Friday, November 28, 2014

Two Days and Eleven Lights: Day One

My sister and I had been on the shorter "Passage to Five" excursion offered by Chesapeake Lights in May; before we'd even gotten off the boat that day, we'd signed up for the once annual 2-day trip that takes place every August. Update May 2021: Unfortunately, Chesapeake Lights no longer offers lighthouse tours.

The lighthouses of the Chesapeake Bay are a varied offering of (almost) comical mishaps (one was mistaken as a target and bombed by the Navy), unexplained tragedy, spooky hauntings, and lessons in bravery in the face of almost constant danger.

Every year in early August, Captain Jack Richards takes his boat, the M/V Sharps Island, and 14 lucky passengers, on a tour of the southern part of the Chesapeake Bay to see 11 lighthouses or former lighthouses (three are bases of former lighthouses with lights attached). For lighthouse fans this is a must-do tour! But even if you're not a huge fan, the lighthouses and stories of the Bay are interesting, and the opportunity to become better acquainted with the Chesapeake Bay and the communities on it is wonderful. For instance we learned that the poles sticking out of the water every once in a while, such as the photograph below, are pound nets -- a way of fishing that only a few watermen, with special licenses, are authorized to run.

Captain Jack and First Mate Jane are no-nonsense but pleasant to tour with, and very knowledgeable about the Cheseapeake Bay, having several decades of experience between them). If they say move, then you'd best move, because there's a reason for it. If they say "clamp on," then you best find something to grab, because they're anticipating a bump of some sort. Although we had no excitement (thank god) on our trip, they started the 2-day excursion with a serious talk about safety and the need to listen to the captain  (or the first mate) if they start barking orders.

We left out of Tilghman Island on a beautiful Saturday for the 2-day tour (and yes, the theme song for Gilligan's Island was hummed by several of us). The skies eventually turned overcast further south in the Bay. The first stop on our itinerary was a lighthouse I'd already visited by land, Cove Point Lighthouse. Unlike the Passage to Five excursion that we'd enjoyed earlier this summer, several of the lighthouses we were seeing that day were also accessible by land. However, seeing the lighthouses by water -- the way they were meant to be viewed -- gave a better perspective.

We learned that lights on the Chesapeake Bay are to alert navigators to water hazards as well as to serve as navigational aids -- if you see the Cove Point Lighthouse, for example, then you're on the northside of the mouth of the Patuxent River. In several places on the Bay, land is distant and hazy, with few readily identifiable landmarks to let boaters know exactly where they are. In the years before GPS provided pretty accurate locations, the lights told you where you were -- which river you were happening upon or which island you were near.

The next lighthouse was, interestingly enough, named Point No Point Lighthouse. Sometimes you really have to wonder how these lighthouses were named. Point No Point lighthouse, unlike several of the others on the Chesapeake Bay's Western Shore, doesn't mark a light, although there are nearby shoals that pose a hazard. It stands two miles removed from the shore, six miles north of Point Lookout and the entrance to the Potomac River.

This lighthouse's life began when it ran away from the worksite. Work began on the lighthouse in 1901, but it was plagued with problems from the get-go. Shortly after the caisson was towed to the site in April 1903, disaster struck. A temporary construction pier built by the contractors during the previous season collapsed, and the caisson, which was secured to the pier, overturned and floated away. A tugboat trailed after the wayward caisson and picked it up the next day off Rappahannock River, 40 miles south of the construction site -- such excitement! The caisson was towed to Solomons, MD where it was repaired. Finally, on October 21st the caisson was towed back to the site, and secured. The lighthouse was finally completed in June 1904.

In 1938, Point No Point Lighthouse became fully automated, though this did not mean that it was soon bereft of keepers. A crew of coastguardsmen remained at the lighthouse until 1962, when it was finally converted to unmanned operation.

Next stop was Point Lookout, at the southernmost tip of Maryland's western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, where the Potomac River flows into the Chesapeake Bay. Point Lookout Lighthouse is an original structure that has a reputation for being haunted. Also unlike many other lighthouses, this lighthouse had several women keepers.

