An example of an Application for Headstone for an honorably discharged Spanish American War veteran from Athens, GA, from the U. S. War Dept.
By Al Hester
            Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, an African-American cemetery in Athens, Georgia, contains the graves of many black veterans who served their country from the Civil War, the Spanish-American War period, World War I, World War II to later combat periods.
More than 50 Athens African Americans are buried in Gospel Pilgrim with military markers for their honorable service in the U. S. military. Many served in the segregated armed forces before integration took place in World War II.            

            Gospel Pilgrim was founded as a beautiful cemetery for African Americans in 1882 and contains some 3,500 graves. Of this number about 800 or so have been identified.  Most are unmarked. The cemetery is at Fourth and Bray streets in East Athens, near Springfield Baptist Church. It is under the administration of the East Athens Development Corporation, Inc., Winston Heard, director.

            Ancestry.com, one of the best-known genealogical services online, now has placed on the Web the applications for military headstones between the years of about 1925 through 1963. These applications offer families trying to trace their history important information about the military service and genealogical facts of their ancestors. The nation furnishes free official military head stones to honorably discharged veterans who have no private markers on their graves. Once you find your veteran ancestor received a headstone, you can use the information to trace his military career, frequently with the name of unit served in. This can lead to finding out pension information and sometimes a wealth of service record data.

            The Georgia online applications show that the marble markers were prepared at Tate, Georgia, from native Georgia marble. Although the Ancestry.com application files are not nearly complete, the records online cover the most active burial periods in Gospel Pilgrim's history. Few burials were made at Gospel Pilgrim after the 1960's.  Online applications also cover the same time period for many other Athens cemeteries where headstones were furnished. For African-American families, the applications for headstones in Brooklyn Cemetery, another African-American cemetery in Athens, match Gospel Pilgrim's listings in genealogical value.

            The headstone listings, however, DO NOT contain the specific location of burial in the cemetery. The author of this article has a spreadsheet of all identified graves at Gospel Pilgrim. Please, note, however, that not all veterans' graves with headstones have been found at Gospel Pilgrim. About a quarter of the cemetery is still uncleared, and other markers may have been knocked over or covered with shrubs or soil. I'll be happy to run a check for you if you want information on a grave location at Gospel Pilgrim, or if you wish to visit an ancestor's site.  This information is also available online at http://www.gospelpilgrimcemetery.com/burial-records/ If you have a veteran relative who served honorably in the services, he or she may still be eligible for a beautiful government-furnished military marker. These markers come as flat marble or bronze varieties. Funeral homes or veterans' groups can give details, or look on the Web for military headstone application instructions. The markers are free.

            Information on the applications include the unit of military service, birth and death dates, when the headstones were furnished and where they were to be installed. The headstones themselves give brief information including the name of the deceased veteran, type of service and a symbol of what religious affiliation the person had.  The applications also give the name of the family member applying for the headstone and their address. If you want to find out whether your Athens veteran ancestor got a headstone, applications from 1925-1963 may be viewed online at http://search.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/sse.dll?db=QGHeadstoneApps&rank=1&new=1&MSAV=0&msT=1&gss=angs-d&msdpn__ftp=Athens,+Clarke,+Georgia,+USA&msdpn=18082&msdpn_PInfo=8-|0|1652393|0|2|3245|13|0|634|18082|0|&uidh=ca9&gl=&gst=&hc=50&

(The above website address was accurate as of March, 2013.)  Ancestry.com furnishes service by subscription, but you can use it free at many libraries.

If you want to check on headstone applications in other areas, you can specify the cemetery location and get a listing for areas desired other than Gospel Pilgrim.

What follows is a list of the veterans buried with headstones from 1925 to 1963 at Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery, their name, date of birth and death and military unit and the war in which they served. If there is an asterisk by the name, it means the veteran's grave hasn't been found yet at Gospel Pilgrim, but the burial should have taken place there. There are a few military headstones at Gospel Pilgrim without supporting application records online. These applications may have been made outside the 1925-63 period.

Part 2 of this blog will go into detail about some of the more unusual or interesting facts obtained from studying the headstone applications at Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery.

