Knowing the Unknown

Richmond National Cemetery—methodical, uniformed, subdued. Puzzling. Identity seems fickle in this federal burying ground. Along the single road leading into the cemetery, two headstones, side-by-side, form the start (or the end?) of one of the many rigid rows. Both are designated for unknown soldiers. However, there are surprising stylistic differences to these two unknown burials where one expects none.


The first has the designation nestled within an indented shield—proclaiming the soldiers’ allegiance, or perhaps eternal belonging, to the army. In a sense, the shield consumes the soldiers’ identities—even in death, they belong within the shield and within the walls of a soldier’s cemetery. The material of the headstone is consistent with the others, except for its pronounced striations. The pattern elicits a visual sense of weathering, the kind experienced in war. Immediately upon view, this tombstone conditions the minds of the passerby to envision the arduous experience of battle and the continuous struggle for recognition.


The next tombstone reads, “Three Unknown U.S. Soldiers.” The combination of the additional attribute of United States and the corresponding cross on top is no accident—after all, “God bless the U.S.A.” The United States, as a nation, is necessarily entwined with religion despite the rise of secularity. This tombstone, then, pronounces these three American soldiers’ ultimate affiliation with God. The marble used to construct this stone is more pristine, more homogenous, more united.


These two headstones are temporally and spatially close to each other, yet they deliver divergent messages. Nonetheless, they have a known final place despite being “unknown.” In the Richmond National Cemetery, anonymity prevails (without the reference records, even the named stones seem nameless.) In spite of that, each stone commands a known plot in a nationally recognized space.

Representing the Union

From a distance the Richmond National Cemetery consists of rows upon rows of perfection. All the identical white headstones are lined up, making differences difficult to spot. However those small differences that can be seen upon close inspection should be considered significantly more important. Within the same row of graves there are contrasts between inscriptions on graves. While it is evident that American perception of death changes gradually, the difference between the graves of John Burns and Henry Frank must be in regard to something different than changes in time.

Both Frank and Burns and were buried in 1864, approximately one month apart. Both their graves are made of white marble, the slabs are about four inches thick, 10 inches wide and less than two feet above the ground. Both men have the same depressed shield with their burial date right under it. It is only with the information inside the shields that the graves differ. Frank’s slab only has his name, Henry Frank, in simple block lettering. John Burns shield is inscribed with the abbreviations, one on top of the other; Co D (Company D), 1 REGT (First Regiment), and KY INF (Kentucky Infantry) in block lettering.

These men were originally buried on Belle Isle and then reburied in Richmond National Cemetery. During the Civil War, Belle Isle was a Civil War Prison that held many Union Soldiers. It is difficult to understand why there were great records kept on Burns while Frank is identified by his name, which forms a simple semi-circle.

The government tried to recognize Frank as best they could with the only information of his they had. Frank’s grave consists of many of the same aspects that John Burns has, he is recognized as a vital part of the Union’s fight against slavery. Rather than focus on his specific rank he is devoid of rank, he is a representation of all soldiers fighting on the Union fronts. The simplicity of Frank’s grave makes his contribution even greater. Rather than pin him to a specific infantry or regiment he transcends these boundaries. Instead of being tied to specific battles and groups his modest grave elevates him as a symbol of all Union soldiers.

The government tried to recognize Frank as best they could with the only information they had. Frank’s grave consists of many of the same aspects that John Burns has, he is recognized as a vital part of the Union’s fight against slavery just as Frank is. Rather than focus on his specific titles he is devoid of rank, he is a representation of all soldiers fighting on the Union fronts. The simplicity of Frank’s grave makes his contribution seem that much greater. Rather than pinning him to a specific infantry or regiment he transcends these boundaries. Instead of being tied to specific battles and groups his modest grave elevates him as a symbol of all Union soldiers.


Henry FrankJohn Burns

Religious Differences in Richmond National Cemetery

The uniformity of Richmond National Cemetery lends itself to the study of difference.  Like a troop of soldiers at attention, the headstones stand upright in straight lines that stretch out in all directions.  With so many graves looking so similar, the smallest, minutest differences seem to stand out the most.


The gravestone of Union soldier Tom Cheaton exemplifies this phenomenon.  In many ways, this stone very much fits in with the rest of the cemetery.  It is made of solid, bright marble and stands about mid-thigh high.  Like the hundreds of others surrounding it, it is straight on the edges and gently curved on top.  The same stiff uppercase lettering spells out his name and date of death in the center the stone.


