Faith & Courage: Metairie Cemetery Stories
“They loved their land …” Beauregard and Johnston
You are standing inside the original entrance to Metairie Cemetery by the “horse on the hill.” This is the historic Civil War memorial tumulus of the Association of the Army of Tennessee, Louisiana Division. By 1887, when this memorial was dedicated, most Southerners were still trying to grasp the reality of being on the losing end of the Civil War. However, this did not discourage them from memorializing this “Cult of the Lost Cause.”
The exterior of the tumulus includes two beautiful Civil War statues by Alexander Doyle. The magnificent ten-foot bronze statue of General Albert Sidney Johnston proudly stands atop the tumulus. Johnston is riding his horse, Fire Eater, into battle at Shiloh on April 6, 1862. He was killed early in the battle when a bullet caught the back of his leg and he bled to death. He had just sent his surgeon off to care for wounded Federal troops. Johnston was buried here but was secreted away to the Texas State Cemetery in Austin sometime after the war. The six-foot statue to the right of the tumulus entrance depicts a Louisiana Confederate soldier. The face is that of Sergeant William Brunet of the Louisiana Guard Battery who was killed in the Battle of New Hope Church, Georgia. He is calling the honored “roll of the dead” from a document which he holds in his left hand.
Just inside the iron gates of the vault, there are two marble tablets listing the names of the many battles in which units of the Army of Tennessee engaged. Take a quick look inside before we set off.
The vault is flanked by 48 crypts, each sealed with wrought brass enclosures. Three of the vaults are sealed for eternity including those of Colonel Charles Didier Dreux, John Dimitry and General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the “Great Creole.” There is a moving elegy to General Albert Sidney Johnston by John Dimitry inscribed on the rear wall.
We will return to this spot at the end of our walk but for now, let’s leave the vault, and start walking down Central Avenue into this silent city. The cemetery is open to vehicles so you might encounter an occasional tour bus or maintenance truck so pay attention.
As you cross Metairie Avenue, glance to your right and notice the beautiful oak-lined curve in the roadway. Metairie Avenue follows the original oval path of the one and one-sixteenth-mile race course.
I'm Kevin J. Bozant, life-long resident of the Crescent City and author of "Cryptic New Orleans: Cemetery Secrets and Symbols." Today I am going to share a number of stories with you about those who have contributed to the city’s military history and religious traditions and include a few colorful characters along the way. We will also explore a few interesting examples of cemetery symbolism. All of the streets have names or letters. Sections are clearly labeled, but follow no obvious order. I'll give you directions to keep you on track, and my voice will trigger automatically when you reach each of the locations we'll be visiting. There might be some silence in between, but just keep walking straight unless I say otherwise.
Enjoy the views, take a few photos and meet me just up ahead on the right at the imposing four-tiered Italian society tomb on Central Avenue at Section 95.