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
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
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
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.