It was unusually hot as we began the tour of Florence National Cemetery. The weather made me appreciate even more all the dedicated caretakers, gardeners, equipment operators and cemetery representatives who routinely brave the elements to maintain our cemeteries, support committal services and bury Veterans and family members. It’s highly unusual for a national cemetery to cancel a scheduled service due to weather.
Florence National Cemetery is comprised of two distinct parcels of land: a historic section established in 1865, and an expansion begun across the street in the early 1980s. To the left of the original cemetery entrance is a series of trenches containing the remains of more than 2,000 unknown Union soldiers who died while imprisoned at the nearby Florence stockade, a Confederate-run prison camp. An extensive archeological project here uncovered many artifacts and a lesson plan for teachers was developed around the prison and cemetery.
At the ends of each trench, matching upright markers register the number of men buried there. The wide green gulf between them underscores the terrible losses.
Not far from the trenches a single headstone sits apart, bearing the name Florena Budwin. Her life was a fascinating one. Having disguised herself as a man to follow her husband into battle, she was captured and interned at the notorious Andersonville prison and later moved to the Florence stockade. Owing to meager rations and disease at the prison, she fell ill. The doctor who treated her uncovered her carefully guarded secret. Following her recovery, she stayed on at the prison to nurse her fellow soldiers, fell ill again, and died in January 1865.
Scholar DeAnne Blanton, who spoke at VA headquarters earlier this year, has documented participation by more than 200 women soldiers in the Civil War; other researchers suggest there were twice that many. Their stories of service and sacrifice, like those of many more modern women Veterans have yet to be fully told.
Below are photographs of the Florence National Cemetery.
Ron Walters is VA’s Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs and Chief Financial Officer of the National Cemetery Administration. This is the seventh in his ten-part series exploring Veterans cemeteries in the southeastern U.S. Next: Wilmington National Cemetery, Caretakers of History.