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Higginsville’s Confederate Home cemetery has strong Ray ties

By Linda Emley

I feel close to my ancestral roots when I walk around the cemeteries of Ray County, but I also visit cemeteries outside our county when I have a little extra time.
Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. is No. 1 on my list because it’s full of history that dates back to the Civil War. Another one of my favorite military cemeteries is closer to home and a lot easier to visit.
It’s the Confederate Cemetery that is located on land that was once the Confederate Home for veterans of the Civil War. It’s now a Missouri State Park.
There are around 800 soldiers, wives and their children buried in this cemetery. The most famous person buried here is William Clarke Quantrill, who is known as the man that burned Lawrence Kansas. As always, there is more to his story.
Quantrill died June 6, 1865 in Kentucky where he was wounded during a Union ambush. He was only 27 years old when he was buried in Kentucky. In 1887, his mother had his body dug up and moved to his family home town of Dover, Ohio. During this move, some of his bones were stolen and ended up in a private collection in Kansas.
William Clarke Quantrill’s third final resting place was the cemetery in Higginsville. On Oct. 24, 1992, his stolen bones were buried here with full Confederate honors by the Missouri Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He now has a grave marker in Louisville, Ky., Dover, Ohio and Higginsville.
The Higginsville state park has a wonderful, small chapel that sits beside the cemetery. It was built around 1892 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. When you visit this building, you can only imagine the soldiers that bid farewell to their comrades there.
This park has Ray County connections that go back to the very beginning. It all started when a group of Missouri Confederate veterans held a reunion in Higginsville in 1889. These men realized there was a need for a home for some of the less fortunate veterans and formed the Confederate Home Association. They soon purchased 365 acres and opened the home in 1891.
It’s estimated that around 1,600 veterans and family members lived there over the next 59 years. I’m sure some of the reunion veterans from 1889 were from Ray County. I also found many local names on the roster of people that lived there over the years.
Johnny Graves was the last man standing at the Higginsville Confederate Home. The Daily Standard of Excelsior Springs told his story May 9, 1950: “Confederate Army Veteran, Age 108, Dies Today. Higginsville, Mo. (U.P.): ‘Uncle’ Johnny Graves, whose poor health in the 1860s caused his release from the Confederate army, died today. He was 108. Funeral services will be held at the 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Missouri Confederate Home, where Graves has been the only surviving veteran. The home’s only residents now are several Civil War widows.
“‘Uncle’ Johnny lived a full life. He mixed into it a lot of tobacco, cornbread and bourbon, and said he lived beyond the century mark because he refused to worry.”
Uncle Johnny was buried in the local cemetery beside his comrades. His tombstone reads, “John T. Graves, The Last of Shelby’s Men, 1842-1950.” John Graves wasn’t actually the last of Shelby’s men. Joseph Hayden Whitsett, another of Shelby’s men, lived in Texas and died in 1951. The last standing Civil War veteran in America was Albert Woolson, a Union drummer boy who died Aug. 2, 1956 in Duluth, Minn.

The chapel at Confederate Home State Park sits at the edge of a cemetery filled with the graves of deceased soliders who fought for the South and their widows and children. (Submitted photo)

The chapel at Confederate Home State Park sits at the edge of a cemetery filled with the graves of deceased soliders who fought for the South and their widows and children. (Submitted photo)

Every time I visit the Higginsville park, I try to imagine what it would have been like to visit when all the old soldiers were living there. I found a story that told about when one of my favorite Missouri men from the past paid a visit the boys at the home.
“The ‘comrades,’ as the veterans commonly referred to one another, were minor celebrities in the state and were often visited by political candidates. Future president Harry S. Truman visited the home on at least two occasions, as did presidential hopeful William Jennings Bryan.”
Another article told how the U.S. Flag had always flown over the Confederate Home. The home board members expressed their intentions to fly the United States flag atop the large main building. They were quoted as saying, “up she goes, with a big pole on top, and the Stars and Stripes flying big enough to be seen clear to Lexington …” (Higginsville Advance, Sept. 25, 1891.)
The Confederate battle flag was used for funerals and special events. The Kansas City Star told about Jim Cummins’ funeral July 11, 1929: “They will lay Jim away in the Stars and Bars tomorrow. The Stars and Stripes float over the home here, but the men who live in it still revere the Confederate flag and when one of their comrades goes to join the ranks of others who have departed they drape his casket in the southern flag.”
A newspaper article from the 1920s expresses the pride of a veteran who raised the United States flag routinely. “One of the sights at the home is to see J.R. (Rocky) Moore, a member of Company B, Colonel Wheat’s Division of the Confederate Army, raise the American flag each morning and haul it down at sunset. Never greater love shown in a man’s face than in his when he takes Old Glory out to let the breeze caress her colors. Never greater reverence glows in any man’s eyes than in his when he carefully lifts her from the staff, keeping her hem from touching the ground, and bears her away to her resting place for the night. Hero of a bitter war, enemy of the flag he now guards so carefully, Rocky Moore testifies to the goodness of Mr. and Mrs. Chambers (superintendent of the home) in making him standard bearer of the Nation’s colors at the home.” (Unidentified newspaper clipping, United Daughters of the Confederacy scrapbook.)
The U.D.C. was a national organization that helped fund the Higginsville Confederate Home. In 1906, they dedicated a monument at the home that is still a very impressive sight. It’s a large granite monument of a lion that was patterned after the Lion of Lucerne statue in Switzerland.
The Ray County Museum has the U.D.C. scrapbook that belonged to the local chapter. The Brown-Rives chapter was organized May 10, 1911. A newspaper told where they got the name: “Colonel Benjamin Rives organized the first company in Ray County, and Colonel Benjamin Brown joined with him here. They were in General Sterling Price’s command and were two of the bravest and truest soldiers that Missouri ever produced.”
In 1930, the following article was published in a Richmond newspaper: “Memorial Services At the Confederate Home. Sunday June 1 was the annual homecoming day at the Confederate Soldiers Home at Higginsville. A most beautiful day for such a celebration and true lovers of the Sixties gathered in great numbers to mingle with the vanishing heroes of another day and conducted a memorial service in the beautiful cemetery in the morning. This service was under the auspiecs of the Brown-Rives chapter of U.D.C. of Richmond.”
This group of ladies was involved in politcs on the national level. In 1917, it a letter of thanks from he White House. “The President deeply appreciates your very generous and patrotic offer of your services and he wishes in this informal way to express his grateful thanks.”
It was not signed, but Woodrow Wilson was president in 1917. On the same page was a thank-you letter from a French war orphan the local U.D.C. was sponsoring. A picture of the young lad is also in the scrapbook.
The Confederate Soldiers Home in Higginsville closed after John Graves died in 1950 and the last four widows were transferred to a nursing home.
I found a thank-you note in the Richmond U.D.C. scrapbook that was mailed in 1953 from Columbia. It said, “Thank you so much for the lovely bed jackets. Mrs. Sally Boyer, Mrs. Anna Cooper and Mrs. Jessie Pettus, Confederate Widows.”
Yes it looks like the local U.D.C. women played an active part in many events untill they dissolved in the 1960s.

Write Linda at raycohistory@aol.com or see her at Ray County Museum, Wednesday through Saturday.

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