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Wadsworth Cemetery disinterments, reburials to be supervised

By Walter Geiger In preparation for the removal of what is thought to be some 103 graves from the historic Wadsworth Cemetery to make room for industrial expansion, the City of Barnesville has done extensive research and preparation. Its application to exhume those buried there and relocate their remains to Greenwood Cemetery will be the subject of a public hearing June 20 at 7 p.m. at the courthouse. The city retained Southern Research Historic Preservation Consultants of Waverly Hall to do an archaeological survey of the old resting place off Old Milner Road and the firm’s report was submitted April 24. The methodology included transit mapping, test excavations and surveys using metal detectors and ground penetrating radar. Family members of patriarch Archibald Wadsworth were buried on the site beginning around 1839. Wadsworth hailed from Moore County, N.C. and moved to what was then Pike County by 1825. The 1830 census records his living on the home place with his wife Clarissa, three female children and one male slave. An undated historical narrative by Ruth Frances Aaron noted at least 18 members of Archibald Wadsworth’s family buried in the cemetery. Aaron claims that, during the early 20th century, two subsequent landowners desecrated the cemetery by removing the old gravestones and using them to prop up the last old house on the property. Aaron’s account notes two sources that indicated 20-31 victims of a Sept. 1, 1864 train wreck were buried at the cemetery. Whether or not victims of the collision between a southbound train hauling wounded soldiers (see story below) and a northbound train hauling supplies is in dispute. Aaron also notes that a J.D. Moore and his wife walked the cemetery during World War II and counted more than 140 graves. Archibald Wadsworth died around 1856. In his will, he left his daughter Clarissa 43 acres, a board mill, all his cows and hogs, kitchen furniture, $100 in cash and 100 bushels of corn. He was buried in the family plot. The property, known as the Meadow Railway industrial site, has been used as a cattle pasture for years and cattle have trampled the cemetery, obscuring some details. The metal detector survey turned up possible coffin hardware, railroad spikes, a rose head wrought nail and an iron ball one inch in diameter that is likely a civil war munition. The ground penetrating radar survey, done by Lamar Institute of Savannah, located 103 possible grave sites. A test excavation indicated three grave shafts oriented east to west which is typical of 19th century Christian burials, the survey report notes. The historical background information compiled by Lamar Institute notes the ‘cemetery may be site of a mass grave of Confederate soldiers’ who were killed in the train wreck. It quotes a newspaper account from Sept. 4, 1864 that reported 26 men and one woman, a Miss Saffen of Memphis, were killed. Among the dead soldiers, according to the account, were Major Saunders of Savannah; Lt. Bond of Garrett’s Battery; and Ben Smith and Joe Johnson of Capt. Q. Born’s Company. A subsequent newspaper account from Sept. 7, 1864 reported 31 dead bodies were pulled from the wreckage. If approved, the removal and relocation of remains is expected to take five to eight weeks. It will be handled by Southern Research’s principal archaeologist and a team of seven other professional archaeologists. City personnel and Wadsworth family descendants will be the only others allowed on the site during disinterment. The city will provide security. A backhoe will strip away the top one foot of soil then the grave shafts will be located. Dirt will be removed mechanically to just above each coffin. From there, remains and burial objects will be hand excavated and screened. The remains of each individual will be recorded along with skeletal data that may help determine sex and age at time of death. The precise location of each grave will be recorded. The human remains, essence soil, coffin remains and coffin hardware will be boxed, relocated and buried in an open section of Greenwood Cemetery near the railroad tracks and northwest of the Confederate section there.

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