The Old Soldier's Cemetery
- By Rickey Robertson
Nestled south of the intersection of La. Hwy. 6 and Interstate 49 about 3 ½ miles is a piece of history that was almost lost for over 50 years. Located on a red oak ridge about ¼ mile off the interstate is the quaint old cemetery known as the Old Soldiers Cemetery. This piece of history was lost for over 50 years but has been restored due to the efforts of Dody Campbell, his family, and his employees of Campbell Monuments in Provencal, La. And during this restoration process, it was found that there were 3 Confederate veterans buried there, with 1 of these heroes being an Unknown Soldier. Let's look at the history of this long forgotten cemetery.
The Old Soldiers Cemetery, also known as the Gilcrease Cemetery located in Natchitoches Parish actually began when the Unknown Confederate Soldier died in the area and was the first burial in this cemetery. Many theories of this soldier's death prevail, from him being sick and possibly wounded and being left with a local family by his comrades due to his condition and when he died he was buried at this site. But as a historian for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in my research of the Red River Campaign I may have a different theory of this Unknown Soldier. In 1864 the Union Army commanded by General Nathaniel Banks began what is now known as the Red River Campaign. General Banks planned to advance to Shreveport and on into Texas thus effectively knocking Louisiana and the supply lines from Texas to the Confederacy out of the war. The 2nd Louisiana Cavalry Regiment CSA had been slowly skirmishing and retreating north from the Yankee advance. On the rainy night of March 21, 1864 the Yankee army attacked and over ran the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry and a Texas artillery battery at Henderson Hill, located in south Natchitoches Parish. In this surprise attack over 200 Confederates and their valuable cavalry mounts were captured, but many cavalrymen escaped toward Natchitoches. Along with these were many who had been wounded and injured in the attack. From the site of this skirmish to the Old Soldiers Cemetery is about 8 miles as the crow flies. It is my thinking that this may have been one of the wounded southern cavalrymen who had escaped and due to the extent of his wounds, needed more attention than his comrades could provide so they left him with the local family for care. But due to his wounds he died and was buried by the family at this site. The remainder of the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry CSA retreated to Mansfield and rejoined the ranks of General Richard Taylor's army where they fought dismounted in the major battle there and at Pleasant Hill the next day. Therefore this old cemetery became known as the Old Soldiers Cemetery. And over the years, local residents of the area lay their family members to rest in this cemetery. In later years during the great logging and lumber operations in the area, Stephens Mill operated near the cemetery and mill workers and their family members were buried there. So over the years this cemetery has been remembered as the Old Soldiers Cemetery, the Gilcrease Cemetery due to a large number of this family being buried there, and the Stephens Mill cemetery.
But time marched on, the mill closed, people moved, land changed hands, businesses relocated, and the cemetery was all but forgotten. Over the years the forest began to reclaim the cemetery. It was a vague memory to only a few people. Dody Campbell remembered his father talking of this old cemetery where some of his great grandparents were buried. But where was this cemetery located. Interstate 49 had changed forever the appearance of the land. Could it be found again ? Yes it could, and with some old records in hand, Dody began this search. And in 2012 he found the old cemetery. There were only 6 graves with actual markers standing and over 20 more that had stones, boards, or crude gravestones identifying them. Dody and his family, employees, and some hired help began to restore and reestablish this old cemetery. Brush, trees, vines, and other underbrush were removed so that the boundaries of the cemetery and each grave could be found. He began to make gravestones for those buried here, along with a special marker for the Unknown Confederate Soldier and many other graves which had no markers but could be identified, and he also he began laying out a trail and road to the site. Through all his hard work, 23 of these graves with no marker have been identified. When he found the graves of the 3 Johnny Rebs buried there he contacted me about having a dedication service for the cemetery and for these Confederate Heroes. Plans were made and a date of July 20, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. was set.
On Saturday July 20th there was a great dedication service at the cemetery. Dody Campbell and Rickey Robertson welcomed everyone in the large attendance. The service was opened by Dody Campbell with prayer and was then turned over to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The Southern Colors were posted by the Sons of Confederate Honor Guard. The SCV also conducted the Last Canteen Rite where SCV members kneel at the grave of each Confederate, take a drink of water from their canteen, and then pour a drink onto the grave. This signifies that our departed comrades can rejoin our ranks. Next, Patsy Robertson and Carolyn McKnight of the United Daughters of the Confederacy conducted the "rose ceremony" where they went and placed a rose on the grave of each Southern Hero, then had prayer over the graves as they mourned for the Confederate veteran. The Sons of Confederate Veteran Honor guard next performed a 21 gun musket salute over the graves of these honored dead. After the musket fire had died down, honors were rendered to the Confederate Heroes by Bugler Tex McKnight as he played Taps on the bugle. At the conclusion of this ceremony the Sons of Confederate Veterans were pleased to present Dody Campbell, his family and employees a copy of the painting "Confederate Courage" picturing a brave Confederate Color Bearer advancing the Colors toward the Yankee lines and a Certificate of Appreciation from the SCV for their hard work in restoring the cemetery and in honoring the Confederate Veterans buried there. The dedication was closed by a prayer from Sons of Confederate Veterans Louisiana Division Chaplain Robert Porter. Before the crowd began to leave they joined in with the Sons of Confederate Veterans Honor Guard and sang Dixie and gave 3 rousing cheers to Dixie and the South !
There is one thing special about the South…..OLD TIMES THERE ARE NOT FORGOTTEN !
- Rickey and Patsy Robertson at the grave of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. (Rickey Robertson Collection)
- Part of the large crowd who attended the cemetery dedication at the Old Soldiers Cemetery. (Rickey Robertson Collection)
- Sons of Confederate Veterans Bugler Tex McKnight renders honors to the dead by playing TAPS. (Rickey Robertson Collection)
- Marker at the Old Soldiers Cemetery telling the history of the cemetery. (Rickey Robertson Collection)