There are many eerie claims that this lighthouse is haunted (and given Point Lookout's Civil War history, there is certainly the catalyst for a good haunting). The Civil War completely transformed the point. First, the Hammond General Hospital was built in 1862 to care for Union wounded. In 1863, Confederate prisoners began to be held at the hospital; and soon Camp Hoffman, a vast prison camp, was built, eventually holding 20,000 prisoners, of whom more than 3,000 died due to the harsh conditions, limited food rations and poor shelter from the elements.

We then headed south of the Potomac River, into Virginia, to the Smith Point Lighthouse. "Smith Point," at the mouth of the Potomac River, has been marked by a succession of lights, having been served by three towers, three lightships, a screw-pile lighthouse, and the present structure. The first light went up in 1802.

Interestingly, if you've ever wanted to live in a lighthouse, here's your chance -- the lighthouse is for sale, for about $500,000, featuring "a water view from every window." Almost affordable. There's no flood insurance to be had for it though, as it's in a "flood plain."

For a late lunch (around 1:30 p.m., and we were famished!), we headed over to Tangier Island. Tangier Island was really fascinating. I'd never been to one of the islands on the Chesapeake Bay, other than the readily accessible Tilghman Island, which, although parts of it still hark back to the original island working community, much is getting built up with vacation homes. It's fast losing its character.

Tangier Island is inaccessible enough -- only by boat or, surprisingly, airplane -- that it not only retains it's unique, authentic waterman community character, but the inhabitants still retain a unique accent that more closely resembles English from Restoration Era England than the East Coast southern twang you'd expect on the mainland. I kept walking slowly past people who looked as if they lived on the island to eaves drop so I could hear the accent for myself, until I realized how creepy that made me seem.

As you leave the docks of the boat or ferry that brings you to Tangier Island, there are several old ladies in golf carts who will take you on a $5 tour of the island. Take it (and then please tip generously). Although the tour points out some silly things ("over here is the old health center; over there is the new health center" (ironically right next to a graveyard), and "there's a souvenir shop, there's some interesting things in it"), it's a good way to hear some of the history of the island and get a sense of what life is like there -- one thing is for sure: it's still continuing on.

Tangier has a school with 12 grades, with about 80 students. We learned that although crabbing and oystering is a big source of employment, a lot of the "young men" are hiring themselves out to run barges along the Chesapeake Bay. We learned that fairly recently they got high speed internet on the island, although that hasn't changed much, and that most people shop on the mainland (although there's a grocery store on the island), taking the ferry across to Crisfield.

As you walk around the island, you'll notice a lot of graves in front and side yards. It's a casual approach to death that eludes us mainlanders. Wikipedia notes this is "an old custom once common in colonial America prevailed into the early twentieth century: families often buried their relatives in the yards of their homes. This custom was abandoned because of the space limitation of the small yards on Tangier, and there are now churchyard cemeteries at each of the island's churches." But signs on the island, and the lady tour guides themselves, say this is because the only place fitting for graves is also, unfortunately, the only place fitting to build a house: high land. They don't want their loved ones to float away. Tangier Island is just 3 feet above sea level. Mother Nature sneezes and the island is flooded.

Sadly, Tangier Island itself is endangered, as it is sinking and eroding away. And like many other disappearing islands of the Chesapeake Bay, it'll be gone someday.

Know before you go #1: Several of the lighthouses may be visited by land, Cove Point and Point Lookout among them. The website for Point Lookout State Park is
Know before you go #2: A hat; a camera with extra batteries, memory cards and a camera "rain jacket" to shield your technology from the wave spray that occasionally gets kicked up; sun block (which you should put on at the beginning and refresh every few hours; and bug spray are well advised. Pack a few snacks as lunch on day one is a late lunch.

Tip#3: If you don't go on the lighthouse tour, visit Tangier Island anyway. There's enough there that I could have made a whole day trip to it. Drive to Crisfield, take the ferry over to Tangier Island, have lunch at one of the Islands two restaurants, walk around the island, take photos of the birds (apparently birding is a great reason to visit the island), purchase a few souvenirs, board the ferry and head back to the mainland. There are one or two bed and breakfast inns on the island as well.