Most graves in the cemetery have a circled cross at the top of the stone above the name, signifying the Christian faith.  Some notable graves have different religious symbols, such as the Jewish Star of David or Islamic crescent moon.  But the Cheaton stone has no such symbol.  Even the graves of the unknown soldiers, where five or six people are often buried together, are marked by default with a cross.  While it is possible that Tom’s faith traditions may simply have been unknown at the time of his funeral, it still seems unlikely that the military would have made the decision to purposefully omit the cross from his stone, especially when soldiers that no one could name at the time of their deaths were essentially designated Christian after death.

This means that either Tom or his loved ones were the ones to finalize the headstone design.  In this case, the lack of religious iconography tells a more intricate story than the graves that are more overt in their depiction.  When burying Tom Cheaton, someone must have specifically requested that his headstone not be adorned with any religious iconography.  This suggests he felt strongly enough about his own spiritual convictions (or the lack thereof) to break tradition of the US military and set his grave apart from the rest in the cemetery.

The silences of the Cheaton grave speak to the American ideal of Christianity as the expected normal faith tradition, the culture of homogeny in national battlefields, and the power of personal petitions that create differences in them.

From Unknown to Known

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The Richmond National Cemetery is unlike any experience we have had thus far in our course. Upon entering the grounds, one can spin in circles and have a similar view in all 360 degrees. White headstone upon white headstone span out in rows in every direction. This structure gives off an oddly ambiguous ambiance as the sense of honor for the soldiers permeates the air. Each stone demonstrates a culture of respect towards those at rest by standing identically as if they are men of service in uniform. However, the atmosphere is almost unnaturally formal. During our visit last week, I experienced an eerie feeling of impersonality while I inspected the cemetery around me. While I am no expert on the proper manner of honoring soldiers that have been laid to rest, I felt empty and as if I made no connection with the neutral, indifferent graves around me.

While moving from row to row, examining each headstone, one in particular sparked my curiosity. Among a handful of graves marked “Unknown Soldier,” there existed one unlike those surrounding it. The grave had a name on it facing the direction of all of the others: “Lorenzo Barney.” However, the reverse side stated “Three Unknown Soldiers.” This brought many questions to mind about how those that run the cemetery choose to bury the soldiers and if they edit existing graves. My speculation is that one of the three was later identified, his name was added to the stone, and it was reinstalled facing the other direction. This shows how much the soldiers are honored and held in high esteem if work continues to be done to identify the large quantity of unknown soldiers. Nonetheless, the family with the newly identified soldier cannot even personalize the grave with more than an inscription. While permission to be buried in this cemetery, this appears to me to be very cold.

Changes in Gravestones at the Richmond National Cemetery


When you approach the Richmond National Cemetery and see its sea of white stones forming perfect lines in every direction, you become aware that you are stepping into an area filled with the remains of a proud and patriotic people. Uniformity can evoke strong emotions due to its simplicity, and in the case of national cemeteries, its historical context. The Richmond National Cemetery is an interesting case because it maintains the sense of pride that is present in other national cemeteries, but it does not maintain the strict uniformity. In this view of three gravestones, it is clear that there are significant differences between all three.

When looking at the two stones that are next to each other, there is a lot more inscription on the left stone. The stone on the right only contains the deceased’s initials and last name in addition to”Ohio.” There is no date inscribed on this stone. The stone itself it much thinner, slightly shorter, and it appears to be more weathered than the other two stones in the pictuIMG_1730re above. Because of the extreme simplicity, one may be led to believe that it was hastily made during a time of war. More can be said about this simple stone after looking at the other stones in this first picture.

The stone at the back left of the picture to the right dates from the civil war. This stone includes the death date and military rank, yet excludes the deceased’s home state. Here is the first change we notice in attitudes towards military death during different time periods. The stone from the civil war places more importance on the individual as part of a larger whole in the military, while the other “Ohio” stone places importance on the deceased’s home state. By incorporating the military rank into gravestone inscriptions, the deaths are more militarized to show that this person died for a larger cause.

In the most decorated stone, it is clear that it is the most recent gravestone out of these three. Without looking at the date, one can date this stone to more recent times because of its smooth material and lack of decay. This stone contains several new additions such as a cross, full name, birth/death date, and war served in. The most striking difference is the religious symbol. It is difficult to imagine that deceased buried in the other two graves did not have religious beliefs, but their stones were not created by family who knew of their religious values. Yet the person in the more moderIMG_1731n grave died after the war he served in, so his family was able to inform the government about the deceased’s religious beliefs. It was the military who decided not to include religious symbols on the earlier stones. This may be due to the enormous amount of burials required during earlier wars or less discussion and popularity of religion in those times. Ultimately, there are many differences in attitudes towards death that can be observed in a cemetery that attempts to promote uniformity and equality.

