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  • Memorial Day; Yorktown, Virginia

    Today I visited the Civil War federal cemetery in Yorktown, Virginia. There are soldiers from both sides, white and black, buried there. I had been there before; it's just up the road a bit, off the beaten path and quite serene. I returned at the behest of my fellow OS&RR peeps who were interested in learning whether the parks department allowed flags on the grave sites of CSA soldiers, as well as Union soldiers. The answer, to a small degree, is yes.

    *Clicky picture for embiggened view*

    As you can see, it's not that big for having over 2100 buried there. Only about 750 are identified. The stones contain the plot number for the stone, and any known information about the interred. Far too many of those buried, over 1400, are unknown. Many of the unknown are buried together. This particular cemetery also did not "segregate:" Blacks, Whites, Union, Confederate, are all buried together inside the walls of this somber site, although there are only 10 CSA soldiers here.

    There is a second cemetery for only CSA soldiers at a "nearby" location which is not on any map to which I have access.


    I took the kids with me on this trip for a history lesson. It was very hard for me. Our lesson ended early; I could not carry on. All I could do is allow my heart to cry for these men. I cannot be prevented from hoping for peace during this strange era of aggression and fear, nor can I keep myself from feeling a sense of loss as I look across the rows of flags and stones.

    Will my soldier's mission end like this?


    Yorktown is the scene of a few military "firsts":
    • first land mines (planted by CSA)
    • first aerial reconnaissance (conducted by Union)
    Yorktown was also the scene of the last siege during the Revolution, and the first siege of the Civil War. Initially, the Union attempted to keep their war dead buried in a uniform fashion with as many details as possible carved into wooden headboards. As the war progressed, soldiers from around the peninsula were sent to be interred there. After a fast-and-furious skirmish, many were buried where they lay with nothing more than a large stick to mark the location.

    About a year after the war was over, the war department decided to exhume the war dead and give them proper burials in a federally-funded cemetery. Not all could be identified. In some cases, several soldiers were buried together. Soldiers from about 50 burial sites around Virginia were also re-interred here.

    Only 10 of the soldiers interred in the "official" cemetery are Confederates, and their stones are marked as such. There is no official list of the war dead buried in the Confederate cemetery, nor is there a burial count. According to the historian Jim Bishop in his 1955 book, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, he states that the US "would never official count the Confederate dead, would never even keep records of the Confederate wounded." Although private historians have these numbers, the United States of America does not recognize them.

    Why this is so is simple. The United States of America never did recognize the formation of the Confederacy, and never looked on the seceded states as being anything other than anarchist militants. In today's terminology, the Federal government exercised martial law in order to stamp out the rebellion. Those who engaged in the rebellion, therefore, deserved no recognition for their part.

    This is rather cold-hearted, in my opinion. The Confederate soldiers were of two groups: draftees with no choice and volunteers who believed in their cause. This mirrors the state of mind of the Union soldiers, who could have been divided into two identical groups. I hope none of them died in vain.


    There are many ills that are still injuring this great nation: racism, religious bias, poverty. Worst of all is apathy. Visiting this cemetery has brought to mind that there is still hope out there, if only we'd look into ourselves to find it. The saying really is true: it only takes one person to change the course of history. Let it begin with us.


    Regina said...

    "Will my soldier's mission end like this?"

    I hope not, Soo...I surely hope not.

    (FWIW, I just said a prayer for you both to get through.)

    Thanks for sharing your trip.

    Soo Mi said...

    Thank you for sharing it with me.

    lowercase becky said...

    Soo, I can't thank you enough for doing this. It's sort of an eerie feeling, isn't it? I've been to Vicksburg, Miss. many times, and as beautiful as it is, it's like time stood still in many ways. I always wanted to cry when I was there, even tho I was too young at the time to know why. I got it years later. Maybe that's one reason I have such an interest in the Civil War. Imagine being buried "disrecognized". What did that do to the families? I have many "disrecognized" ancestors. And it still hurts. What I find interesting, and I never knew it before, is that the cemeteries weren't segregated. Amazing.

    Any way, I really appreciate you doing this for those of us who are interested, but to remote to do it for ourselves.


    Soo Mi said...

    You're welcome.

    I will admit that I was surprised to see the tiny CSA flags at the base of the stones. Perhaps the US is changing its tune concerning legitimizing the CSA soldiers; I don't know.

    Interestingly enough, when I looked around for that "nearby" CSA cemetery I could not find it. Granted, I didn't wander far; I'm notorious for getting lost.

    I will find it, some day. It's my new mission.

    The Hermit said...

    In Georgia, April is Confederate Heritage Month (whether the politicians want it to be or not) and cemetaries where Confederate Soldiers are buried are decorated with the Stars and Bars. My great, great Grandfather was a private in B Company, 54th Georgia Infantry, and fought the entire war. He was one of those who believed in the cause.

    Soo Mi said...

    Thank you for the information. I try to remain neutral on this issue, because it was so incredibly decisive. Each side had valid points, in my opinion.

    However, I will share that I was a bit surprised to find the government offices in Augusta, GA closed one day in April due to Confederate Memorial Day.

    I thought to myself, of course. All soldiers who died honorably should be memorialized, even if they did not follow my ideology.