Check out this post for Part 2 of this trip!

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Updated May 2021

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Famous and the Blameless at Laurel Hill Cemetery

If you are at all interested in exploring a cemetery, then Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia, is the one you should start out with -- especially if you think it'll be the ONLY one you decide to tour.

Laurel Hill's creators and organizers intended the cemetery to serve as a civic institution designed for public use. The cemetery was founded in 1836 by John Jay Smith, who was distressed at the way his deceased daughter was interred in a Philadelphia churchyard. He and other prominent citizens decided to create a rural garden cemetery five miles north of Philadelphia, a location that was viewed as a haven from urban expansion and a respite from the increasingly industrialized city center.

Before public parks and museums became commonplace, rural garden cemeteries, and Laurel Hill in particular, were multi-purpose cultural attractions where people could experience the art and refinement previously known only to the wealthy. Artists furnished lovely statuary for the more well-to-do inhabitants, and paths and roads were laid out with an eye to gradually revealing pleasant views and landscaping arrangements.

Not surprisingly, given its location on the bluff overlooking the Schuylkill River, Laurel Hill became an immensely popular destination in its early years and required tickets for admission! Nowadays people look askance when I mention I'm a tombstone tourist and have just spent an afternoon exploring a cemetery. Writer Andrew Jackson Downing reported “nearly 30,000 persons…entered the gates between April and December, 1848.” Wow!

Today, however, you can find a solitude there that you can't find in most nearby state parks, walking on hiking trails frequented by the gabbling hordes. As my husband and I strolled around Laurel Hill, we encountered several couples, of varying ages, who drifted from tombstone to tombstone -- tombstone tourists like us. There was a group of four women, obviously related, who diligently photographed the more lovely markers. One woman I encountered took a more organized approach, seeming to photograph each one and names and dates in one family plot, I wondered whether she was a genealogist. One elderly woman I spoke with admitted she loves visited cemeteries, like I do, recommended one in New York that we "must see" and said she was at Laurel Hill, on that particular day, with her adult son and his dog. They were celebrating his birthday together doing what they enjoyed doing the most. But that was it -- in an incredibly large urban park.

Even if you're totally alone -- and sometimes it seems that way in a hilly cemetery, where trees, monuments, and rolling hills can obscure the view of other living creatures -- cemeteries like Laurel Hill; Hollywood in Richmond; Mount Olivet in Frederick, MD; and Loudon Park in Baltimore are far from creepy. The city street noises echo through, although muffled, and in Laurel Hill, I heard the sounds of a rowing race in the river below. Birds twittered from the trees, and squirrels played hide and seek among the stones. It is not spooky, and so far (knock on wood), I've never encountered the restless dead. What I did encounter were some very unique markers -- artistic expression in marble and granite, that tried to represent the lives just lived, or their hopes for the next life.

During and after the American Civil War, Laurel Hill became the final resting place of hundreds of military figures, including 42 Civil War-era generals, including Battle of Gettysburg victor General George Gordon Meade. Like the Victorians before us, we picnicked in the cemetery, on a bench near Meade his grave.

The view from the cemetery, overlooking the Schuylkill River. 
Laurel Hill became the favored burial place for many of Philadelphia's most prominent political and business figures, including Matthias W. Baldwin, founder of the Baldwin Locomotive Works; Henry Disston, owner of the largest saw factory in the world (the Disston Saw Works); and financier Peter A. B. Widener. Civil War generals and military heros can be found there, as well as Revolutionary War figures, whose remains were moved there by the cemetery's organizers, who wished to make Laurel Hill the place to be, or rather, The Place to be buried.

There are several notable monuments memorializing more modern people. For example, there's the very interesting giant mike and bright blue stadium chairs marker for Harry Kalas. For those of you who are not Phillies fans, Kalas was an American sportscaster, best known for his Ford C. Frick Award-winning role as lead play-by-play announcer for Major League Baseball's Philadelphia Phillies, a position he held from 1971 until his death in 2009. We also saw the breathtaking sculpture Aspiration by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth, the Berwind tomb monument -- possibly my favorite of all the monuments that I've seen.

