Sons of Confederate Veterans Dig Up Graves

Removing the stone covering Joseph Hollerman's grave

This is just downright bizarre.  This past weekend in west Raleigh, North Carolina the local SCV dug up and moved the remains of the Holleman brothers, one of who was a Confederate soldier.  According to the story, the graves were marked and were not threatened by any type of encroachment.  The remains of both men were moved to nearby Oakwood Cemetery.  And why did their remains need to be removed?  According to SCV member, Donald Scott:

We know these young men have left their earthly shell.  We want to respect and honor these remains, even though we know their souls are with you. They were Tar Heels. We don’t want them lost…. My heart says this is the right thing.  These boys have been here 150 years. Their blood is our blood.

The only problem with this explanation is that these two men have not been lost.  Other than what Scott’s heart told him there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to disturb desecrate these graves.  There is no indication that the people who disinterred the two bodies have any archaeological training.  Joel Holleman wasn’t even a Confederate soldiers.  He was a teacher.  What I don’t understand is why the SCV didn’t make the effort to improve the existing site.  It looks like at least one of the headstones is completely intact.

Perhaps the SCV can turn this into a new reality show along the lines of American Diggers.

36 thoughts on “Sons of Confederate Veterans Dig Up Graves

  1. Damian Shiels

    As an archaeologist it saddens me to hear that this took place without specialist direction, the graves clearly contained a lot of information that would have been of great interest to record. On the face of it it seems an odd step to have moved them in the first place, especially if the family had selected that site for them in 1862, although perhaps there were mitigating circumstances. In my experience this type of reburial often tells us far more about the perceptions and beliefs of modern communities than it does about the wishes of the dead, whose thoughts in all but the most exceptional of cases are lost to us.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      It’s not even clear they had a permit. As far as I can tell the only reason for moving the remains was because someone believed it to be appropriate. Why does the SCV believe they have the right to decide on the final resting place of these two men? Again, one of them wasn’t even a Confederate soldier. No shame.

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      1. Damian Shiels

        It certainly seems incredible to take such a decision- it is hard to imagine they were buried there side by side if the location did not hold any meaning for their family at the time. It is not for us today to determine that they should be somewhere else, especially if there are no direct threats to their resting place. As you say an improvement of the existing site would have been a far more sensitive approach, and would have allowed the location to retain its historical integrity.

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        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I agree. There are certainly situations where I can see it being justified. One of the most powerful stories is the work the Richmond LMA did to bring back Virginians from the Gettysburg battlefield to be reinterred in Hollywood Cemetery. It’s a wonderful place to bring visitors/students to talk about what this meant to the people of Richmond during the postwar period.

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        2. Andy Hall

          I’d bet medium-sized money that there were some human remains extant there, that these amateur yahoos overlooked. I’ll bet there wasn’t a screen (apart from the one on somebody’s back porch) within ten miles of that site.

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  3. Christine M. Smith

    I’m appalled at this. I too wonder how someone can just dig up two bodies and rebury them in another place. There should be some kind of procedure for doing this, permits, etc. Is this even legal? Do these dead men have relatives who might object? So many questions, so few answers. And yes Kevin, one of my collateral ancestors was reburied from his grave at Gettysburg to the grave site at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. I was proud to be able to contribute to the tombstone, which the US government provided free, and which the cemetery charged a nominal sum for setting in place. They then sent me a picture of it. They simply set the stones in a line atop the common grave. It is a special place of remembrance and reflection.

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  4. Lindsay

    Before we jump to assumptions can we get/ask for a formal explanation? Or is the above from Donald Scott what was given when asked? It is easy to make judgements but I would rather hear it from the horse’s mouth.

    I agree with the poster above, this has to be illegal to dig up a body and move it unless the proper channels have been taken…

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  5. Vincent

    If you look at the photos attached to the story it is evident that the grave sites were in extremely poor condition. One was intact, but the other was in multiple pieces and both were overgrown with thick brush It would seem then that the purpose of re-interring them at a nearby cemetery is to ensure their graves are not lost to nature, and nothing more.

