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A Black Civil War-Era Cemetery Joins Cumberland County Register Of Historic Places

Courtesy of Vietnam Veterans of Mechanicsburg
Volunteers from the Vietnam Veterans Association, county officials and the Cumberland Historical Society gathered to celebrate the placement of the Lincoln Cemetery on the Cumberland County Register of Historical Places.

A Black Civil War-era cemetery that has existed for more than 100 years in Upper Allen Township now has a historical marker.

The one-acre graveyard holds the remains of roughly 80 African-Americans, including 12 Civil War veterans who fought in segregated units.

The efforts to restore the site were mostly community-based.

When the Vietnam Veterans of Mechanicsburg first formed in 1998, the group looked for veteran cemeteries to help decorate for Memorial Day. The Cumberland County Veterans Affairs office assigned members a small graveyard on Winding Hill Road known as the Lincoln Cemetery.

“They said it’s rather a forgotten cemetery,” said Nancy Kreiner, a member of Vietnam Veterans of Mechanicsburg and wife of Paul Kreiner, founder of the association.

What they saw when they arrived was an abandoned, overgrown plot next to a cornfield, littered with broken trees and branches.

“It was all grown up — grass, the stones were laid over, big holes,” Kreiner said. “It was really a mess. They had to borrow an engine jack to lift the stones back into place.”

The veterans association has been tending to the cemetery for more than 20 years. On Memorial Day every year, they put flowers on the veterans’ graves.

“There’s no family that we know of because no one takes flowers out to decorate the cemetery for Memorial Day,” Kreiner said.

In a ceremony at the end of July, members of the veterans association, county officials and representatives from the Cumberland Historical Society gathered to unveil a plaque honoring the veterans buried at the site. The event was organized by Megan McNamee, who is an environmental planner and stormwater program manager for Upper Allen Township.

McNamee submitted the application to the Cumberland Historical Society to place the graveyard in the county’s register of historic places. When she was researching the history of the site, she found no one owns the cemetery plot. However, she did find a past deed for nearby property that mentions the cemetery.

Folklore and local histories tie the cemetery to the underground railroad, but the origin of the site is not fully documented.

“There really isn’t a fact-proven beginning to this cemetery,” McNamee said. “It’s just all speculation on how it began.”

The oldest grave at Lincoln Cemetery dates back to April 15, 1862. The part of the gravestone that bears a name is missing.

There are 12 African-American Civil War veterans buried at the Lincoln Cemetery. Some of the names highlighted by the Vietnam Veterans of Mechanicsburg are John W. Pinkney and William Bridget, who fought as part of the 22nd regiment of U.S. Colored Troops — a regiment that contributed to the defeat of the Confederacy despite suffering losses at the Siege of Petersburg, and which participated in Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession.

The plot also served as a burial spot for African American residents from Cumberland County who died between the late 1800s and the 1940s. More information about the veterans buried at Lincoln Cemetery can be found at the Cumberland Historical Society’s Gardner Digital Library.

Gabriela Martínez is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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