Veterans Buried with Military Headstones, Gospel Pilgrim and Hillcrest Cemetery, Athens, GA

Name                                                      Birth                                    Death                                    Military Unit                                          War

Armour, Edward R.*                           1909                                     1952                                    Pvt 774th AirMaterielSquadron         WW2                 
Armour, Willie B.*                               1909                                     1957                                    3707thAAF Base Unit, Army              WW2

Austin, Henry L.                                    ?                                          1940                                    Pvt 157 Depot Brig.                               WW1                                  
Barksdale, Andrew D.                         ?                                          1933                                    317 Supply Bn.                                       WW1  Binns, William Ed*                                ?                                          1919                                    Pvt 514th Engrs.                                    WW1                  
Bolton, Clark                                        1919                                     1950                                    Pvt US Army, Unassigned                  WW2                   
Bolton, Earl*                                         1921                                    1955                                     Tec5 4368QMBakeryCo.(Mobile)      WW1 
Bonner, John*                                     1901                                     1944                                    Pvt, CoB 2ndReserveTrainingBn      WW1   
Brunt, Wakefield                                 1893                                     1927                                    Sgt. Army (Mil. Mrkr unreadable)      WW1           Burns, Edward D.                               1917                                     1944                                     CoD371stInfRegt, 92InfDiv                WW2

Campbell, John B.                              1877                                      1944                                     U.S. Volunteer Inf.                                WW1
Campbell, Miller L.                               ?                                           1936                                     Pvt. 101 Hosp. Corps                          WW1
Collins, Isaac                                       1876                                     1927                                      Draft Reg. exists, no othr record   WW1             
Davenport, Arthe(u)r*                       1916                                     1959                                      PfcCoA1813EngrsAvn Bn                WW2                
Davis, Clifford L*.                                 ?                                          1920                                      Pvt 157DepotBri.,Army                      WW1

Gilbert, Robert                                     1890                                    1953                                       Pvt Co C 157thDepBrig                     WW1
Greene, Augustus C.                         1909                                     1941                                      Sgt. Maj. US Army                               WW2
Harden, Edgar                                     1892                                     1954                                      Cpl. Co D 346 Svc Bn                         WW1

Hawkins, Ulysses S. A.*                   1875                                     1914                                      PvtCoG, U.S.9thCavalry       Span.Amer.
Hicks, Charles [note]                        1841                                     1916                                      Pvt 138thRegtCol.Troops           Civil War               Hill, Marion A.*                                     1917                                    1955                                      Tch5, Port Co,TransCor                     WW2 Hill, William Walter*                            1882                                    1947                                      Pvt44TransBn, 157Brig.,
                                                                                                                                                              63rd Pioneer Inf.                                  WW1

Jordan, William P.                                1914                                   1954                                       Tch5 271st PortCo Army                  WW1
Lumpkin, Daniel                                     ?                                        1927                                       Cpl 12thCo ForestEngrs                    WW1
Maddox, Frank                                    1896                                    1944                                        Pvt. 157th DepotBrig.                        WW1
Marable, John                                         ?                                       1955                                        811th Pioneer Inf.                                WW1             
Milner, Ellis*                                        1892                                    1962                                         PvtCoB403rdLaborBn                      WW1
Mines, John, Jr.*                                1917                                    1945                                         Pvt., 297PortCo TC                            WW2
Moore, Jesse B.                                 1891                                    1962                                         Cpl. CoD 315 Svc Bn                         WW1
Morton, Charlie C.                               1895                                   1948                                       MedDepBase2CampHosp                WW1
Morton, Frank B.*                                   ?                                       1934                                       Sgt, 157thDepotBrigade                    WW1
Milner, Ellis*                                         1892                                   1962                                        PvtCoB403rdLaborBn                       WW1
Mines, John, Jr.*                                 1917                                   1945                                         Pvt., 297PortCo TC                            WW2
Newings, John Evin                           1932                                   1956                                         Pvt. US Army                                     Korea

Odom, Jesse*                                      1933                                   1951                                         PFC(KIA)CoK 8thCavReg             Korea   
Owens, Alphonso A.                          1900                                   1930                                         Pvt. SATC Meharry Med                   WW1
Owens, Jesse                                        ?                                        1930                                        Pvt. 403rd Labor Bn                           WW1