    The fact that the landowner is interviewed in the article also suggests it was done with her approval, possibly out of knowledge that she was unable to give the graves the attention and upkeep they deserve. And considering that Civil War graves on both sides have been moved in recent years to make way for strip mall parking lots and fast food joints (or simply forgotten and paved over entirely), it is difficult to maintain that this case stands alone as some sort of outrageous and extraordinary “desecration.”

    Were you not so eager to jump to conclusions impugning the motives of the persons who relocated them, you might have also noticed that the brother, while not a soldier, was identified as a “Confederate collaborator” in Union records.

    As to the suggestion that the re-interment was done without a permit or proper archaeological technique, you might do well to follow your own frequent advice to others and abstain from jumping to a conclusion without evidence beyond your own conjecture.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the speculation. The graves did appear to be in poor condition, but that alone does not constitute a reason to remove human remains and other artifacts. Whether it was done with the landowner’s approval is also of little interest to me. It doesn’t appear that the people who did the digging were properly equipped or trained for this type of work. Perhaps the landowner should have sought out other options.

      I have o idea what the reference to a “Confederate collaborator” in Union records ought to allow us to conclude. It clearly does not make him a soldier so the placement of him in a grave site with Confederate veterans seems a bit extreme.

      I await additional information.

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  6. Vincent

    You should also be aware that there is a long-running thread on a genealogy website about the details of the disinterment. It appears that the current property owner has been thoroughly researching the Holleman brothers for several years now in preparation for their re-interment, and has been in open communication with several of their descendents throughout. Browsing the thread it is also apparent that several of the Holleman family members are supportive of the re-interment, and some planned on attending the funeral service.

    http://genforum.genealogy.com/holleman/messages/87.html

    In short, it appears that you jumped to many hasty and uninformed conclusions that seem to be driven less by the facts of this case than by a whole range of unfounded assumptions you made about the motives of the SCV.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I have absolutely no problem with the researching of one’s ancestors. What I do have a problem with is the digging up of graves without a compelling reason. I still do not understand why the grave sites of these two men could not be improved. To top it all off one of the brothers will be buried in a Confederate soldier section of a cemetery even though he was not a soldier. That the SCV offered its blessing and willingness to help should leave folks with questions about their motives.

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      1. Vincent

        Here’s property owner Kenn Hicks describing the reasons:

        “In consideration that several hundred confederate soldiers have been relocated to Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, my present plan is to have these Holleman (Holloman) remains also relocated, as the current grave sites are in an area of high development and subject to vandalism and destruction. There are members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who have volunteered to assist, but there are still some details to be worked through.”

        Source: http://genforum.genealogy.com/holleman/messages/90.html

        Several Holleman family descendents have also indicated that they support this decision on the thread, are planning to attend the reinterment, and seem to have been in discussions with Hicks about it since at least 2008.

        And why shouldn’t they?

        If one of my ancestors’ grave was being neglected in a long-forgotten and completely overgrown cemetery, its tombstone vandalized and shattered to pieces, and with encroaching development in the area, I’d welcome an offer to reinter him at a cemetery where his remains would be perpetually cared for.

        No matter what you think about the SCV, the photos of those graves show them in pretty rough shape and probably under threat of disappearing forever…as others nearby them apparently have according to Hicks. What I don’t understand though is why you have such an obsession with impugning the SCV’s motives without any apparent attempt on your part to research deeper into the real story behind the move.

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        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          Like I said, I have no problem whatsoever with improving the present site. One of the two is not a Confederate soldier.

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        2. Margaret D. Blough

          Forgive me for being cynical but did you consider the possibility that the property owner might have less than altruistic motives for wanted the graves removed. A lot of states have restrictions on the use of land on which known graveyards are located.

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  7. Phil Ross

    “… the current grave sites are in an area of high development and subject to vandalism and destruction. ”

    Bingo. Landowner wants option to develop property, has an impediment. Comes up with win-win solution.

