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New Monument Honors Suffolk, Va. Confederate Officer
By Deborah Fitts
July 2004 SUFFOLK, Va.

A Confederate cavalry officer who is still admired in the town where he worked and died after the war was honored in ceremonies May 29 at his grave site.

Gen. Laurence S. Baker "is the hero of the town where I was born," said F. Lee Hart III, a past commander of the Tom Smith Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the individual who spearheaded a project to restore Baker's grave and erect a new monument in his honor. Suffolk is 90 miles southeast of Richmond.

Several hundred people attended the ceremonies, including 30 Baker descendants. Among the improvements to the grave site, located on a prominent terrace in Suffolk's Cedar Hill Cemetery, were a new 8-foot granite obelisk and a brick sidewalk, stairs and retaining wall.

A pyramid of 8-inch cannonballs, stolen decades ago, was replaced with replicas, and Baker's tombstone was affixed to the new pyramid in its original position. The camp also refurbished the entire Baker family plot, which includes the remains of seven of his eight children.

Hart, a local businessman, first repaired Baker's grave in 1973, when he got a Veterans Administration headstone to replace the stone made unusable by removal of the pyramid.

"General Baker has always been a hero of mine," Hart explained. "I used to hear what my grandmother thought of him, the quality of his life and what kind of citizen he was. This time we were able to do it right."

Baker, great-grandson of Gen. Lawrence Baker of Revolutionary War fame, was born in North Carolina, 20 miles from Suffolk. He graduated from West Point in 1851 and served in the West for nine years with the U.S. Mounted Rifles. Upon the approach of war he resigned his commission and was appointed lieutenant colonel of the 1st North Carolina Cavalry in March 1861.

He fought in "every engagement" of the Army of Northern Virginia, Hart said, including commanding the entire Hampton Legion on the third day at Gettysburg. A serious wound at Brandy Station, Va., July 31, 1863, permanently crippled his right arm and sent him home from the front. He was eventually assigned to oversee supply lines and railroads in North Carolina, and was later sent against the forces of William T. Sherman. He surrendered April 20, 1865, 11 days after Appomattox.

Several years after the war he accepted the position as agent for the Seaboard & Roanoke Railroad, in Suffolk, and served for 29 years, till 1907. His duties included managing the Western Union telegraph and the Southern Express Co., a shipping company.

The camp also commissioned an oil portrait of Baker by graphic artist Sandy Nordone of Chesterfield. It now hangs over the fireplace in the Suffolk train station museum where Baker worked.

Hart estimated the cost of the effort to honor Baker at "a minimum" of $12,000 to $15,000. Most of it has been raised but the camp still has some fund-raising to do, he said. He noted that four years ago the camp raised $35,000 to restore a local Confederate monument.

Hart said "what was really neat" about the May 29 ceremony was that two of Baker's great-great-great grandsons, both recent graduates of Virginia Military Institute, assisted with the unveiling at the grave. "They were so proud to be there," Hart said.

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