Patrick, Lyon                                        1907                                   1952                                        Pfc. 403rd Res Labor Bn                  WW1
Payne, Henry Jr.*                               1919                                   1946                                         Pfc953AAFBaseUnit                         WW2
Pitt(s), Willie                                            ?                                       1946                                         Pvt. 157th Depot Brig.                       WW1
Poyner, Thomas                                  1896                                   1967                                         Bugler?, 315thLaborBn                    WW1
Reid, Willie                                            1894                                   1938                                         QtrmasterCorps                                 WW1
Rucker, Monroe                                     ?                                       1919                                          Pvt. 530th Engrs.                               WW1
Sanders, Edward O.*                            ?                                        1921                                          Pvt. 55th Depot Brig.                        WW1
Saphloe, William W.*                           1911                                  1948                                          Capt. 64thQMBnGermany               WW2
Shanks, Otis                                           ?                                        1957                                         Cook, 15th Depot Brig.                     WW1
Shaw, Willie A.*                                      ?                                        1927                                         48thCo 157DepotBrig.                      WW1
Smith, Robert                                         ?                                        1925?                                       313th Svc Bn.                                     WW1
Stanton, Curtis W.*                              1911                                  1956                                          No headstone application             Korea    
Stephens, Peyton S.                            1911                                  1958                                          Sgt. Hq41stEngr. Regt.                    WW2
Stewart, Vance W.*                              1906                                   1960                                         Tch5, 213PortCo. Army                  WW2
Stovall, Claude                                     1912                                   1949                                          Pfc. Qtrmstr Corps                          WW2
Strickland, George H.                         1908                                   1954                                          Army, no headstone rec.                WW2
Strickland, John A.*                              ?                                        1919                                          Pvt45thCo 12Bn157Dep                 WW1
Tate, Son*                                                ?                                        1940                                           Pvt842ndCo845thRegt                  WW1
Terrell, Burnett                                      ?                                         1944                                           Sgt. 3768 QM Trk Co.                     WW2
Willingham, Frank*                               ?                                         1934                                           PvtCoD3085Bn                                WW1 Winkfield, Walter P.                               ?                                        1932                                           Pvt. 304 Svc Bn. QMC                    WW1
Wood, Miles                                          1888                                   1947                                           Pioneer Inf.                                        WW1

*Burial site in Gospel Pilgrim not yet found.
Hicks note: Descendants expected to apply for military marker.
General Note: A few of these burials are in Hillcrest Cem., adjacent to Gospel Pilgrim Cem., on the side by the apartment complex on 4th St.

Brevet Major John J. Knox, head of the Athens Georgia Sub-District of the Freedmen's Bureau in 1867-68
Part 1 of 2

    In 1867, two years after Emancipation, slavery wasn’t dead in Athens, Georgia. It was only “lying doggo”—existing in a little-diluted manner causing untold hardships for “freed persons” and also for former slave owners.

    The South—and the nation—had a lot of unfinished business. Bearing much of the brunt of this unprecedented effort at change was the formidably named federal agency,  the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. It was commonly called the Freedmen’s Bureau. With its many offices throughout the South, some border states and Washington, D. C., the Bureau was ceaselessly dealing with whites and blacks. It might be considered the “oil” which tried to make the wheels turn to set up new relations between whites and former slaves. For much of its existence, the Bureau could call upon  limited Union armed force against recalcitrant citizens in the occupied South. Yankee civilian workers and military men  were trying to drag Southern whites by the scruff of their necks to accept ideas that African Americans were not slaves any more.

    The Civil War was lost, which Southerners could reluctantly admit. But the social fabric of life hadn’t necessarily meant equality and justice for all. The idea that blacks could marry, choose their own employment, try to get an education and even vote was exceedingly difficult to understand by the many white citizens of Athens, Georgia, and elsewhere.

    The field office reports of the Freedmen’s Bureau give us a ringside seat at this imperfect search for getting along between the races throughout much of the South, and specifically in the Athens Sub-District of the Bureau. The Bureau heard complaints of many former slaves, and from many whites—both sides felt they were mistreated. What assurance did blacks have their former master's would actually pay them to work? Were the ex-slaves willing to work for former masters? How could former slave owners make a buck to keep their farms or plantations alive?How would they get their crops taken care of?  What kind of labor contracts could make all this possible? How did the Bureau deal with instances of physical beatings, kidnappings of black children, and even murder of the freedmen?

    In Athens, a doughty brevet major, John J. Knox, was named the Athens  Freedmen's Bureau Assistant Sub-Commissioner in 1867, and we have a thorough record of much of his duties with whites and blacks in 1867 and 1868. Freedmen’s Bureau operations started in Athens in 1865, but Major Knox was one of the most active sub-commissioners to hold the job.  Major Knox, from Michigan, was respectful to the community, but he did not suffer fools gladly and rose to protect destitute blacks. Also, Knox’s period is one of the better-documented in existing records.

