The South was completely devastated at the end of the Civil War, and Raleigh was no exception. Raleigh had been a medical hub due to its hospitals and its location on railways and away from the front lines.
Two battles outside of Raleigh at the war’s end, Averasboro and Bentonville, flooded the capital with wounded to the point that private residents were taking in soldiers. The battle of Averasboro was meant to slow General Sherman and his fire-happy troops, who had just torched Georgia and made their way north through South Carolina uncontested.
While Sherman was occupied at Averasboro, Confederate General Joseph Johnston brought troops in from all over North Carolina to stage a bigger effort at Bentonville. This last-ditch effort failed, and the Confederates were defeated. After General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Raleigh started to become flooded with wounded Union troops as well.
By April 1865, Pettigrew Hospital, which was located off of New Bern Avenue, was completely overtaken by the Union. The dead had been buried at Rock Quarry Cemetery, now known as Raleigh National Cemetery off of Rock Quarry Road, and consequently Union dead were being buried along with the Confederate dead.
The following year, a group of women concerned about the condition of Confederate graves at the Rock Quarry Cemetery had formed the Ladies Memorial Association of Wake County. Their mission was to locate a spot for a Confederate cemetery that would be “sacred to our heroic dead.”
In February 1867, the Ladies Memorial Association had a plan laid out for the first Confederate Cemetery in the South. Earlier that month, the North Carolina legislature had set aside funds for a monument to the fallen soldiers to be erected in the new cemetery. Two and a half acres of land were acquired from Henry Mordecai, and the massive task of reburying the dead began in the late Spring.
With the help of volunteers, the bodies of over four hundred Confederate soldiers were disinterred from Rock Quarry Cemetery and reburied at the new Confederate Cemetery. In 1869, additional land around the Confederate Cemetery was chartered as Oakwood Cemetery, and many Raleigh residents re-interred bodies there that had been buried at the Raleigh City Cemetery.
Over the years, numerous Confederate dead were relocated to Oakwood’s Confederate section. Soldiers who had died after being relocated to hospitals in places like Greensboro due to Raleigh’s overcrowding were moved to Oakwood, as were 137 bodies from Gettysburg in 1871, and 107 bodies from Arlington National Cemetery in 1883.
Confederate Veterans also found a final resting place in Oakwood’s Confederate section. The North Carolina Legislature appropriated funds and donated land on the corner of New Bern Avenue and Tarboro Road on February 16, 1891 for a Confederate Soldier’s Home. This had been the location of Pettigrew Hospital.
Oakwood’s Confederate section was maintained by the Ladies Memorial Association, then the United Daughters of the Confederacy by 1896, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans beginning in the 1980s.