Military service in the days of the early Republic meant a tedious and often isolated existence. Even postings close to towns did not guarantee a better life. Citizens had reservations about having soldiers nearby, although the officers fared better in establishing relations with townspeople. The soldier did enjoy a reasonable security, however, as the Army did its best to ensure that its men were housed, fed, paid, and, of course, armed. The Armys care extended to the very end; it provided burials.
The planning of a new military post had to take into account that men and their families might die while on duty. In the case of the Augusta Arsenal, this requirement had a particularly grim background. An epidemic had killed virtually the entire garrison of the first riverside Arsenal, leading to its relocation on the hill. When the Army purchased part of the Freeman Walker plantation for the new post, land was set aside for a cemetery, but not immediately laid out for purpose.
Perhaps this was because there was already a place of interment available the Walker cemetery, in which the first five soldiers to die at the Arsenal were buried. This includes two commandants, Major N.H. Baden (1836) and Col. G.W. Talcott (1854). The Walker cemetery also contains the remains of four Walkers who died in war, including Col. Valintina Walker (Revolutionary War) and Major General W.H.T. Walker, CSA. Three nonrelated soldiers, including one Confederate, are also buried there. The unpopular nephew of reconstruction-era commandant was assassinated and buried among the Walkers. Finally, among the graves can be found that of Augustus Z. Regail, who was instrumental in promoting the movement of the arsenal; William Robinson, endower of an early Augusta school named in his honor; and Madam Octavia Walton LaVert, a 19th century writer and international social leader. A Spanish bayonet planted near her grave marks the remains of her daughter.
The military cemetery is more democratic; no officers or leading citizens lie here. The cemetery became a resting place for the ordinary soldier and, in some cases, his wife and children. The simple, weathered headstones differ considerably from those in the adjoining private cemetery. Burials took place over almost exactly a century; the first occurred in 1841, the last in 1941. The new Arsenal was a far healthier place than the first and never seems to have suffered anything like the epidemic that destroyed the first.
The military cemetery contains the remains of 74 people, including 48 soldiers, 12 wives, and 10 children. The oldest grave predates the arsenal; twentieth century construction unearthed the remains of three humans along with several arrow heads, leading government officials to believe the remains were probably those of American Indians.
The contents of one grave are completely unidentified. As might be expected at an ordnance depot, two thirds of the soldiers came from ordnance; however, infantry, cavalry, and artillery are all represented. So is even the Navy, because a seaman from South Carolina took his life here in 1926. Three African- American and three Confederate soldiers are at peace in this cemetery. The overwhelming majority, some 30, were mere privates.
This cemetery is a resting place for the common man, who came to only serve and do his duty. Dulce et decorum es pro patrii mori.
According to legend, no less than five ghosts occupy the historic Augusta Arsenal, but only one bears any connection with the cemetery. A Confederate soldier has reportedly been sighted several times walking in or near the cemetery. The accompanying story has it that the young soldier fell in love with the daughter of the Confederate commandant and sought permission to marry her. The commander, thinking his daughter could do better, had the soldier transferred to an active unit, wherein he was killed during battle. His spirit returned to the arsenal, where it is said that he searches for his lost love.
LIST OF BURIALS IN THE OLD AUGUSTA ARSENAL CEMETERY
NAME: DATE OF DEATH OR BURIAL GRAVE & SECTION
* "(Col.?)" = colored, or negro