Thursday, November 25, 2010

seventeen men, give or take

i'm still processing the pictures and information from my trip to virginia last month. you know, because i can't just show you some pictures and call it done. oh, no. i have to organize it.

before i left home i picked a handful of small stones to take along with me. they were nothing very fancy; small and typical of vermont hillside geology. the thing is that i planned to visit the fredericksburg national cemetery and i had printed up a list of the vermont men who are known to be buried there.

i say "known to be buried there", because of the over 15,000 dead in the cemetery, only 2,473 have been identified. of the identified dead, there are 94 men that i know of who came from vermont. i don't even want to think about how many of the unidentified dead came from here. at wilderness alone 1,234 vermont men died, most of them in the same afternoon in the same small patch of woods. later on i'll tell you more about that, but not now.

so it just wouldn't be possible to go and pay my respects to all of them, but i decided to find as many of them as i had stones for. it's probably been a while since anyone called any of them by name, and for each one i found i looked up his full name and his unit, his hometown, and the place where he died.

i knelt down to place one of the stones on each of the graves, and had a few words with each of the men:

i know where you came from; i've been to your hometown. i know that when you left there you thought maybe you'd get to go back or at least they might send your body home and i know it's a poor substitute for home, but i've brought just a little piece of vermont to leave with you here.

it was hard to find them, all mixed in as they were with men who came from pennsylvania or new york or michigan, some of them buried here after dying on the sunken road, some after dying here in the hospital, some after lying out in the open out in the fields where they fell and brought here later.

so there wasn't much system to which men got my stones; i did not play favorites other than to bring my vermont stones to vermont men. i just walked around until i had given them all out. the randomness was pleasing to me, as if the method of sampling made my offering more properly for all of them, known and not.

oh, my boys, my boys;
each of you, every one
no matter where you came from
all a mother's precious son.

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my timeline details events in the war as relate to my seventeen men: their enlistments, promotions, and for all but one, when in the war they died.   the only battles listed are the battle fought by these men, and the only units listed are the units they belonged to. it is a very narrow view.

some of my pictures from that day can be seen here as a slideshow. the seventeen vermont men (and one wife) are posted there in order of their dates of death. the statue of richard kirkland isn't from the cemetery proper, but his story is worth knowing. it's also worth reading william jones's medal of honor citation:

Rank and organization: First Sergeant, Company A, 73d New York Infantry. Place and date: At Spotsylvania, Va., 12 May 1864. Entered service at: New York, N.Y. Birth: Ireland. Date of issue: 1 December 1864. Citation: Capture of flag of 65th Virginia Infantry (C.S.A.). 

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