Of all the cemeteries I've visited so far, Laurel Hill is by far the most organized for fund raising.
It holds the Gravediggers Ball annually. Every fourth Friday there are walking tours. The cemetery even sells logo'd apparel. And there are several books written about it, including the $5 guide to the cemetery which you can purchase from the cemetery office. Visitors to Laurel Hill can now bring their cell phones and tune into an audio tour that highlights the oldest section of the Cemetery. An introductory exhibit, kiosk with maps, directions for dialing in, and the first stop are all located at the main entrance.

Interestingly, it also offers, on its web site, a brochure to make the cemetery interesting to kids, called the "I Spy Tombstone Hunt." This brochure, downloadable from the website, introduces kids to types of tombstone, what the different symbology is, how to recognize the grave of a Civil War Union soldier, and the different materials used in tombstones, including the fabulous "white bronze."

Getting there: Laurel Hill Cemetery’s main entrance is located at 3822 Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19132. Visitors can also access the site via a secondary entrance, located immediately off of Kelly Drive on Hunting Park Avenue.

Hours: Laurel Hill Cemetery’s gates and office are open Monday – Friday 8 a.m. - 4:30 pm; 
Saturday – Sunday 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Except in the case of special events, all vehicles and foot traffic must exit the cemetery grounds by 4:30 p.m. daily. Although the lady in the office said it's only closed on Christmas and New Year's Day, but sometimes opened up on Christmas, the website indicates the the cemetery is closed on major holidays, including New Year’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas; admission is free except for tours.

Dogs: yes!

Explore other interesting cemeteries in the mid-Atlantic region:

Updated October 2021

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Retracing a Veteran Ancestor's Steps in Cold Harbor National Battlefield

When my husband and I had visited Richmond last June, my sister reminded me that our ancestor, George Washington Spertzel, the second generation of Spertzels in the United States, had fought at Cold Harbor.

I'm pretty proud of his story and his service to our country, and that's why I'm writing about our visit to Cold Harbor and George Washington Spertzel this week.

George (sometimes he went by his middle name) had enlisted on 1 November, 1861 in the 101st Pennsylvania, a Civil War Volunteer Infantry Regiment, that joined McClellan's Army of the Potomac for the Peninsula campaign in which McClellan fought his way to the outskirts of Richmond. In May 1862, his regiment fought at Seven Pines, and George was injured on May 31, at Fair Oaks, VA (i.e., Seven Pines). The specifics of his injury are unknown, but they were likely fairly minor, as he remained attached to the 101st,

After the Peninsula Campaign ended, George's regiment was sent to coastal North Carolina and soon became a part of the ill-fated garrison at Plymouth (more on that in a minute). He was discharged almost a year later on 1 April on a "Surgeon's Certificate" for rheumatic knees. His discharge was from New Bern, NC.

He may have had reason to be grateful for his painful knees, because a year later, in April 1864, with help from a rebel iron-clad, Confederate General R. F. Hoke captured the entire Union garrison, including the 101st Pennsylvania. The enlisted men were imprisoned in Andersonville, GA, where the death rate was appalling. Only a small fraction of the prisoners of war that walked into the prison camp ever made it out. To me, it seems he dodged almost certain death, for which, obviously, I am profoundly grateful. I wonder if he knew about the fate of his former regiment?

But by then, George, using his middle name of "Washington," had re-enrolled in Company B of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, and by June 1864 he again found himself near Fair Oaks, the site of his original injury. Except this time, it was a few miles further south and he was in Cold Harbor, VA.

So that's one reason why we were there. Cold Harbor, which my husband and I visited last weekend, is interesting for its earthworks, which was a fairly new innovation in the art of warfare; the earthworks preserved there are some of the best to be found anywhere in the United States, and stretched out for 7 miles. It's an impressive amount of work, digging those ditches!

