- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

At 10:30 p.m., after 12 hours of hard driving, the appearance of a small motel off old Lee Highway near Interstate 75 in Tyner, outside Chattanooga, Tenn., meant dinner and then sleep. Walking back from an adjacent restaurant, the traveler saw a white arch shining in the dark, the painted letters "CSA" eerily visible even with little ambient light.

The next morning, the full lettering of the arch and its gate became apparent "Silverdale Confederate Cemetary, 155 Soldiers, Names Unknown, From Nearby Hospitals of General Bragg's Army, 1862."

On either side of the arch are the letters "CSA" on one post, a battle flag; on the other, an early Confederate flag with 13 stars, including Kentucky and Missouri in the Confederacy, though neither seceded.

A few hundred yards down a road overgrown with weeds and other foliage, the pristine little cemetery with its granite rock wall and wrought-iron gate comes into view.

The cemetery's story dates to around 1900, when a Confederate veterans group in Chattanooga received a letter from William Standifer, who stated he was aware the veterans group cared for many small cemeteries. He said that there was one on his farm with perhaps "75 to 100" Confederate graves that needed care.

A committee was appointed, and when its members reached the farm in Silverdale, between Cleveland, Tenn., and Chattanooga, they found Standifer, an aged and blind invalid.

He said that he knew the buried soldiers were from Gen. Braxton Bragg's army and that most had died in a nearby hospital. He recalled that the primary physician, a Dr. Reese, may have been from Mississippi, and that the provost marshal was either named Day or Davis. Curiously, he knew that two men from Cobb's Louisiana Battery had fought a duel nearby, and that a Lt. Cunningham had been killed and buried at Citizens Cemetery near Silverdale.

The members of the committee placed requests for information in various newspapers across the country and contacted veterans groups. They wrote and made forays to Richmond and Washington seeking records with no success. They found no record of who was buried at Silverdale or why.

The original wooden grave markers were long gone. The group disinterred one grave to look at the uniform and its buttons, validating that they were Confederate. Without names, however, public interest and energy faded but not the determination of the dedicated veterans.

Money was raised and the cemetery lot was bought for $75 from Standifer's widow in 1904. Twenty years would pass before another committee would be able to erect a solid stone fence and place cast-iron signs. Ten years more, and the highway commissioner came through with the large concrete archway at the entrance; local metal foundries donated the cast-iron signs.

By 1934, murmurs about the site being "neglected" were heard from a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Upkeep was difficult, since ownership was unclear (the original committee members were all dead). In 1942, however, ownership was settled after a "friendly bill" was presented in court, which established the title.

Thirty more years passed. With the centennial of the War Between the States, the Kiwanis sponsored Key Club students from Kirkman Technical High School to attack a veritable thicket of trees, vines and weeds that made even the stone wall invisible. After that initial impetus, the Silverdale graves again seemed forgotten except for sporadic efforts. Then in June 1979, an article appeared in a Chattanooga newspaper: According to Jerry Wormsley of Hixon, Tenn., the Chattanooga Area Relic and Historical Association, to which he belonged, decided that Silverdale would be remembered. Volunteers formed a nonprofit corporation with a board of directors that included the Chattanooga relic group, UDC, the Museum of Regional History, local residents and a lawyer.

Further research revealed that about 30,000 men had been sent to Chattanooga by Bragg shortly after the Battle of Shiloh in preparation for an advance into Kentucky. Most arrived from Mississippi camps, where dysentery had caused substantial illness, and the troop trains were filled with the sick as well as healthy. The trip took almost eight days, and the arriving troops were placed outside town.

The right wing of Maj. Gen. Leonidas Polk was put at Tyner's Station on the railroad line some 10 miles from town. It included Brig. Gen. J.M. Withers' division, and it was his men who were buried at Silverdale. Withers commanded troops from Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana.

Mr. Wormsley's notes indicate that "letters found in Surgeon Stout's papers and other documents show that the hospital was housed in 100 tents for the men with 15 wall tents and 1 Bell tent for the hospital. When the Army marched away on the Kentucky campaign on September 30, 1862, the hospital had too many sick to be moved. It remained at Tyner's station until after it was removed to Cleveland, Tenn., about December 15, 1862, due to the weather becoming too cold for the men to remain in tents."

The names of the men buried at Silverdale, however, remain one of the war's mysteries. Only one man has been identified sufficiently to warrant a marker: Shine Caswell Marley, an Alabama infantryman.

The nonprofit corporation continues its work at Silverdale mowing, raking and maintaining the stone wall. The top of one of the corner posts was broken during work on a new cloverleaf for I-75. The 13-star Confederate flag flies on a tall flag pole, and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle showroom next door exhibits the battle flag on one of its driveway posts.

Martha Boltz is a writer in Northern Virginia.

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