The University’s Civil War Cemetery
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the University of Mississippi served as a hospital for wounded soldiers. Those who didn’t survive their injuries—some United States troops, but mostly Confederate troops—were buried on a site that subsequently became a part the campus. Estimates vary widely about how many there were, but a 2019 survey by UM archeologists identified 307 “potential grave anomalies” within the cemetery walls and suggested that, as an upper limit, “approximately 1000 individuals could be buried in the cemetery.” After the war, most or perhaps all United States troops were removed and reinterred elsewhere. Some Confederate remains were also removed. But most stayed where they were. None of the men who remain at this site had been students at the University of Mississippi, or residents of Oxford or Lafayette County. The majority were not even from Mississippi.
When these men were buried, numbered wooden boards were placed over their graves, and a corresponding list of names detailing who was interred in each plot–if their identity was known when they died–was kept at the university. At some point in the nineteenth century, however, these wooden boards were destroyed by fire, and the locations of graves and the identities of those within in them was lost.
There has been sporadic interest in the university cemetery since it was created. Long periods of neglect have been followed by acts of commemoration and Lost Cause celebration. These efforts have occasionally resulted in the erection of additional objects. Today, at the cemetery there is 1) a stone in the center of the cemetery put there by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) in 1910, 2) a low brick wall surrounding the cemetery built in 1936 from bricks from a defunct campus building, 3) a plaque on the central stone with the names of some of the men buried there that was created by the UDC in 1939, and 4) a historic marker placed in outside the cemetery walls in 2010 by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Currently, graves are not marked in any way.
In February and March 2019, students at the University of Mississippi drafted a resolution for the Associated Student Body (ASB) calling for the Confederate monument on campus to be relocated from the Circle to the university cemetery. This resolution was unanimously approved by the ASB, and similar resolutions were subsequently adopted by the Graduate Student Council, the Faculty Senate, and the Staff Council. The University of Mississippi’s leadership subsequently announced that it would seek the approval of the Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL) Board, which oversees all public colleges and universities in Mississippi, before implementing this resolution.
In June 2020, when the IHL Board, finally approved the request made by administrators at the University of Mississippi to relocate the Confederate monument from its original home on the Circle to the Civil War cemetery on campus, it became clear that the university had also sought permission to add headstones to the cemetery.
Many entities on and off campus, including the Department of History, criticized these plans. Critics asserted that efforts to install headstones at the university cemetery would not only be historically inaccurate and a poor use of limited resources, but also an attempt to glorify the Confederacy and undermine the spirit of the Confederate monument relocation resolutions that had won so much campus support. Many also specifically worried that building something akin to a shrine around the relocated Confederate monument would inhibit efforts to make UM a more welcoming place for minority and specifically Black students, and endanger all campus residents by drawing neo-Confederate groups to campus.
In July 2020, immediately following the relocation of the Confederate monument, Chancellor Glenn Boyce indicated that he was no longer planning to move forward with plans to install headstones at the cemetery. The reason, he claimed, was that “a ground penetrating radar survey” completed on June 26 and 28, 2020 “concluded that in some places minimal ground cover could create a high probability of disturbing the graves.”
Members of the Department of History are currently working on a longer history of the university cemetery.
Articles and Letters Regarding the Confederate Monument and Cemetery Written by UM Faculty and Graduate Students:
Anne Twitty, “Ole Miss’s Monument to White Supremacy,” The Atlantic, 19 June 2020.
Beth Kruse, “Making a Shrine Out of the Confederate Cemetery is Amoral and Ahistorical,” The Daily Mississippian, 25 June 2020.
Darren Grem, “The Plan for Civil War Cemetery Headstones Violates UM’s Commitment To Education,” The Daily Mississippian, 28 June 2020.
Campus Constituencies That Drafted Public Letters Opposing Cemetery Renovations and the Installation of Headstones:
- Anthropology and Sociology Faculty
- Associated Student Body
- Authors of Original ASB Resolution to Move Statue (Jarvis Benson, Arielle Hudson, Katie Dames, John Chappell, Leah Davis, Charlotte Armistead)
- Center for Civil War Research
- Center for the Study of Southern Culture
- Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on History and Context (eight members)
- English Faculty
- Faculty Senate
- Friends and Family of John Neff
- Graduate Student Council
- History Faculty (U.S. Faculty)
- History Faculty (Non-U.S. Faculty)
- Men of Excellence
- The National Pan-Hellenic Council of the University of Mississippi
- Political Science Faculty
- Psychology Faculty
- School of Journalism and New Media Faculty
- United Campus Workers of Mississippi (UCW MS, Local 3565)