There are several trails and a pleasant mile-long drive through the 180 or so acres that make up the battlefield park. Most of the surrounding land is farmed or has homes scattered on it. It was there that Grant's Army of the Potomac unsuccessfully clashed with Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Nearly 13,000 Union troopers were injured or killed, compared with just 5,000 Confederates (by then it was a war of numbers, and Grant had more men to spare). Grant's goal was Richmond, but Lee again successfully deflected the threat. Grant never forgave himself for this battle. He considered the losses too great for no gain at all.

George, as with any individual soldier, experienced only a slice of the overall battle. Although his experiences are unrecorded, there is a history of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry that provides a pretty detailed account of the regiment's part of the Battle, and it helped me imagine what he went through. According to a history of the 21st Pennsylvania Cavalry, at noon on 2 June, the regiment was sent to the left of the Fifth Corps, where it was ordered to throw up breast-works. These were barely completed, before the enemy opened upon it a flank fire from his artillery.

On the following morning, the regiment was ordered a half-mile to the right, to the support of a battery, and at seven, the enemy brought his twenty-four pounders into play, killing two men and three horses belonging to the battery. The regiment was subsequently ordered to the front line,and in reaching it, was obliged to pass over a grain-field which was raked by the enemy's infantry and artillery fire. The charge across this was gallantly made, but with a loss of eight killed and nineteen wounded. A galling fire was kept up during the entire day from behind breast-works, and, notwithstanding this protection, George's regiment suffered considerable additional loss, with another 11 killed and 46 wounded.

I don't know whether we came close to the breastworks that George fought in during the battle. We certainly checked out several earthworks along the Union lines (from the confines of the designated path). I don't know whether he was there, within the park confines, or further beyond, on privately owned land that Civil War tourists are discouraged from trespassing upon.

This ancestor of mine could claim to have seen some of this country's most historic events. Although he missed the Battle of Gettysburg, he was living just a few miles away during it, and surely heard the guns fire and the cannon blast. He lived through some of the most notable and deadliest battles of the Civil War. What he thought about all that is lost. He lived until February 1902, and he is buried in Idaville United Methodist Church Cemetery, not far from where my own father was born, near York Springs, in a small farm house.

Monument to the Pennsylvania Union troops
who fought at Cold Harbor, located at the
Cold Harbor National Cemetery.
Cold Harbor National Battlefield is one of several contained within the Richmond National Battlefield Park. On our last trip, we visited Tredegar Ironworks, which is the National Park Visitor's Center for the Richmond National Battlefield Park. It's located next to the American Civil War Museum, also a must-do for the Civil War buff.

Getting there: 5515 Anderson-Wright Dr.,Mechanicsville, VA 23111

Hours: Park battlefield areas are open sunrise to sunset.

Dogs: Dogs are allowed but must be leashed at all times.


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Monday, November 10, 2014

Remembering Our Dead

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat 
The soldier's last tattoo; 
No more on life's parade shall meet 
The brave and daring few. 

On Fame's eternal camping-ground 
Their silent tents are spread, 
And Glory guards with solemn round 
The bivouac of the dead.

The Confederate graves at Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, VA.

In honor of Veterans Day, I thought I'd post this entry. This is an accidental blog: I hadn't originally planned a post around the National Cemetery in Winchester or Soldiers Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery in Front Royal, or for that matter, the Loudon Park National Cemetery in Baltimore, the Confederate memorial just a few hundred yards away in the civilian cemetery, or the National Cemetery at Cold Harbor, VA, until I started going through the 483 photos from 2 days in October dedicated to leaf peeping and seeing where the road took us. How we got so far off of our intended itinerary is the subject of still another blog post. This is the fun of day trips and the overnighters that are increasingly slipping into the blog: the unplanned and unexpected discoveries.

The National Cemetery at Loudon Park, in Baltimore. One hundred yards past the fence
in the back are the graves of the Confederate soldiers.

Seeing those cemeteries, I started thinking about childhood trips to the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, and of course, Arlington, VA. And more recently, unexpectedly coming across the Confederate graves at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Frederick (itself a Southern town, back in the day) and Loudon Park Cemetery in Baltimore. And of course, Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, with the biggest memorial to the Confederate dead of them all. My husband and I were both touched by the monuments of the cemeteries.

