Not until the restoration work of a local Eagle Scout candidate, guided by county historians who recently gained ownership of the site, did the 90 or so soldiers from the 10thAlabama Infantry Regiment have a marked and permanently preserved resting place.
The new cemetery, at Camp Jones in the Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, is now registered with Prince William County and on the official tour trail of the Civil War site not far from Manassas. About 150 people, including 50 from Alabama, watched as a new Alabama stone monument was unveiled and the dirt and water was spread across the cemetery.
"I was giving our boys their last drink," said Linda Currey of Albertville. She and her husband, David, ferried the water from the spring near where the 10th Alabama gathered the night before leaving for Virginia in 1861.
Many of them died just a few weeks later of disease in the damp campsite, before ever seeing battle.
"I'm just glad the site was saved," said Frank Leatherwood, a truck driver from Boaz who volunteered to haul the stone monument from Alabama that now anchors the site. "They need to be remembered."
The Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans donated $5,000 for the plaques and raised another $1,500 from around the country, said Jimmy Hill, a commander with the Alabama Division.
Research by Harold Bouldin of Fyffe, the genealogist with the Alabama Division, shows 92 soldiers buried there, including some who died in battle in Dranesville and were moved to Camp Jones for burial. Eventually, their names will be added to the trail sign near the cemetery entrance.
Among the records used to determine exactly who is buried there is an 1883 letter from a Virginia minister to a newspaper in Jacksonville, Ala., that listed names he saw there on crude headstones. There is also a plea from a veteran in a 1909 letter, asking that the site be commemorated.
"It took us 130 years, but your friends are here and are immortalized," said Brendon Hanafin, the Prince William County Historic Preservation Chief.
It was a deal between the county and a local developer that preserved the battlefield site, which had been in private hands and farmed for decades. The cemeteries - including one for a Mississippi regiment - were largely untouched and overgrown.
Dane Smith, an Eagle Scout candidate from nearby Nokesville, organized the clearing of the Alabama site, which is now surrounded by a split rail fence and accessible by a wooden foot bridge. He was a part of the color guard ceremony Saturday.
"These men left their homes and wound up here 150 years ago and they're still here today. We could not take these men back home to their families, so we brought a little bit of Alabama back to them," said Thomas Strain Jr., of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The cemetery's rebirth is not without controversy. Civil War relic hunters and historians had visited the site in the 1980s and said they saw headstones with names on them that have since gone missing. Descendants, some of them angry that they were removed in the first place, are hoping that whoever has them will return them.
The overall 133-acre Bristoe Station park opened in 2007, marking the Battle of Kettle Run in 1862 and the Battle of Bristoe Station in 1863. It is about an hour's drive west of Washington, D.C., in Bristow, Va., near the Manassas National Battlefield Park.
The Birmingham News first reported on the cemetery's rebirth in December, sparking interest from around the country. Descendants of Archibald Canaday, who died there Sept. 4, 1861, according to Civil War records, drove about 900 miles from Illinois for Saturday's ceremony. Canaday's great-great-great-granddaughter Kim Hughes and her husband George from Kimberly just north of Birmingham had seen the story and alerted the family.