Confederate markers damaged at Poplar Spring Cemetery

Published 9:18 am Saturday, August 1, 2009

FRANKLIN—At first glance the east side of Poplar Spring Cemetery, where the remains of 84 Confederate soldiers are buried, looks well-kept and serene.

A closer look, however, reveals that a number of the markers and headstones are broken, falling over or have been moved. The top has been broken off one tall headstone, while another marker has been broken into two pieces, with the top part placed precariously back on top of the base.

“It’s a real shame,” said Joe Gay, who has three immediate family members and one in-law, all Confederate veterans, buried there. Gay keeps up the family plot where his great-grandfather, Littleton Gay, and two great-uncles, Josiah and Harrison Gay, are buried and sort of “watches over the cemetery,” he says.

“These soldiers gave so much for us,” he added, “they certainly deserve our respect.

“We have some prominent people buried there, including Franklin’s first mayor, James Fenton Bryant, and a major, Fulgence DeBordenave.”

The 80-year-old Gay is doing his part. With the help of the Urquhart-Gillette Camp 1471, Sons of Confederate Veterans, he has been placing the SCV Southern Cross of Honor, a 20-pound iron marker, on the graves of each Confederate soldier.

He has marked 71 of the 84 Civil War soldiers’ graves so far. The other 13, which were moved from a gravesite near the Blackwater River by the Daughters of the Confederacy, are unknown and buried there in a mass grave.

“We don’t know how the markers became damaged,” Gay said. “But people have been complaining, even to me.

“I’m sure we have had some vandalism out there, but it would have to be something like a heavy piece of equipment to move some of those heavy stones.”

He thinks some of the damage could have been done by maintenance people during the years.

Franklin Mayor Jim Councill agreed that this could be possible.

“In their effort to complete the job quickly, I’m sure they could have cut a corner too short or accidentally bumped a stone and moved it,” he said.

Councill said he too is concerned about the condition of the markers, as he has had complaints, as well.

“I spent about two hours with Joe at the cemetery some time ago,” he said. “We were trying to figure out what could be done.

“It’s going to be difficult. The gravestones are the responsibility of the families of the deceased. But some live so far away, they rarely come by, so they probably don’t even know what the stones look like.”

Councill said one idea he had was to have a one- or two-day city sponsored cleanup period just before holidays, especially Memorial Day, where families and volunteers would be asked to clean up and fix up their plots.

This would at least bring to the attention of some relatives the condition of the gravestones, he said.

The mayor also suggested that people who had complaints should form a committee and appear before the City Council to discuss them.

Public Works Director Russ Pace had the same idea.

“Everything starts with the council,” he said. “We do what we can. In fact, I am happy to accompany anyone with a complaint out to the cemetery to see if there is something we can do.”

Pace said he hesitates to say that any major damage was done by any of the maintenance crews, although there have been a few small incidents.

“But, when these incidents were brought to our attention, the maintenance people were contacted and they corrected the problem,” he said.

“As for the gravestones themselves, many of them are more than 200 years old and you can see that they are deteriorating. The weather, plus the fact that they were not erected as securely as the ones are today, can cause them to fall.”

In the meantime, Gay continues to keep vigil at the cemetery.

A past commander general of the Military Order of Stars and Bars, a brother society to the SCV, Gay is trying to preserve the history and heritage of these soldiers, he said.

“I’ve been doing this for 36 years,” he said, “and I don’t see any reason to stop now.”