Confederate graves and statue of Robert E
Lee at Loudon Park Cemetery, near the
National Cemetery.
After the Civil War, the country -- North and South -- reflected on the War's toll. Two percent of the American population, mostly young men, had perished. And the South mourned the Lost Cause.

I've read other travel authors, who state that they can get a sense of a town's history through its cemeteries, that upon going to a new place, they seek out the cemeteries. Although I'm not so sure I can read a town through its dead, like reading someone's history through looking at her palm, there are clues. You can easily get a sense of who is who, by strolling through the local burial ground. Who thought they were so important, and had the money to back it up, that their grave marker was the biggest and most flamboyant? Which are the big family names? What did the town hold dear?

It's clear that Front Royal held dear its Confederate history. The Soldiers Circle, a simple yet striking tribute to Rebel soldiers who died in the Battle of Front Royal, makes that clear. Located on top of a hill overlooking the town, Soldiers Circle is composed of 90 graves marked by classically simple marble gravestones encircling a mass grave, topped by a striking monument honoring the Confederate dead.

Soldiers Circle in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Front Royal, VA.

In November 1868, the Ladies Warren Memorial Association (it's always the women, isn't it?) were chartered to collect the remains of dead Confederate soldiers buried in various sites around Warren County, VA. Locating, removing, and re-interring these remains was labor-intensive (and not very pleasant) and expensive, especially difficult in the post-Civil War era. In a short time, however, the Association had located the remains of 276 soldiers, representing each state of the Confederacy. The remains of 186 unidentified Confederates were buried in the center, and in 1882, the monument installed above the grave to memorialize it.

The monument to Col John Mosby.
The ladies also helped erect another monument Prospect Hill Cemetery in September 23, 1899, along with the survivors of Colonel John Singleton Mosby's celebrated Rangers in memory of their comrades who had been captured and executed by Union troops exactly 35 years earlier.

On that fateful day in 1864, between 80 and 100 Rangers of Mosby's 43rd Battalion Virginia Cavalry entered Front Royal to disrupt the supply lines of General Phil Sheridan's Valley Army, which at that time was battling Confederate General Jubal Early's Southern forces in the main Shenandoah Valley. This raid against the Union troops was no different than the dozens of other successful raids the Rangers had conducted in the previous 18 months. Its ending, however, would be vastly different and would be remembered as one of the most tragic episodes of a tragic war.

After setting up his ambush and engaging the enemy's ambulance train, Mosby realized that his command was being surrounded by General Wesley Merritt's cavalry division, which was following the ambulances. Mosby immediately initiated a retreat towards Chester Gap; the retreat quickly became a running gunfight. During this action, six of Mosby's Men were captured, and executed. Four of the six were shot before the horrified citizens of the town; the other two were offered their freedom if they would disclose the location of Mosby's headquarters. When they refused, they too were executed, hanged on a walnut tree that stood where the cemetery is now.

A monument remembering the work of the Ladies Hollywood
Memorial Association in Richmond, VA.
Many Southern towns seemed to have these Ladies Associations, which were dedicated to memorializing their Confederate heyday and celebrating the mythos of the Confederate "Lost Cause."  These women "with breaking hearts amid the gloom of defeat," according to the History of the Confederate Memorial Associations (Confederated Southern Memorial Association, 1904), took upon themselves the "care of the graves of the Confederate Dead, and erection of monuments to their memory," which "has ever been, and is, the special trust of the Memorial associations." The language of this pamphlet embodies the Victorian tendencies toward melodramatic excess that is often found in the Lost Cause mythos -- itself a topic worthy for a blog (although not this one).

The Ladies Warren Memorial Association was organized by Miss Mary Simpson, a member of a local family noted as teachers. Having had two brothers killed in the Confederate Army, Major Robert Simpson and John Simpson of the Warren Rifles, she personified Southern patriotism and in her home in Front Royal, organized the Warren Memorial Association, which established Prospect Hill Cemetery, the first public burial ground in Warren County. 

