It was deemed advisable at the expiration of the burial contract, December 31, 1863, for the Government to manufacture all the coffins required for interments in the National Cemeteries, as well as those needed for shipment to distant points. The confines now issued cost less than one-half the price paid by contract, and are far superior. The hearses used for transportation to the graves are covered ambulances, painted black, and are well suited for the purpose.
The tables or headboards are principally of white pine, with the exception of some 4,000 of black walnut purchased more than a year ago. They are painted in white and lettered in black, with the name, company, regiment, and date of death. I would here remark that unless the tables are painted before lettering the wood will absorb the oil in the pain and the rain soon wash off the lead in lettering.
By much pains and labor I have succeeded in preparing a mortuary record for future reference, giving a sufficient history of the deceased, every age of which has been compared with the records of hospitals, and up to the date believed to be the most reliable register of the death extant.
Information is daily furnished to numerous friends respecting deceased soldiers, and frequently before it can obtained elsewhere, as the record is always kept up to date, no matter how great may be the mortality.
In May last the ground of the cemetery in the rear of the Old Soldiers" Home having become exhausted, the Secretary of War directed that a new site be selected on lee's farm, at Arlington, Va. The locality is well adapted for a cemetery, and is being appropriately improved for that object. Intelligent and reliable sexton are placed in charge, who keep a register of all interments made, with the particulars concerning each, for the information of visitors.
The miserable condition of the cemetery in the vicinity of the Old Soldiers" Home, and the frequent complaints of persons respecting it, induced me early in December to commence the painting and lettering of headboards, the few remaining up having become so obliterated by exposure to the weather that is was with difficulty many names could be read. The ground was filled with hollows containing vast pools of water, and the mounds so washed by heavy rains that in some places hardunkingly stake, to indicate the graves of the departed.
During the winter I manufactured the tables, and by the 1st of March had 4,000 of them ready to be placed in the ground, and but a few months elapsed until this cemetery presented a new aspect. The ground was refenced, a neat and handsome lodge was erected, a garden laid out, the graves sodden, the walks graveled, choice flowers and trees - indeed, so transformed in appearance as to be almost unknown to those who had previously visited it.
Great care and attention have also been paid to the Harmony burial ground, where all soldiers dying of infections deceases, and contraband, are interred.
The improvements of the National Cemeteries have been a source of great gratification to all who visit them, and entirely dissipated the prevailing opinion of those living remote from Washington that soldiers were irreverently or carelessly buried.
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I have appended for your information and abstract of the burial record, showing the number of men who died in hospitals in this