Approximately 14 years after the Episcopal Church in Petersburg moved from Blandford Church to the site of the current Courthouse, the City of Petersburg purchased the abandoned Blandford Church and four surrounding acres in 1819 for a cemetery. In 1851, the City directed that a portion of the cemetery be set aside as “a burying ground for persons of color.” Still an active burial ground, the cemetery covers 189 acres. “Blandford contains one of the finest collections of cast and wrought iron fences in the United States.”
People from all walks of life have been interred in the cemetery for over 300 years. Among the more notable are a British Revolutionary War general, three Civil War generals, 30,000 Confederate soldiers, and two Virginia governors. R. Yarborough’s grave is the oldest marked grave in the cemetery, dated 1702. It is just outside of the entrance to the church. The only British Revolutionary War general buried in the United States, Major General William Phillips, died in the Bolling residence of East Hill on May 13, 1781. He was buried in the cemetery at night to conceal the location of his grave. The Bolling family was the most important family in the early history of Petersburg. Their wealth and prominence is best demonstrated by the impressive mausoleum of Robert Bolling. He was a captain in the Revolutionary War and built Centre Hill Mansion in 1823. The Cockade City Monument honors Captain Richard McRae, who commanded the Petersburg Volunteers during the War of 1812. Atop the monument was placed a gilded, cast iron eagle. After being damaged by a Union artillery shell during the siege and stolen in the 1990s, it is now safely housed in the reception center and a replica eagle sits on top of the monument.
Three Confederate generals are buried at Blandford: Major General William (Billy) Mahone, Brigadier General Cullen Battle, and Brigadier General David A. Weisiger. Generals Mahone and Weisiger successfully led the counterattack on July 30, 1864 to recapture the Crater and re-establish the Confederate defensive lines. General Battle was elected to Congress in 1868 but refused to serve. The two Virginia governors buried here are William Evelyn Cameron and William Hodges Mann. Governor Cameron served as the state’s chief executive from 1882 to 1886, and Governor Mann was in office from 1910 to 1914. During the Siege of Petersburg, future Governor Mann was a spy behind Grant’s lines.
In April 1866, Nora Fontaine Maury Davidson became a founding member of the Ladies Memorial Association. Two months later she instituted the first Memorial Day observance in Petersburg at Blandford Cemetery. The large Soldiers Monument was dedicated in 1890 by Lucy Lee Hill, daughter of Lieutenant General A.P. Hill.
Among the annual events that occur at the cemetery are the celebration of the Battle of Old Men and Young Boys and guided nighttime tours on Halloween. The Ladies Memorial Association commemorates the June 9, 1864 battle in which approximately 125 Petersburg citizens in a local home defense unit bravely defended the city against over 1000 Federal cavalry under Brigadier General Kautz. There is a guest speaker, and the names of those killed during this battle are solemnly read. After dark on Halloween, guided tours with lanterns are conducted as historic personages come back to life at their gravesites and tell their stories.