FORT BRAGG, N.C. - - From drill and ceremony, to creeds and cadences, history can be found, honored and upheld by Soldiers on a regular basis. While more prevalent military history is found in museums at each installation, Fort Bragg is also home to more than two dozen lesser-known landmarks predating its existence.
Spread throughout the main cantonment and training areas of Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall, 26 historic cemeteries and two standing churches remain intact from early settlers of the surrounding area.
"Descendants or relatives of those buried in these graveyards, as well as interested researchers, provide us with valuable information about the early settlers of this region," said Dr. Linda Carnes-McNaughton, a curator and archaeologist with the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources Management Program. "All records, of marked and unmarked graves, totaling over 1,000 plots, are maintained by our office."
These places can provide insight to settlement history, burial practices, religious preferences and ethnic customs of the Sandhills region's first settlers.
Most of the graveyards date back to the 19th century and are spread across training areas on the reservation. Soldiers conducting training should be cognizant of signs or fences put in place to protect the sites.
"(Graveyards) range in size from single markers (on one-sixteenth of an acre), to community graveyards with over 200 burials (on) several acres, like Long Street Church and Sandy Grove Church cemeteries," Carnes-McNaughton said. "All cemeteries are fenced, some are gated, and all are posted with protective signage. This makes them off-limits for training purposes."
Several federal and state laws as well as Department of Defense burial laws ensure the CRMP protects clues hidden in these historical sites.
"The descendants of these families, whose ancestors are buried on Fort Bragg, expect the Department of Defense to maintain these important burial sites," Carnes-McNaughton added. "The markers, collectively, contain valuable information about the (lives, including) birth date, death date, country of origin, fraternal membership, family relations and ethnic bearings of most individuals buried in these graveyards."
Although some of these places date back a few hundred years, they are more than just old news. Carnes-McNaughton said her office receives visitation requests on an almost weekly basis. With a two week notice, descendants, researchers, military families, historians and anyone interested in visiting the churches or graveyards can contact the CRMP to schedule a guided tour.
"Every year on the last Sunday in June, the Long Street Presbyterian Church congregation descendants host an annual reunion event," Carnes-McNaughton added.
The event is free, open to the public and supported by the CRMP and the Garrison Chaplain's office. Carnes-McNaughton said some families also host a CRMP escorted family reunion at their ancestors' graveyard.
To keep these places properly marked and maintained, periodic repairs are necessary. The Department of Public Works Ground Maintenance Office and the Forestry Branch take care of mowing larger cemeteries or removing dead trees.
Carnes-McNaughton said yearly upkeep costs can vary, totaling approximately $5,000 in 2011 following a tornado outbreak. In 2012, more than 100 markers were restored to nearly new condition by a professional stone mason.
"(The sites) are a permanent record of the past, and as such are worth preservation for future descendants and generations to come," Carnes-McNaughton concluded.
Additional information about the historical cemeteries and churches of Fort Bragg can be found on the Fort Bragg Cultural Resources Management webpage at: http://www.bragg.army.mil/directorates/dpw/envdiv/emb/Pages/CulturalResources.aspx
Anyone interested in visiting these historical sites can call (910) 396-6680 to arrange a tour.