Resting place for heroes

Sunday, August 24, 2008
FRED LYNCH ~ Richard Kuenneke, left, and Clayton Bierbaum spoke Sunday at a meeting of the Cape Civil War Roundtable. Kuenneke produced the video "Quiet Acres" about the Mound City National Cemetery. Bierbaum is president of the Mound City National Cemetery Preservation Commission.

The Mound City National Cemetery is a final resting place to more than 9,000 veterans, their spouses and dependent children from the Civil War, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars.

Clayton Bierbaum, the president of the Mound City National Cemetery Preservation Commission, and Richard Kuenneke, writer and director of "Quiet Acres," a PBS video about the cemetery, made a presentation to the Cape Civil War Roundtable group Aug. 17.

Kuenneke said he learned about the meaning of sacrifice while making the video.

Ray D. Miller, a WWII veteran in the video who is a member of VFW Post 8891 and resident of Mounds, Ill., said he hoped that someday he will be laid to rest among all the heroes buried there.

Both Union and Confederate soldiers are buried in the national cemetery, and with proximity to forts in neighboring states, these Civil War soldiers had connections to family many miles away. It was established in 1864 when President Lincoln was authorized to purchase grounds for a national cemetery for soldiers who died in service to their country.

Original interments in 1869 at Mound City National Cemetery from area hospitals numbered 1,644. As remains were uncovered throughout the year from locations along the Mississippi, Cache and Ohio rivers and from Cairo, Ill., Columbus and Paducah, Ky., the number of burials totaled 4,808.

The cemetery sits on 10.5 acres near Mound City and Cairo in Southern Illinois. An additional 3.6 acres for expansion of the cemetery has been purchased by the Mound City National Cemetery Preservation Commission. The preservation commission was organized and incorporated in 1994 to raise funds for the repair of the cemetery caretaker's home and cemetery expansion.

The Mound City National Cemetery, one of 12 original national cemeteries, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Although Mound City was not in the Civil War combat theater, its location near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers made the area an important point for dispatching men and materials.

The Mound City Marine Ways and Shipyard and Mound City Hospital also made the area significant during the war.

The Hambleton Co. leased its shipyard from 1862 to 1874 to the U.S. government for $40,000 a year. Ships were built and repaired, and steamers were converted into armored vessels. Three famous gunboats built there in 1861 were the USS Cairo, the USS Mound City and the USS Cincinnati.

The Mound City hospital was one of the largest military hospitals in the west. Deaths from the war created a need for the cemetery; injuries, the need for a hospital. The hospital at Mound City, staffed by Roman Catholic nuns of the Order of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame, South Bend, Ind., could accommodate 1,000 to 1,500 patients and received its first patients in 1861. Another large hospital at Cairo, Ill., staffed by the nuns as well, was about 5.5 miles south of Mound City.

Steve Crain of Cape Girardeau, not a member of the roundtable group, attended the presentation because of his interest in the Civil War. His business, Crain Enterprises Inc., is in Mound City, near where the old Civil War hospital was.

Crain, who owns several hundred pieces of Civil War memorabilia, is primarily a collector of Mound City Civil War memorabilia. His collection includes a piece of wood and a padlock from the USS Cairo and a log book from Mound City General Hospital. He remembers going through the hospital as a youth.

"The ward plaques still were in place then," he said. He said the designation of "general" hospital signified it as a higher echelon medical facility.

"It was a federal hospital set up for the military," he said. The concept of triage, relatively new, would have been in place at a hospital like this.

"I would urge area residents to visit this nearby national cemetery and feel the quiet and respect for our heroes who took part of their lives to support our country's efforts to remain free and independent," said Clarence "Dub" Suedekum Jr., the Civil War roundtable president.

335-6611, extension 133



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