    This sort of thing happens all the time, almost always with less sensitivity than was displayed here. Credit the landowner for proactively working with the SCV, using them in a way I believe the group is uniquely and ideally suited. Much preferable to dealing with the SCV in reactive mode, which could have easily happened here.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      We are assuming that the people who collected the remains were qualified to do so. I have my doubts.

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      1. Phil Ross

        How do you define “qualified” in this context? According to North Carolina cemetery law, disinterments and reinterments from abandoned cemeteries don’t require even the involvement of a funeral director (like some states do), much less an archaeologist.

        http://cemeterycensus.com/law/nc-law.htm

        What I read in this particular law is that maintaining dignity and respect is the primary goal. I’ve worked with many archaeologists under the auspices of Section 106 of the NHPA, on numerous projects of the kind where their expertise is required by law. While I would not question their qualifications, professionalism varies quite a bit. To historic archaeologists, the artifact assemblage is going to be at least as interesting as the human remains. Opinions might differ on whether that would enhance, or detract from, the primary goal.

        I see nothing in the news report that suggests the landowner neglected any of his obligations, legal or otherwise. If this was state or federal land, or if federal money is somehow involved in the project — that would be an entirely different case.

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          1. Phil Ross

            Here’s the standard: “Due care shall be taken to do said work in a proper and decent manner, and, if necessary, to furnish suitable coffins or boxes for reinterring such remains. Due care shall also be taken to remove, protect, and replace all tombstones or other markers, so as to leave such tombstones or other markers in as good condition as that prior to disinterment.” Sec. 65-106(4)(g).

            It’s a pretty low bar, for sure. No professional qualifications required. According to the law, anyone with a shovel is qualified to do the job. As to your question, I doubt any member of the Society for Historical Archaeology, and/or the American Cultural Resources Association, would consider the work properly done unless it was done by a fellow member. But who’s going to pay for that? I’ve submitted the invoices for that kind of work. Suffice it to say that if arch work is not required by law, if it’s going to happen, it will have to be done pro bono. And that will tick off still other archaeologists, especially the ACRA guys.

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            1. Lindsay

              Interesting Phil, thanks for all the explanation and background information – that does help in understanding this situation.

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  8. erica

    So in order to “honor” these soldiers, they stand on the marker, and move the bodies? If they needed to be moved, the least that could have been done is rebury them ceremonials andwith military honors, not as a saturday afternoon chore? Not knowing the whole story it’s hard to say for sure, but it seems a little odd…..

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      It is my understanding that they will be re-buried with other Confederate soldier, even though one of the brothers was not a soldier. That said, I still don’t know why they were disinterred to begin with.

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        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          You are absolutely right. As I stated in an earlier comment, I am not necessarily averse to the transfer of remains under certain circumstances.

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  9. Mike

    Yesterday, the 2 Holleman brothers were laid to rest side by side as they were 150 years ago in the Confederate Section of Oakwood cemetary w/military and Masonic honors and dignity. Thank you to the Cary Masons Lodge #198, 6 & 26th NC Troops reactivated, LL Polk & Bennit Duke SCV camp, the Holleman family and land owner Ken Hicks for for bringing this to fruition.

    Joel Holleman, 28, was the oldest of 3 brothers & 4 sisters, a Scribe at the Masonic Lodge in Cary where his father presided as Master, a teacher, a sunday school teacher and a medical assistant at the Fairgrounds Hospital during the American Civil War. He served the community in many ways. The last service at the CS Hospital is what branded him as a CS “collaborator” by the US Gov’t. He died of unknown causes on 1 Jan, 1862.

    Joseph Holleman, 22, was a CS soldier who enlisted in the 26th NC Troops at Camp Crabtree, Sept. 10, 1861 then his older brother Hiram the next day. The 26th trained at Camp Crabtree until they were sent to Bogue Island in the Outer Banks near Morehead City and Ft Macon. Joseph contracted pneumonia and died in a Morehead City Hospital on Feb 9, 1862, and was buried in his uniform.