Tombstone Displacement

Upon entering Richmond National Cemetery, the uniformity and symmetry is plainly clear. Each tombstone is made of the same material, with the lettering written in the same font and size. The stones are laid out in a very particular and precise grid: Look down any line–horizontal, vertical, diagonal–and the tombstones extend in a perfectly linear fashion. The layout and appearance of the cemetery is rather appealing because it is clear that ample planning and time was put into the aesthetic and the care of the cemetery.

Knowing the goal of the structure of the cemetery immediately upon entering, my interest was piqued when I noticed a couple tombstones that did not follow the pattern–the two in the back of the following picture:


These two stones were not in line with the others; they were not even sticking up out of the ground as every other stone in the cemetery was but instead were lying flat down on the ground. My first thought was that perhaps they had been pulled out of the ground at some point, so the caretakers of the cemetery had laid them down temporarily. As I looked more closely, however, it was obvious that these stones were stuck into the ground in an obviously permanent way. My next thought was that they were early stones for the soldiers buried in that space, and when they made the cemetery so precise they put upright stones directly in front of the originals in order to preserve the uniformity that was wanted. However that thought also proved to be incorrect, as I finally realized where these stones belonged upon more time spent with them. Looking closely at the stones, it is clear that they were intentionally placed in those spots and were never expected to be moved. Whereas every other stone in the cemetery had their number marking their location on its backside, these stones had their numbers written on the bottom of their front.


The numbers lined up with not the row directly in front of these stones, but with the row behind them. It become clear that the reason for the stones’ location was because of the tree that disrupted the flow of the row where they belonged, as you can see in the first picture.

Some questions remain about this tombstone displacement, especially after noticing the same thing with other tombstones related to trees in the cemetery. Were the trees there before the land became a cemetery? I would assume so, but that begs the question: why did they feel the need to continue the graves through the tree rather than letting there be a natural break in the line? There are numerous places among the tombstones in the cemetery where there seems to be a bit of a random break, so why not allow the tree to create a natural one? I also noticed that every displaced tombstone was marked as an “Unkown Solider.” There are other tomstones throughout that mark multiple soldiers in one grave, so why were these soldiers not added to others to preserve the looks of the cemetery? My final question was as follows: If these men buried here, with their tombstones displaced, were known and had a name, would they have been pushed off as such?

Richmond National Cemetery


While walking into the Richmond National Cemetery, it was quite evident that a sense of uniformity and unitedness dominated the atmosphere. This plot of land was turned into a National cemetery where the dead Union soldiers could be buried by their loved ones, honored by the public, and remembered for their service. Upon entering the cemetery, at its focal point stood a sky-scraping pole, with an American flag adjacent to it, waving in the breeze. It would be impossible for anyone to enter into the cemetery and not recognize it.


After expanding your view of the cemetery, the plot of land was occupied by thousands of gravestones put in place to remember the Union dead and those who have indirectly impacted the war, such as soldiers’ wives. The gravestones were distributed across the land in symmetrical rows and columns. It resembled an exact replica of a formation the Union soldiers would have stood in during the war. Looking out into a sea of Union soldiers it would be easy to depict their similar uniforms and organized formations. This set-up throughout the war and cemetery stood as bold and eye-catching while it effectively attempted to display the Union soldiers’ solidarity and uniformity.


While strolling up and down the rows, a countless number of gravestones were dedicated to ‘An Unknown Soldier’. Unfortunately, due to the lack of measures taken before the war to ensure the identification of the soldiers’, some soldiers’ who passed away in battle were never able to become identified. They were given a headstone and the name ‘Unknown’ and that is exactly what they were; another ‘Unknown’ soldier in the field. Many gravestones were identical in body and text, and have simply been overlooked or not shown any interest.IMG_9213

Ironically, I stumbled across a gravestone that looked very similar to all of the other one foot, slabs of marble, with a cross at its’ head; however, this stone demanded my attention. As of 2009, the Wife of PVT John Morris, Pauline, was buried next to her husband in Richmond National Cemetery and yet, she was still communicating to me on that day. In contrast to other graves, the simple credentials engraved on her headstone were highlighted with a dark, black dye, triggering me to stop in my steps and fully read the text on her stone. Although the information relayed was brief and similar to other stones I had already read, it said more than what was written. The darkening of Pauline’s’ text resonated that she was the proud wife of John Morris and even after her days on Earth she wanted the world to be aware of it.


