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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Remembering Those Who Died
at Mill Springs

After fighting had ended, the Union forces had to take care of the 55 Federals and 148 Confederates who had been killed. The U.S. War Department had issued orders on how Union soldiers should be buried, but officers at Mill Springs and elsewhere had trouble following them. The orders did not provide land for such cemeteries, and the lack of an official system often made identifying the bodies difficult. At Mill Springs, the Union ending up placing its dead in individual graves, but many of the men were apparently mis- or unidentified.

The situation was complicated also because there was no official policy about how to treat dead Confederates. Following what became a common practice on both sides, the Union placed the dead of their opponents into a number of mass graves. These graves were so shallow, however, that within a few days local people later had to reinter them. Zollicoffer's body, however, was returned to the Confederates and buried in Tennessee.

At the end of 1862 Congress established 12 national cemeteries, including one at Mill Springs, for "soldiers who shall die in the service of the country." But the complications of the war meant little happened to fulfill this policy until 1867, when Congress passed comprehensive legislation that led to the development of formal burial sites. That same year William Logan, for whom Logan's Crossroads was named, donated the land for the Mill Springs National Cemetery; its official dedication occurred June 15, 1881. Although only Union soldiers were supposed to be interred there, local residents have said that since men from both sides were buried together just after the battle, some of those moved into the national cemetery were Confederates. Each year on Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day), flowers were laid by each gravestone as part of ceremonies commemorating the dead.

In the early 1900s, a local 10-year-old girl named Dorotha Burton decided that it was unfair to remember the Union dead and neglect the Confederates. The Confederates had remained in their mass grave near a white oak known locally as the "Zollie Tree" because General Zollicoffer's body had been placed there after he had been killed. With the help of her father, Dorotha cleared the area around the mass grave and decorated the Zollie Tree with an evergreen wreath. In 1904 her custom came to the attention of the United Confederate Veterans Association, who promised to raise funds for a more formal monument to the Southern soldiers. In 1910, on land donated by a Union veteran and his wife, a member of the Logan family, an obelisk and a stone marker for the mass grave was unveiled.

In the 1930s, the area around the grave and the "Zollie Tree" became known as Zollicoffer Park Cemetery. For the next 60 years, there was no governmental support or help in maintaining Zollicoffer Park Cemetery; only through the efforts of Dorotha Burton Hudson, her family, and local volunteers, such as the 4th KY Volunteer Infantry US reenactment group, was this area maintained. In the 1970s the Kentucky Department of Parks took over the cemetery, and in 1992 the Mill Springs Battlefield Association was formed to protect both the battlefield area and the Confederate cemetery. Sadly, a 1995 storm destroyed the Zollie Tree, but on Memorial Day, 1996, a seedling from the old tree was planted in its place.

Questions for Reading 3

1. Why do you think only the Union soldiers received a ceremonial burial ground?

2. How long after the Civil War was it that Dorotha Burton decided to decorate the Zollie tree?

3. Why might it have taken Kentuckians so long to recognize a Confederate hero and his troops?

4. What other developments were occurring in American society and politics around the turn of the 20th century that might have made people in the state more sympathetic towards the Confederacy and the causes it represented?

Reading 3 was compiled from Ron Nicholas, "Mill Springs: 1st Battle for Kentucky," Kentucky Civil War Journal 1, No. 4 (January 1997), 7-16.

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