Tuesday, February 02, 2016

TO STORY >> Pipeline route leads to discovery

Leader staff writer

A few yards off Military Road in Jacksonville, near the JP Wright Loop Road intersection, lies a crossroads of history. More was discovered there last week while workers prepared the ground for a pipeline.

The Reed’s Bridge Historical Preservation Society has maintained one site there — McCraw Cemetery, which has graves dating back to the 1840s.

Last week, members became aware of what an archeologist familiar with the area believes are trenches and rifle pits from the Battle of Reed’s Bridge, as well as a possible potter’s field where the poor, the unknown and social outcasts were buried.

The preservation group wants to get in touch with landowners in the area to find out more information, start clearing it and marking the graves, according to president Mike Kish.

“There’s so much history out here,” said Tommy Dupree, Reed’s Bridge mem ber. He hopes the group can raise awareness and grow the community’s interest in the area’s past.

The group would need ground-penetrating radar to further research the area and confirm the existence of the potter’s field, without disturbing the graves.

In the 1830s, a man named Pleasant McCraw settled on Military Road, building a house along the main highway, Hwy. 161, from Memphis to Little Rock. His house would become the center of a Confederate line during the Civil War. Nearby is the cemetery named after his family.

The McCraw Cemetery was obtained by the Reed’s Bridge Historical Preservation Society about 10 years ago. The group cleaned up the overgrown space and has maintained it ever since.

The members added a fence line around it, mowed and marked graves that had no stones or where the stones had been moved. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It was totally and completely overgrown and had been abandoned for many years,” said Reed’s Bridge historian Carolyn Kent. “We grew some community interest and did some cleaning, obtained ownership and got it on the register.”

The oldest marked grave in the cemetery is that of Elizabeth Sanders, buried March 1, 1841. “There are a lot of depressions and fieldstones out there,” said Kent. “Some probably date further back (than 1841).”

Another notable grave in the cemetery is that of Maria Smith. It is the oldest known grave in the black section of the cemetery. Her tombstone reflects that she was a member of the Supreme Royal Circle of Friends of the World, an African-American fraternal organization.

There is also a large obelisk with several names of members of the McCraw family on it.

Just outside the fence line, common grave indicators have been found, including strips of vegetation greener than that around it, iris and yucca plants, indentions in the ground and fieldstones. The indicators are haphazardly lined up in rows that can be seen when walking around the site.

They were found during preparation work for moving a gas pipeline. Moving the pipeline was recommended to avoid disturbing the potter’s field. Although the recommendation was to relocate the pipe by 100 feet, Magellan Midstream Partners, LP shifted it by 150 feet. The pipeline also crosses part of the Trail of Tears.

A few feet from the cemetery and potter’s field are a line of indentions in the ground and mounds with indentions set behind them. These indicate a trench line.

Soldiers would have dug trenches waist deep and 4 to 6 feet in length, leaving a pile of dirt in front of the trench. A log was often placed on top of that. The soldiers would lean onto the mound of dirt, setting their rifles on top of the log and shooting from that position. The trenches held two to four people.

Between them were rifle pits. Rifle pits were composed similar to trenches but shallow, allowing soldiers to lie down with their rifles on top of the log.

This particular trench line was known as the McCraw line and was the last line of defense in front of Reed’s Bridge. The battle of Reed’s Bridge was fought mostly by cavalry and took place in August 1863.

Pleasant McCraw’s name is the first found on tax books in 1836, and he had probably settled in the area a couple of years beforehand. He “had a fair amount of land,” had horses and cattle, and served as postmaster in the area at one time, according to Kent.

McCraw sold items such as corn and water for horses to members of the Bell party – a group of Cherokees that moved through the area on the Trail of Tears in 1838. His son, William, lived on the McCraw land until the 1880s.

There is some mention of the McCraw property on battlefield maps of the Reed’s Bridge battle.