At first I thought that maybe that's how this town, like so many other little Southern towns in the late 1860s and the decades following the Civil War, came to terms with the defeat of the Confederacy. Maybe, I theorized, in collecting and burying their nameless dead (often in mass graves), and erecting monuments to the unidentified soldiers -- of which there were often more than those who could be identified -- was how they put the past behind them. Literally, burying it, wrapped in the glory of the Lost Cause. And once they did, perhaps they were taking the first necessary steps toward -- although it took decades -- moving forward as part of this nation. But as I did a little more research into the Ladies Memorial Associations, I realized this belief was mistaken. According to Caroline Janney in her book, Burying the Dead But Not the Past, the Ladies Memorial Associations made the Confederate burial places shrines that perpetuated nostalgia for a romanticized "Old South," where slavery and abusive slave owners didn't exist, a place that was a victim of Northern aggression; these "shrines" instead perpetuated the sense of southern victimhood and hostility.

To the Memory of the Unknown (Union) Dead of the Civil War, in the Loudon Park National Cemetery in Baltimore.

An estimated 700,000 soldiers, North and South, died in the Civil War. As the death toll rose, the U.S. Government struggled with the urgent, but unplanned need to bury fallen Union troops, and that's what propelled the creation of the national cemeteries. As early as September 1861, the War Department directed commanding officers to keep accurate and permanent records of deceased soldiers. Hasty graves near battles were all marked with numbered head boards, and the numbers were carefully recorded, against the future when these records would be needed to identify remains. An Omnibus Act in July 1862 directed the President to purchase land to be used as a National Cemetery "for soldiers who die in service to the country." By the end of 1862, 14 national cemeteries, most less than 10 acres, had been established. Cemetery sites were chosen where troops were concentrated: camps, hospitals, battlefields, and railroad hubs.

Six-inch square markers note the location of unknown soldiers; identified
soldiers are marked by the upright marble grave markers;
Winchester National Cemetery.
At the end of the Civil War, the grim task of surveying lands at the various battlefields to locate, count, and identify Union remains began. That's not a job I'd have wanted! The dead were identified by letters, receipts, diaries, photographs, marks on belts or cartridge boxes, and by interviewing relatives and survivors.

By 1872, 74 national cemeteries and and several "soldiers lots," together containing some 305,492 remains, had been established.

Despite the efforts and the War Department directive to keep careful records, about half were unidentified and unidentifiable. At first, only soldiers and sailors who died during the Civil War were allowed to be interred in the national cemeteries. In 1873, eligibility was expanded to all honorably discharged Union veterans.

Numerous Union soldiers from surrounding battlefields were re-interred at the Winchester National Cemetery, including those from the different battles of Winchester, the Battle of Front Royal, Battle of New Market, and Battle of Harpers Ferry, as well as actions at Snickers Gap, Martinsburg, WV, and Romney,WV.

In the Winchester National Cemetery, there are 14 monuments to Union regiments, corps, and states that either are represented by some of the soldiers buried in the cemetery and/or had participants in the 3rd Battle of Winchester. The oldest monument dates to 1864 and was erected for the 38th Massachusetts Infantry. There are also two "monuments," typical to National Cemeteries created for re-interred Union soldiers. They are both seven feet, six inches in height, and are made of an original cast iron seacoast artillery tube, secured by a concrete base. One is located on each side of the flagpole. In addition, An upright historical marker typical of those erected by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is also near the opening of the cemetery, with a focus on the Third Battle of Winchester, which occurred near there.

Plaques stationed around the cemetery, as well as several other national cemeteries, also provide stanzas from Theodore O'Hara's poem, "The Bivouac of the Dead," which I provided at the beginning and end of this post.

Confederate soldiers could not be buried in national cemeteries, nor were they afforded any benefits from the U.S. Government for many decades after the end of the Civil War. When the reburial corps in the late 1860s found the remains of Confederate soldiers lying near those of Union soldiers, they removed the Union soldiers but left the Confederates’ bodies. Because identification of remains was difficult at best, many Confederate soldiers were reburied in national cemeteries, unintentionally as Union soldiers. Confederate prisoners of war were often interred in “Confederate sections” within the national cemeteries.

