There are two cemeteries side by side in Gettysburg – Soldiers’ National Cemetery and the smaller, local Evergreen Cemetery.
The 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19 brought a lot of attention to Soldiers’ National Cemetery where many think that Lincoln gave his famous oration. However, some believe that the platform Lincoln spoke from was actually not located on Soldiers’ National Cemetery soil – it was in Evergreen Cemetery next door. From this platform, Lincoln delivered his speech to some 15,000 guests, and forever changed the war-torn nation that was the United States in 1863.
Evergreen Cemetery, although the older of the two cemeteries, having been constructed in 1853, sometimes gets lost when talking about the history of Gettysburg, even though some of the town’s most prominent local figures are buried there. Visitors may be quick to skip over Evergreen and go directly to Soldiers’ National Cemetery in their travels, but that would be unfortunate, as the history of Evergreen Cemetery and the people buried there effectively tell the civilian perspective of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Some of the civilians buried in Evergreen, for example, include Mary Virginia “Jennie” Wade, the only civilian to be killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, who has a flag flying over her gravesite 24 hours a day. There’s also John Burns, a Gettysburg civilian who took up his gun and joined the fighting when the battle came to town. Eddie Plank, the legendary baseball player and Gettysburg native who was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the 1940s, is buried there as well. There is also Elizabeth Thorn, whose husband was superintendent of the Evergreen Cemetery before being called off to war. Elizabeth served as interim caretaker from 1862-1865 and helped bury 91 soldiers following the Battle of Gettysburg, all while she was six months pregnant – an incredible feat. There is a statue, the Gettysburg Civil War Women’s Memorial that is cast to look like the pregnant Elizabeth, which stands in the cemetery and tells her story.
It’s not just the “famous” names that make Evergreen what it is today though – it is the history that goes with it. It was because of Evergreen Cemetery’s location on the hill that later that the land was later dubbed “Cemetery Hill” during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. It’s not hard to see the age of the cemetery when walking through it – many of the graves date to the 1800s and when you do the math, the land has been a place of burial for exactly 160 years this year. Visitors to Gettysburg can walk through the cemetery and view the gravesites of many of the town’s most prominent figures.
A national cemetery it may not be, but Evergreen Cemetery is a wonderful place to visit to take in the untold stories of the Battle of Gettysburg and the people who lived there during that time. It is a piece of “local” history not to be missed.
For more information on Evergreen Cemetery, visit http://www.evergreencemetery.org