Arkansas Democrat Gazette, March 29, 2009; Section-Arkansas: Page
New stone marks soldier’s old grave
1860s black-regiment private lay unmarked beside wife since 1937
BY EVIN DEMIREL
Above “Born — 1853,” tawny mildew encrusts the ivy pattern carved
into Minerva New’s
tombstone — one of about 6,500 covering Haven of Rest Cemetery.
Other etchings — “My Wife” and “We Will Meet Again” — also adorn the
worn marker, but for generations no spouse’s marker stood beside New’s.
Ten people gathered at the
Little Rock cemetery
to see the new white marble tombstone of Pvt. Peter New, who died in 1937,
more than three years after Minerva, his first wife.
Whipped by cold wind, the group huddled to learn his story from
Barbara Clark-Lawrence, the genealogist who spent four months researching
She received New’s tombstone from the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs in early March, she said.
Clark-Lawrence, who selfpublished a 256-page book about the Little
Rock cemetery, learned through death certificates that the
unmarked grave beside Minerva New belongs to New’s husband.
He was born in Tennessee in 1847,
federal records show.
May 31, 1865, Peter New, who was 6 feet 1 1 /2 inches tall,
enlisted in Company L of the
United States Colored Troops 4th Regiment (Heavy Artillery) in
Paducah, in western
Kentucky, more than a month after the Civil War ended, according to
That regiment, however, was never stationed in Paducah, said
Bill Baxter, the
director of Paducah ’s
Lloyd Tilghman House and
Civil War Museum. It formed 45 miles southwest of Paducah, in
Columbus , Ky. , Baxter said last week.
Baxter couldn’t explain the enlistment location discrepancy between
the federal records and his source document — Kentucky ’s United States
Colored Field Artillery (Heavy) Regiments.
In June 1865, the regiment was assigned to Pine Bluff, federal
The black soldiers “probably replaced white units as veteran units
were demobilized and sent home” after the war, said
Historic Preservation Program historian Mark Christ.
Although the troops were mustered out in February 1866, New was
farming in Jefferson County and had married Minerva by 1880, the U.S.
New was living in
Little Rock by 1898, according to Clark-Lawrence’s research of a
city directory from the time, and he became a carpenter and house mover.
Saturday, B.J. McCoy, a board member of the cemetery’s preservation
group, said New’s story “provides a perfect example of why the cemetery is
more than a graveyard. It provides context about the progress of people in
New buried his wife in what is now “the largest African-American
burial ground in Little Rock ,” Clark-Lawrence said over the din of cars
on nearby 12th Street .
Board member Irma Brown said, “We need to maintain the cemetery in
some kind way that gives respect to those interred here.”
“Just cutting the grass and opening and closing graves is not enough,”
A litany of luminaries fills the cemetery’s 17/2 acres, including
attorney Scipio Jones, who successfully defended 12 men sentenced to death
after the 1919 Elaine race riot, educator Joseph Booker, the first
president of the historically black
Arkansas Baptist College
in Little Rock , and activist Daisy Gatson Bates, who mentored the
Little Rock Nine.
At 88, Peter New remarried; he died 1 1 /2 years later. He never had
His second wife, Henrietta New, buried him in an unmarked grave he had
purchased beside Minerva, Clark-Lawrence said.
Henrietta New died in 1971 at age 102 in Michigan , and her family
buried her at Haven of Rest in an unmarked grave within 50 feet of Peter
New, Clark-Lawrence said.
Friday, Clark-Lawrence received an American flag from the Arkansas
Department of Veterans Affairs to present to Henrietta New’s descendants
should she find them.
She also looks forward to unraveling more of the secrets buried among
Haven of Rest’s estimated 3, 500
“I plan on continuing to do research here because I don’t think I’ve
even touched on the story.”
Those with information about New’s descendants may contact