February 2, 2009

Chalmette National Cemetery - Sara Rosetta Wakeman

My alter ego, you might say or "other half of my life" is spent with my husband and our business together Pishny Restoration Services. I thought I would share with you one of our current projects we are working on together.
Sunset at Chalmette Cemetery

The restoration of Chalmette National Cemetery, in New Orleans, Louisiana. We are repairing 82 marble monuments, restoring the iron gates at the entrance, the cannon monuments, the flagpole and the GAR monument.

Iron gates at Chalmette National Cemetery entrance.

Bronze medallions painted pre-restoration.

I recently traveled to New Orleans to check on the job and to work on the iron gates at the entrance to the cemetery. As I walked through this historic and picturesque cemetery, I felt a sense of pride and honor that the National Park Service has deemed the Chalmette Cemetery worthy of restoration and preservation.

Cannons converted to monuments with cannon ball top..

I have a passion for our heritage and the preservation of our important historical landmarks and parks. Bringing these places back into service for future generations to enjoy and obtain a better understanding of our history is a priviledge. Maybe this is my parent's gift to me as we traveled extensively when I was a little girl visiting all of our National Parks and Monuments, Yellowstone, Redwood Forest, Mount Rushmore, etc. My parents instilled a respect for our National Parks and the history of our Nation.

The GAR monument in Chalmette National Cemetery.

The Chalmette Cemetery serves as the burial place for Union Soldiers during the Civil War, and is rumored to be the burial place of British soldiers from the War of 1812. The Chalmette Battle Field adjoins the cemetery and as only a few British officers were taken back to England after the war, it is unknown where the fallen were buried. Some think it is around or in the Chalmette Cemetery in unmarked graves.

Unknown soldier grave marker.

Walking through this picturesque cemetery, I am proud of the restoration work on the marble stones that gleam once again in the sunlight. The cemetery was covered with four feet of water after Hurricane Katrina suffering additional damage to the brick walls and monuments. Many of the majestic trees were lost at this time.

Hurricane Katrina

The monuments are now repaired and standing upright in one piece again. You would never know that the stones were ever broken or damaged. Our craftsman have received extensive training and are certified to perform these repairs and the results show their skill.

Vintage Postcard of Chalmette Cemetery.

Repaired monuments at Chalmette Cemetery

To understand a restoration project, I feel it is important to know the history of the structure or project. In my research of the Chalmette Cemetery, I discovered the role of women during the Civil War. I was familiar with the nursing efforts of the wounded, the fierce determination to provide for their children and families once their husbands and older sons had gone to war, and the tradegy of loss. My GGG Grandmother's house was burned to the ground during the Civil War when she was left alone with only her elderly father. She begged the soldiers to allow her to keep her family Bible. It was all she had left after the fire.

Iron gate restoration in progress.

What I didn't realize was that women also went off to war with their husbands and sons, or disguised themselves as men to enlist and serve their country. Some did it for honor and other's for the wages. A man's pay enticed many women to enlist disguised as men to earn money to send home to their families. These women were generally women of the frontier who had traveled West settling new farmsteads, they knew how to shoot a gun as well as their husbands and brothers and felt they were protecting their rights to their land and country.

Sara Rosetta Wakeman, alias Private Lyons Wakeman

One of the more famous of these women is buried at the Chalmette Cemetery. Sara Rosetta Wakeman, from New York who enlisted in the Union Army as Private Lyons Wakeman, 153rd Regiment, New York State Volunteers on October 18th, 1862 after Abraham Lincoln had ordered the recruitment of an additional 300,000 soldiers to serve in the Union Army.

Private Lyons Wakeman grave monument

Recruitment of soldiers was quick and involved little more than a handshake making is very easy to enlist. Many young men enlisted, underage and anxious to serve their country. It is estimated that approximately 400 women also enlisted disguised as men, but the numbers are suspected to be much higher. The appeal of $20.00 per month was considered a high wage for the time and could be part of the motivation for men and women alike.

Grave monuments stacked together.

What makes Sara Wakeman's story so important, is the letters that were found in the attic of a farmhouse from Sara to her family. The letters provide the insight of a 19 year old woman serving her country as a soldier in the Union Army while in disguise.

Joined hands monument for Mathias Troye

Sara's gender was not discovered until the letters were found and her grave located at Chalmette Cemetery. A book is written, An Uncommon Soldier by Lauren Cook Burgess documenting Sara's life and her letters home to her family during the Civil War. Her letters are filled with pride, the eagerness to help provide for her family in New York, the uncertainty of her future and the desire to own her own farm someday.

"You musn't trouble you Self about me. I am contented. I want you to get along the best way you can until this war is over. I believe that God will spare my life to come home once more. Then I will help you to pay you debts. I will send you more or less money while I am a soldier.

Our regiment don't expect to stay here long. I don't know where we shall go to. Some think that we shall go into a Fort into heavy artillery. For my part I don't care where we go to. I don't fear the rebel bullets nor I don't fear the cannon. I have heard the roar of the cannon." - Sara Rosetta Wakeman, alias Private Lyons Wakeman

Sara died of dysentery in a hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana and is buried at Chalmette National Cemetery.


Lee W - The Way I See It said...

It was either yesterday or the dyabefore, the history channel ran a whole program on women in the Civil War- the soldiers, the women left at home, etc. It was REALLY good. Lyons was, of course, featured. I think your job is very cool- on many levels.

Anonymous said...

I found this very interesting about Sara Wakeman, what a neat job you and your husband have. You both must be very proud of the end results.

Louisiana Cemeteries said...

Thank you!