Pastoral scene belies bloody siege

Posted July 31, 2012 at 11:00 pm

By Michael Bushnell
Northeast News
August 1, 2012

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In 1888 when the Forest Hill Cemetery was incorporated, it lay outside the Kansas City city limits at 69th and Troost Avenue.

The limestone building shown in the postcard was the receiving vault. Traditionally graves were dug by hand, a procedure that was extremely labor intensive and virtually impossible during the long Midwest winters, so the receiving vault is where bodies were kept when it was too cold for a hand operated shovel to penetrate the frozen earth.Grave digging was resumed during the warmer months of spring and summer.

The lake shown in the card has been filled in and landscaped since then, leaving no trace as to its whereabouts on the grounds. During the early part of the 20th Century, an enormous abbey was built to house burial vaults for families. The abbey is of Roman Renaissance architecture and dominates the grounds, which were an integral part of the Battle of Westport in October 1864. A marker placed by the Daughters of the Confederacy and titled “Shelby’s Last Stand” marks the area where Confederate Gen. Joseph Orville Shelby was forced back by Union Gens. Curtis and Pleasenton.

Shelby used the stone fences running across the property for cover but was eventually outgunned and outnumbered by the advancing Union brigades.

A memorial pays homage to 75 Confederate soldiers from Virginia, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and Illinois who died during the siege and who are interred at Forest Hill. Some notable Kansas Citians who are buried here include Boy Scout leader and former Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, baseball great Leroy “Satchel” Paige, political boss Tom Pendergast and Confederate General Joseph Shelby.