Hollywood’s many symbols

Walking into Hollywood Cemetery one enters into a serene landscape of tranquility and beauty. The garden style cemetery is tastefully landscaped and wonderfully designed. Curving trails and gently rolling land taper off into views of the rapids at the falls along the James River. Flowers, trees, and shrubbery are positioned just so to create a connection to the Earth and the wonder that is nature. But it isn’t just the details of the well manicured property that juxtaposes beauty against the calm quiet that is the death that is all around one when in any type of cemetery. No, the beauty is found too in the memorials to the dead. Burial plots and gravestones offer up a plethora of artwork in the form of designs, symbols, and statuary dedicated to the remembrance of the deceased.

Walking around I was inundated with visuals of flowers, wreaths, trees, vines, hand signs, monograms, angels, animals, and other symbols dedicated to ranking in the military field or other various fraternal organizations. I wondered what meanings lay beneath each piece of art and decided I would do my field report on various symbols and there generic meanings.

I was particularly interested in a grave marked with a circle in which the letters HTWSSTKS were arranged around it. They were written on the center, keystone, of what seemed to be an arch on the top of the gravestone. I thought it would be initials like I had seen on other stones or the first letters of a popular prayer but nothing fit and I couldn’t find any other examples. I decided to search popular symbols and found a world of knowledge related to other stone symbols around Hollywood but not my mystery letters.








I found a page displaying various hand symbols. A hand pointing upward can mean a sign of the creator or of the trinity or benediction all depending on the number of fingers pointing up or the placement of the thumb. A hand pointing to the side has a masculine connotation.[i] Many of the hand symbols represented were present in Hollywood and usually found on the side of a pyre.

I happened across a Native American symbols site and noticed a few animals that had appeared on stones seen during our tour. A picture of a raccoon could mean a bandit but also shyness and determination. A hummingbird symbol could represent joy, miracles, and beauty. A butterfly’s image symbolizes metamorphosis, care freeness, and transformation.[ii]

I found many beautifully illustrated sites on the meanings of flowers. Each site was different from the next in the meanings of most blooms, vines, and leaves. For example, a lilly of the valley could mean happiness or sensitiveness. A cornflower could be hope in love, delicacy, or riches and a daisy could be gentleness, attachment, or innocence. Seeing these variations in meanings I wondered if the flowers symbolized on the many gravestones were just random preferences by the commissioner of the stone or if maybe the meanings changed when regards to use: one list I found was just a list of flowers and meanings found on bing images, one was an illustrated compilation found on a wedding flowers site, and one was a illustrated post found under a wiccan language of flowers heading. [iii] I also remember having heard that if a blooms stem is represented as snapped it represented a life cut short.

The meaning of dying young can also be linked to a tree stump shaped stone as explained on the Jewish cemetery symbols and their meanings site I visited. This site also explained some of the shapes found adorning the tops of stones. An acorn shape represents a greater life after death. “From little acorns giant oaks grow.” A ball shape shows the circle of life and eternity where as a vessel is used to symbolize that the body was the vessel for the soul.[iv] The Passare Simplifying End-of-Life Management site’s The Meaning of Memorial Headstone Symbols contained a wealth of knowledge and contained many of the symbols scattered about on various headstones but nothing contained those mysterious letters.

I finally just typed the letters into Google and searched. I found an image of exactly what I was looking for and traced the image back to Joy Jewelers. Joy Jewelers is a site that deals almost exclusively in Masonic fraternity jewelry and the image I found was a choice as a side image in a class style ring but the site offered up no meaning to the letters. I searched for the letters as a Masonic symbol and found my answer. The letters should be read starting at noon and going clockwise and represent the passage Hiram, Tyrian, Widow’s Son, Sendeth To King Solomon. There is a whole ritual surrounding this passage known as Duncan’s Ritual of Freemasonry which is the ritual of the Mark Master Fourth Degree of Royal Arch Masonry, York rite ceremony. The letters are written in a circle on a keystone and the member’s personal mark is placed in the middle. The stone I saw had no mark in the middle and may be due to the fact that many times marks are not recorded although they should be as once a mark is chosen it becomes like a name and cannot be changed.[v]  This meaning makes sense because the owner of the stone was a Royal Arch Mason, as engraved on his stone. Many of the other Masonic symbols seen on gravestones correlate with what degree or group one belonged to and I found a pretty complete list at but there were also hundreds of Google images related to Masonic symbols and there meanings.

The symbols adorning the gravestones at Hollywood Cemetery are as beautiful as the surrounding landscape and as eclectic as the collection of people buried there and my search for one particular symbol showed me just the tip of the iceberg that is gravestone symbolism.




