Memorial Day memories: A Confederate cemetery

KITTRELL, N.C. _ Down a dirt road, past a boarded-up mobile home, next door to a pregnant dog that chases cars, rest the soldiers of Kittrell Confederate Cemetery.

It would be easy to forget these 54 men, many of them teenagers, who died more a century ago. Their graves are remote, even for this Vance County village, population 145. Only two people pass in an hour's time _ one of them pushing a lawn mower, the other on a battered, 10-speed bicycle.

Memorial Day doesn't miss Kittrell's dead, however. Despite their isolation, the rebels here enjoy the same flowers and prayers that fall today over thousands more graves from America's more recent wars.

"We maintain them," said Virginia Grissom of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, one of 10 people in the Vance County chapter. "It's hard with, you know, declining membership."

In the 19th century, nearby Kittrell drew crowds to its nearby mineral springs and health resort, thought to have been North Carolina's first. But in 1864, the resort hotel was converted to a 300-bed hospital to treat soldiers wounded in the fighting around Petersburg, Va. _ men who most likely had never wandered more than 20 miles from their farms before the war. Of the 54 buried in Kittrell, 14 were teens from North Carolina's junior reserve.

Their chiseled names have outlived the resort, the hotel and Kittrell's heyday. Moses Headrick. Alexis Griffin. Wesley Hargrove. Grass in their section is trimmed and neat, while weeds a foot high hide the stones of civilians nearby. Paper flowers and the tin remains of tea light candles dot their graves.

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