximately a third are buried here, 768 of them," Flowers said.

The first burial took place in 1904. The last burial of veterans wives and widows took place in 1954."

"We do genealogy on many of these veterans who are buried here, especially at the request of descendents. And it's like looking back into the pages of history and meeting that person and finding out about them. It's very personal to me, because my great grandmother is buried in this cemetery," Flowers said.

Short inscriptions about confederate military service fuel the imagination of visitors. Images of brave souls on battlefields emerge.

It was during one such battle that a 17-year-old confederate soldier fought, was killed, then later memorialized at the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier.

"It's in the middle of heavily wooded area and there was a ridge that the confederate soldiers set their troops upon to receive the attack by the federals," Beauvoir Director Richard Forte said.

A history buff and relic hunter, Forte is the man who discovered the remains of the "unknown soldier."

"It was on a Sunday evening right at dusk. And I get a reading on my detector and dig down about a foot and recover a cartridge box. You always check, when you dig something you check to make sure you don't miss anything. So about this far away I get another reading and dig down to the same depth and it's a canteen. Pewter and tin canteen. Confederate," Forte recalled.

He uncovered additional military relics, and then human remains.

"The main bones of the body were intact. The small bones were like powder in the ground, and we exhumed his remains. And being a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I notified our state president and told him what I had found and that I'd like to have a decent burial for him. That was the first thing I thought about," he said.

"I found his remains in December of '79 and in April of 1980 we had the burial here at Beauvoir. And then a year later we had the dedication of the Georgia marble tomb you see over there now," Forte said.

Along with the tomb of the unknown, the Davis tomb is among the more prominent monuments.

It's the burial spot of Samuel Davis, the father of Jefferson Davis. The elder Davis served as a soldier in the American Revolutionary War and was originally buried at Briarfield, Jefferson Davis' plantation just south of Vicksburg.

"The river shifted and back then it was known as Davis Bend. Well, today it's known as Davis Island for the obvious reason. The river cut across the bend. And right where it cut across, Jefferson Davis's father's grave was in danger of washing into the river. So, they decided to relocate his remains here at that time," Flowers said.

"This is one of my favorite headstones in the cemetery here at Beauvoir," said the curator, pointing toward a large tree.

"This tree was not close to his grave, it was farther over. And over the years, it has grown toward his headstone and actually encompassed it. And I think the most significant thing is that his last name is "Wood," and the tree has surrounded him," he said.

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