    The Holleman Brothers graves were located off Trinity Road, close enough to the interstate that interstate traffic was easily heard and developement is near by. Land owner Ken Hicks fearing the graves may be lost in the future and forgotten, approached Don Scott about some abandon grave sites on his property. Mr Hicks stipulated that the brothers had to remain next to each other as they had been for the last 150 years. Joel’s tombstone was in poor condition, broken and in several pieces. Joseph’s was broken and laying on the ground.

    The only identifiable remains left after 150 years were a couple teeth. The rest was unidentifiable as human, just discolored soil. Some of the artifacts that were recovered included coffin nails, bits of wood, bits of cloth & buttons (Joseph’s eight 7 point NC starburst military uniform buttons, and shirt & drawers of both), gold cuff-links and a small broken bottle in each grave. All artifacts were buried with their respective former owners.

    Mr Scott oversaw the entire project from planning to yesterdays ceramony. Tombstones were repaired by local monument company. New coffins were made by a volunteers. Only period methods & materials were used in the consctruction of the coffins. The remains were stored in a local funeral home. Yesterday morning the brothers layed in state at the NC Museum of History w/honor guards provided by the 6th & 26th NC Troops reactivated. The horse pulled artillery caisson used was from the Reilly’s Battery another reenacting group. 3 volley’s were fired in honor by the Honor Guard during grave side ceramony. The 2 NC flags that were draped over the coffins were presented to the Holleman family present at the ceramony. All of this at no cost to the taxpayers.

    see the news article below for some pics of the ceramony.
    http://www.raleighpublicrecord.org/ocp/2012/04/15/confederate-soldiers-reburied/

    http://tarheelred.com/

    http://www.wral.com/news/local/noteworthy/story/10983204/

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  10. Erica

    Thank you for letting us know the end of the story, and an apology for jumping to an opinion, al be it understandable with the the information provided in the original article. I’m glad I was wrong, and that proper honor was given to these 2 men.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      And the SCV went ahead and buried an individual in the Confederate section of a cemetery who was not a soldier.

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      1. Mike

        Kevin, and the problem is???????? Jefferson Davis was not a soldier, but I believe he could have been buried there if his family had desired it. I believe being branded as a “Collaborator” by the Federal Gov’t is more than enough to deserve being buried in a CS Cemetary. By this status alone, after the war a special pardon was required to recieve your rights as a US citizen.

        If he didn’t earn the right by caring for sick and wounded CS soldiers, isn’t a family member allowed to be buried at a National Cemetary presently? I can tell you that it is fitting and proper that they are. If you don’t believe me call the Veterans Administration and ask them! I don’t see any difference here!

        Besides, there isn’t a long, or for that matter short list of people waiting to be interred there. I believe the SCV is more than qualified to decide who may be allowed to be buried there.

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        1. Andy Hall

          Isn’t a family member allowed to be buried at a National Cemetary [sic.] presently. . . ? If you don’t believe me call the Veterans Administration and ask them!

          Not brothers, no. Spouses, minor children and (in certain circumstnaces) dependent adult children, only. And of course Jefferson Davis had an explicitly military role as “Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the Confederate States,” as outlined in the C.S. Constitution (Art. II, Sect. 2, Paragraph 1).

          I understand the points you’re trying to make, Mike, but before you go spouting off examples, do try to make sure they’re actually, you know, valid. Otherwise you’re undermining your own argument.

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  11. A Holleman

    The burial site on the property was most definitely in the way of west Raleigh development trends.

    There was a forensic anthropologist on site for the dig. Apparently (I wasn’t there, but family members were), the type of clay these two were buried in was pretty devastating to the remains. There were buttons, bones, and very little else.

    One of the brothers was indeed a Confederate soldier. The other had been listed in national documents as a Confederate collaborater.

    Your post did indeed jump to assumptions. The site is not far from the PNC Arena off the highway there, and it is an area slated for development. The current property owners’ acted mercifully, respectfully and kindly about the whole situation. They chose not to desecrate and disrespect people they didn’t know.

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  12. David Edelen

    Why did they feel they need to be dug up and removed? I mean, weren’t they breaking the law by digging them up? Seems like it should be done by competent personel, with legal license, etc, etc.
    DE

    Reply

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