Unknown  soldiers' marker
in Cold Harbor, VA
National Cemetery
But that left most the Confederate dead, often interred in shallow graves, scattered around field hospitals and battlefields, until the various memorial associations gathered them up and memorialized them in local burial grounds. And although my sympathies are clearly with the Union, I've come around to my husband's more egalitarian approach that as a nation we need to honor even these mens' lives and deaths -- and reclaim them as the Americans they were, every last one of them -- although not the banner and institutions for which they marched.

It's worth noting that in the Winchester National Cemetery, local men, who surely had living relatives who'd remembered the Civil War, were buried there after perishing in service to our country in World War I (and subsequent wars). By then these men and their families and their hometown all viewed themselves as American. I wonder what the families thought as their loved ones were laid to rest along side Union soldiers that two generations previously had fought against their families? I guess reconciliation came at last, although it took at least 50 years.

Future centuries of Americans will be able to read clues to the history of their country through these graveyards. I wonder if they will understand what they see?

No vision of the morrow's strife 
The warrior's dream alarms; 
No braying horn nor screaming fife 
At dawn shall call to arms.

Your own proud land's heroic soil 
Shall be your fitter grave; 
She claims from War his richest spoil - 
The ashes of her brave.

Getting there: Soldiers Hill is located in Prospect Hill Cemetery, Front Royal, VA; the Winchester National Cemetery is located at 401 National Avenue, Winchester, VA.

Hours: Daylight

Explore other interesting cemeteries in the mid-Atlantic region:

Detail from the frieze on the Maryland Monument in Loudon Park National Cemetery in Baltimore.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Autumn Glory in Swallow Falls State Park

"Autumn burned brightly, a running
flame through the mountains, a torch flung to the trees"
 ~ Faith Baldwin, American Family

We went on a weekend getaway in search of some romance, my husband and I. And in search of autumn's exquisite show. And maybe along the way, we'd visit some places we'd never been to before. After visiting Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive (in the rain and fog), we'd headed up to Oakland, MD to Swallow Falls State Park, in search of autumn glory.

Swallow Falls State Park is located on the west bank of the Youghiogheny River, not far from Oakland, and is considered one of the best places to go leaf peeping in early October. The park features Maryland's highest free falling waterfall, Muddy Creek Falls, as well as smaller waterfalls on the Youghiogheny River and Tolivar Creek. The park is also worth visiting to enjoy its stand of old hemlock trees, some more than 300 years old, one of the few remaining stands remaining in Maryland.

Muddy Creek is a crashing 53-foot waterfall. Tall hemlocks dominate the woods that the Canyon Creek Trail travels through. The 1 1/4-mile long trail guides hikers to some of the most breathtaking scenery in western Maryland.

We went where the more famous and noteworthy have trod before. This breathtaking scenery attracted Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone in the summer of 1921. Calling themselves "the Vagabonds," these three wealthy captains of industry camped at the top of Muddy Creek Falls. Although they are remembered as industrialists rather than for their interest in the outdoors, Ford himself often insisted that he was in reality just "a very simple man, a man of nature" who was an avid bird watcher and amateur astronomer.

Their heavy camp kitchen truck caved in a bridge on the road coming into the campsite -- so you know it wasn't hardship camping! But as a result, the crowds that tended to gather around these famous men couldn't visit them, allowing them the seclusion they sought.

They set up their tents and cots just in time for darkness, ate a modest meal from tin cans, and then turned in, tired from a long day of travel. The three men were in great spirits. That first morning, they stared at the falls for hours, sitting in canvas-backed lawn chairs, sharing humorous stories from their childhoods, lulled by the roar of the nearby falls.

At Muddy Creek Falls that summer, they were more concerned with connecting with nature than in their inventions and industry. The direct contact with nature they were seeking reinvigorated them -- as it can all of us who seek the beauty and wonder of the autumn season and the awesome falls.

My husband and I not only reconnected with nature along this beautiful little hike, but we started reconnecting with each other, another step on a continuous journey together.

Getting there: 222 Herrington Ln, Oakland, MD 21550

Hours: Dawn to dusk

Dogs: Perfect for your pooch!!


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