[ii] http;//


[iii] Bing images flowers+symbols+meanings





Confederate Section of Hollywood // Field Report #3

Strolling through Hollywood Cemetery’s Confederate section, one’s eye is draw to the massive pyramid of stones towering out of the ground. This fortress appears to be strong and grounded, serving as an anchor of protection to this cemetery. But then, what purpose is this cannon serving and moreover how does this ring of stones connect to either?IMG_2787

There are multiple of these same sorts of cannons interspersed throughout this section of the cemetery honoring the Confederate soldiers. This one in itself seems no different, except for its orientation. The opening of the cannon points away from the front of the pyramid. It serves almost as a line of protection or defense for this monument and the graves surrounding it. The rather small in length cannon sits atop a firm foundation of concrete. In general, a cannon was used to attack the enemy, to prevent them from advancing. So therefore, this cannon must serve a similar purpose in defending the graves of these Confederate soldiers. The pyramid behind it, however, is much more grand and a single, tiny (in comparison) cannon could not hold back an entire army from attacking. Perhaps this is to suggest that the pyramid, which memorializes the 18,000 Confederates buried in Hollywood, is strong enough to defend itself. The presence of the cannon symbolizes war and fighting, but the pyramid towering above it symbolizes bravery, heroism, and honor displayed by the soldiers in battle. The cannon rests there to be a warning to the enemy, but need not serve as the ultimate defense for the soldiers are brave and strong enough to defend themselves.

This cannon’s line of fire points due west. The fact that it points towards the setting sun adds a sense of stick-to-itiveness to the memory of the Confederate soldiers buried here. Even though the sun is setting and the night is coming, the soldiers were never willing to let down their guard. The orientation of the pyramid and cannon seem to remind visitors of the valiant, unfailing efforts of the Confederate soldiers. Although they lost the Civil War, they can be remembered here in this cemetery as having fought their hardest in the most grueling battles.

There is still the matter of this circle of stones that lies in line with the cannon. The 19 stones are all perfect cubes displayed in a not-so-perfect ring on the ground. Because it does not appear to be a very permanent structure or even that it was intended to be there in the first place, it begs to be given meaning. It is difficult to determine who placed it there, why it was placed there, or what exactly is signifies. One explanation however could be that it represents unity. A circle is a unifying shape. Perhaps this configuration of stones is meant to be a representation of the unification of the Confederate soldiers as they come together to protect one another, as this lies right in line with the cannon’s line of fire. I think there are many other angles that this stone structure could be taken, but it sure is a peculiar element to be found in line with a cannon and pyramid of stones.

Hollywood Cemetery – Confederate Section


It is clear that the Confederate section of Hollywood Cemetery attempts to mimic the uniformity of a national cemetery. But as the losers of a bloody battle, the Confederate dead did not receive as much care and recognition from the US as compared to Union soldiers and soldiers of future wars. However, devoted souls of the south tried to give the Confederate dead the proper burial and recognition that soldiers deserve. Because of its spotty uniformity, it is important to take note of graves that are different from the rest and identify why they may be different.

This stone is about 1-2 inches thick and stands taller than all of the uniform confederate grave stones and even most of the other non-uniform grave stones. The tall monolithic presence of this stone embedded within a sea of uniform graves identifies it as different and separable from rest of the military graves. Because the sharp rectangular structure is simple yet so distinct from the others, one’s eye is immediately drawn to it because it conveys strength and sturdiness. But when one steps up to it and reads its inscription, he or she may be disappointed to see that it reads in the same fashion as all of the others. Yet one of the lines should stand out: “Age 17 years.” This short inscription answers the question of why this particular stone is so prominent and different from the others.

While death was plentiful during the civil war, death under the age of 18 was still fairly rare and definitely devastating to families and loved ones. The loved ones who designed this stone and its inscription wanted the dead young man to be remembered and separated from all of the other Confederate dead. Initially one may think that the ones left behind were bitter about this young man’s death and thus created a more distinct stone. However the Confederate symbols in the top corners suggest that this man was passionate enough about the Confederate cause to sacrifice his own life, and thus his family and loved ones attempt to signify that passion through a prominent grave stone.

In conclusion, the tallness of the stone and differentiation from the typical Confederate grave stone evokes a sense of importance and power that is not felt while looking over many uniform military graves. An initial reading of the inscription brings the stone back to uniformity, however William Wise’s young age at death suggests a reason for the difference and prominence of this stone. The Confederate symbols on the stone identify this man as passionate about the Confederate cause. This stone preserves the memory of this tragic young death while simultaneously conveying his passion for the Confederate army.


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