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Confederate Veterans at Rest: Archeological and Bioarcheological Investigations at the Texas State Cemetery, Travis County, Texas


Since its inception in 1851, the Texas State Cemetery in Austin has risen in stature to become the state's premier burial place for state officials, historical figures, and prominent citizens. Extensive renovation work that began in 1995 necessitated an archeological study that included historic archival research, pedestrian survey, geomorphological assessment, mechanical testing in proposed construction zones, recording and investigation of historical features (including three unmarked graves) found in construction zones, and excavation and relocation of 57 graves of Confederate veterans and spouses. Prewitt and Associates, Inc., conducted these investigations between April and August of 1995.

Archival research provides a concise history of the development and historical significance of the 145-year-old State Cemetery. Although it was sometimes neglected and remained an obscure burial place prior to 1900, the current project marks the third major renovation phase to be undertaken this century. The earliest extensive improvements occurred between 1910 and 1915 under the direction of Governor O. B. Colquitt. The second major overhaul, promoted by businessman and historian Louis W. Kemp, occurred during the late 1920s and early 1930s. The 1995-1996 renovations are an interagency cooperative effort, overseen by Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and funded in 1995 as a, Statewide Transportation Enhancement Project under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991. True to the visions of all its supporters, the Texas State Cemetery is destined to be more than a simple burial ground - it is becoming a cemetery-museum for the curation of Texas history.

The pedestrian survey and geomorphological investigation yielded nothing unexpected, but subsurface testing uncovered unusual features in two proposed construction zones. Three previously unknown grave pits were exposed in a Gradall trench in the northeastern corner of the cemetery where construction of a cenotaph is planned. Hand testing revealed outlines of wooden coffins that contained no human remains. Archival research uncovered two facts relating to the empty graves: (1) the northeastern I-acre of the cemetery was set aside between 1866 and ca. 1875 for the burial of Federal soldiers stationed in Austin during the post-Civil War Reconstruction period; and (2) the Federal burials were later exhumed and reinterred in a National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. Gradall trenching in the proposed Plaza de los Recuerdos construction zone uncovered extensive concrete curbing associated with a former north-south roadway that entered the cemetery from Seventh Street. Subsequent research identified these features as remnants of Albert Sidney Johnston Avenue, constructed by the short-lived Austin construction firm of Brown & Reissig in 1912-1913 during the Colquitt renovation era. This roadwork was covered over during the 1929-1930 construction of Lou Kemp Highway.

The greatest archeological effort involved the moving of historic graves, necessitated by the master renovation plan which called for landscaping to provide a buffer between vehicular traffic along the main cemetery road and the closest graves in Sections D and F. These sections contain the graves of over 2,000 Confederate veterans, soldiers, and wives. Of these, 57 graves fronting along the central roadway were exhumed and reinterred in a safer location in Section D. Headstones associated with each grave, along with additional archival research, provided a great deal of information (minimally name and age at death) on the 1884 to 1951 burials of 51 Confederate veterans and 6 spouses whose remains were excavated. The mortuary artifacts associated with these burials, and detailed osteological analyses on skeletal remains of 56 individuals, are described. The archeological and bioarcheological data reported herein provide a rare look at the evolution of funerary traits during the early twentieth century, as well as insights into the health of an elderly group of people, many of whom fought in and survived the Civil War. Average age at death for the individuals comprising this sample is 77.3 years. An osteological examination of the remains showed that most observable skeletal disorders consisted of age-progressive changes such as arthritis, antemortem tooth loss, and caries. Signs of trauma also were common, with some skeletal conditions interpreted as evidence of war-related wounds.