Grave Matters at Virginia Course

A long-lost burial plot for a Civil War-era doctor found in May 2001 has been preserved. The grave of Humphrey Harwood Curtis Jr., a doctor from a prominent Warwick County family, lies between the third and fourth holes at the Fort Eustis Pines Golf Course in Newport News, Virginia.

Curtis was the organizer of 80 men who formed the Warwick Beauregards, a local Confederate Army militia. The Beauregards fought in 13 battles, helped burn Hampton to keep it from being taken over by the Union Army, and manned the defensive line at Petersburg. Local historians had long believed that Curtis’ grave was at the golf course, but didn’t know where until last year.

The burial sites of Curtis and many other Confederate soldiers were lost after 1918, when the federal government bought the land where the graves were so it could build Camp Abraham Eustis, now called Fort Eustis. A map drawn in the 1960s shows the boundary of the Curtis cemetery but, until 2001, no one had marked the site or were able to confirm the doctor was buried there. “We meant to do it, and finally had the time,” John Curry, president of the Fort Eustis Historical and Archaeological Association, told Norfolk’s The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. A new headstone now marks the Curtis grave.

Local officials were surprised at their finding. “I guess we were just (fortunate) in that the golf course construction did not affect that cemetery,” said Damon Doumlele, who was the Army post’s cultural resources manager when the grave was discovered. “After the construction of the golf course, the outline or, I guess, the exact locations of the graves in that cemetery were lost.”

Historians and archaeologists have identified more than a dozen other cemeteries at Fort Eustis. And there could be many others. After Curtis’ grave was discovered, Doumlele received an Army grant to conduct a ground radar survey of the Curtis site and others. The survey involves using a device that fires electromagnetic pulses into the ground to determine if anything is buried under the surface. Readings from the device are fed into a laptop computer that draws an underground map of the area. Additional studies are required to confirm the exact locations of gravesites.

The Curtis grave is an important find according to local historians. Though there’s still an aura of political incorrectness associated with the Confederate Army, members of the historical association feel it’s their duty to preserve history, regardless of how people feel about the history. “It’s important to find (the grave) to honor a man who contributed much to our history,” said Dick Ivy, vice president of the association.

Curtis graduated from William & Mary, attended medical school in Philadelphia, and was a doctor by the age of 24. Five years later he formed the Beauregards and was elected company commander. After leaving the militia, Curtis moved to Roanoke with his wife, Maria. The couple eventually returned to Endview Plantation, which he’d bought from his uncle before the war. Curtis died in 1881 at the age of 49.