PRINCETON — The echoes of the final volleys fired in anger during the American Civil War have long since faded, but the often uneasy peace between victors and vanquished has lingered for at least 14 score and two years since the fighting ceased.

When Johnny came marching home in 1865, his rural, agrarian home had changed a great deal. On a very real level, much of the power that had been centered in the various and independent states was redirected to a central government based in Washington, D.C. The Civil War set the stage for the transformation of the United States into a global super power, but dramatically changed a key element of the cultural heritage of many rural people who lived in the pre-war south. Their abiding connection to the land was gradually disappearing.

It took time for battle-hardened Confederate troops to transform their swords into plow shares. While the reconstruction era loyalty oath kept some Rebel soldiers from resuming the careers they had prior to the war, the Confederate veterans eventually settled into productive roles in a new social order. Still, the world was changing rapidly and a generation of Civil War veterans who grew up on the farm, watched as their sons, daughters and grandchildren left home for jobs in urban factories and isolated coal mines.

By far, the majority of able-bodied men of Mercer County, Va., entered the service of the Confederacy. Richard Lockhart, adjutant of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, West Virginia Division said that more than 1,500 men from Mercer County joined the Confederate army, and while some of them did not return home after the fighting, many did. In addition, other Confederate veterans moved to Mercer County, W.Va. after the war, where they found work started their families.

Only a few of the 1,800 Confederate veterans who lived in Mercer County after the Civil War are buried in large community cemeteries like Oakwood Cemetery in Princeton, Walnut Grove Cemetery in Bluefield, Oakvale Cemetery in Oakvale and others. Most of Mercer County’s Confederate veterans are buried in small family plots scattered throughout the county. Lockhart believes there are at least 229-plus cemeteries and private family burial plots in the county that include the burial of about 620 Confederate veterans.

The American Civil War pitted brother against brother and in many cases, friends became foes literally overnight. However, in 1913, the federal government recognized the service of Confederate veterans as being veterans of military service, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides grave markers for Confederate veterans the same as it does for Union Army veterans as well as veterans of World Wars I and II, Korean War, Vietnam War and all wars involving American soldiers.

The VA provides marble or granite stones for Confederate veterans. The inscriptions are limited to the Southern Cross of Honor, the rank and name of the veteran, an abbreviated version of the veteran’s military organization and the veteran’s birth and death dates.

For the past eight years, members of Camp No. 1694 “Flat Top Copperheads,” Sons of Confederate Veterans have been searching through death certificates, visiting family burial plots, obtaining biographical information on all the Confederate veterans buried in Mercer County and in some cases, clearing and maintaining some family plots that have become overgrown.

“We call it gravin,’” Lockhart said. “We’ve been all over Mercer County in places we didn’t even know existed. We’ve been able to mark a lot of graves of Confederate veterans in the process.”

“We put a lot of time in on our gravin’ work,” Kenneth Hylton, past commander of Camp No. 1694 said. “You can ask our wives about that. But a lot of these small family burial plots may soon be forgotten. That’s why we think this work is so important.”

About eight years ago, the camp developed a book that contained the names of all the Confederate veterans of Mercer County, but in the years that have passed, the number of names has grown as well as the details of each soldier’s service and his post-war life. The new book camp members have compiled includes information about the veterans with Mercer County roots who were killed in action (71), who died in Union prisons (30), and those who are buried in other cities.

“We are working to raise money to get this book published so that families can have this information about their ancestors who served in the Confederate army,” Hylton said. “We think this record is a very important part of our history.”

“We have even found the graves of 12 Union soldiers,” Lockhart said.

“We found the graves of four Revolutionary War soldiers and four veterans of the War of 1812,” Edward A. Dodson, past commander of the Flat Top Copperheads said. Dodson, Lockhart and Hylton are spearheading the effort.

All three men are passionate about the county’s history and have compiled an extensive volume of information on the Confederate veterans with ties to Mercer County.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com