    A lot of the details of this Civil War veteran’s work become plain to us in his field office reports and letters. A bantam of a man, not weighing 100 pounds, he was nearly killed in battle near Richmond, Virginia, and was seriously disabled. He was the the Union reserve officer's corps. He was naturally a likable guy, and even un-reconstructed Athens area residents had to admire his bravery in battle.  

    The records of the Bureau can reward the user with a detailed day-by-day account of what the Freedmen’s Bureau was trying to do in the Athens Sub-District. You can get to these records via the partnership of the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and Ancestry.com, the tremendously useful genealogical site on the Internet. Of  great importance to genealogists and African-American history fans and genealogists are the thousands of names of ex-slaves and where they lived in the Athens Sub-District, as well as how they lived their lives during Reconstruction. These details are reflected in Freedmen's Bureau letters sent and received and in many reports.  Thousands of these sources are available on-line.

    The Athens Sub-District covered the following counties: Clarke, Jackson, Gwinnett, Walker, Hart, Franklin, Banks, Habersham, Rabun, Hall, Oglethorpe, Elbert,  and Madison. Other Bureau sub-district headquarters in Georgia were at Savannah, Albany, Brunswick, Thomasville, Macon, Columbus, Augusta, Atlanta and Rome. Each sub-district employed agents at smaller towns or villages as well.

    But your hunt may not be easy. There’s no decent index to these records. You have to hunt information like prospectors hunted nuggets of gold—expecting to get very little and then hitting a bonanza from time to time.  Many African-Americans, however, have successfully traced their ancestors in the years immediately following the Civil War and Emancipation. They are often able to find their labor contracts with planters, their complaints about violence and unfair treatment, their depth of destitution, and even their hospitalizations and illnesses.

    The field reports of Georgia and other Southern states give us tons of information including labor contracts, education efforts, court cases,  and violence against freedmen.  They also frequently portray actions of whites and their complaints against African Americans or the Freedmen's Bureau. Of course, we are seeing through the lens of a camera held by the Yankee bureau.  Major Knox, for example, never hid his belief that the Bureau should help destitute blacks and try to make their lives better.  But he proceeded with quite a bit of caution, courtesy and fairness. Several times, however, he faced death threats, although no actual assassination attempt was made.

    The overall Freedmen’s Bureau site on Ancestry.com can be found at U.S., Freedmen Bureau Records of Field Offices, 1865-187, compiled by the National Archives. Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia, on-line are the records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M1903, 90 rolls); Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105; National Archives, Washington, D.C.  The  on-line address for Athens sub-district records is:


    Athens" specific records address includes hundreds of letters received and sent :


    If you don’t have your own access to Ancestry.com, many public libraries have it free. Or if you prefer, many libraries have the microfilm National Archives records of the bureau for their area and state. Check with the genealogy and local history departments. Sometimes it seems faster to use the microfilms to browse.

    The current online records for the Bureau in other Southern and a few non-Southern locations include: Washington, D. C., Florida, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. See ancestry.com for further information for what records are available for individual states. The regional branches of the National Archives have all the microfilmed records. The National Archives in Washington has the original paper records of the Freedmen's Bureau.  Not all have been microfilmed or placed on-line.

    Here’s the microfilm listing: Alabama, M1900, 34 rolls; Arkansas, M1901, 23 rolls; District of Columbia, M1902, 21 rolls; Florida, M1869, 15 rolls; Georgia, M1903, 90 rolls; Kentucky, M1904, 133 rolls; Louisiana, M1905, 111 rolls; Maryland/Delaware, M1906, 42 rolls; Mississippi, pre-Bureau Records, M1914, 5 rolls and Freedmen’s Bureau, M1907, 65 rolls; Missouri, M1908, 24 rolls; North Carolina, M1909, 78 rolls; South Carolina, M1910, 106 rolls; Tennessee, M1912, 28 rolls; Texas, M1912, 32 rolls; and Virginia, M1913, 203 rolls.

    In Part 2 of this blog article to follow soon, we’ll give specific examples of Freedmen’s Bureau records which hold high genealogical, historical and cultural interest concerning the Reconstruction period after Emancipation.

An letter sent by the Freedmen's Bureau to a private lawyer thanking him for reporting efforts to rid Elbert County, GA, of Union troops.