Memorial will honor gallant men of the Civil War


May 24, 1991|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Evening Sun Staff

GETTYSBURG, PA. — "My dear wife: I have to-day worshipped at the shrine of the dead. I went over to the Arlington Cemetery. . . . My friends and comrades, poor fellows, who followed my enthusiastic leadership those days, and followed it to the death . . . lie here, twenty-four of them. ... I found every grave and stood over it with uncovered head. I looked over nearly 16,000 head-boards to find the twenty-four, but they all died alike and I was determined to find them all. ..." --Rufus R. Dawes, commanding officer, Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, 1881.

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- Sgt. Amos Humiston of the 154th New York Infantry fell here. So did Elijah Leech, Tobias Jones, Phineas Durham and Abran Fletcher, a Wisconsin farmer-turned-private who was remembered for how he toted the rucksacks of several other, less strong comrades.

The Confederates and Federals fell often in those three days of madness, July 1-3, 1863. Great lines of men cut down by giant scythes of musket and artillery fire. They lay in lush meadows, groves and on green slopes at places like McPherson's Ridge, Wheatfield, Culp's Hill, Peach Orchard, Slaughter Pen, Devil's Den and Cemetery Ridge.

When Gen. Robert E. Lee finally retreated to Virginia in a driving rain, the toll was staggering: He had lost or could not account for about 28,000 men. His counterpart on the Union side, Gen. George Gordon Meade, counted 23,000 lost or wounded. Gettysburg, with a total body count of 51,000 men either killed, wounded or missing, stands as the single most bloody battle in American combat history.

Shortly after the Civil War ended in 1865, locals began speaking of spirits inhabiting places of the famous battles. Workers for a farmer named Forney refused to go into the fields after dark because there arose terrible clanging noises and voices. Even ,, today, occasional reports of such ghostly visitations reach the offices of the U.S. National Park Service here.

"Those reports are infrequent but usually come from the sites of massive casualties and mass graves," said John Andrews, a park ranger supervisor stationed at Gettysburg National Military Park.

On Monday, when the nation pauses to reflect on Memorial Day, attention will return to Gettysburg when the past from across the century will be interwoven with the present.

The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry [Old Guard], the keepers of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, will VTC for the first time in the 43-year history of the ceremonial unit travel outside the Washington area.

The Old Guard -- using a horse-drawn, 1918-vintage caisson that carried the body of President John F. Kennedy, followed by a riderless horse -- will carry the remains of Civil War dead to a burial site in the Gettysburg National Cemetery, only feet from where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his address Nov. 19, 1863.

There, after two platoons of Civil War re-enactment units leave a central walkway in ranks, the remains will be interred in a marked grave. As part of the full military honors funeral, an officer will salute the coffin, a 21-gun salute will be fired, and a bugler will sound taps. Then, the American flag will be folded into a crisp triangle and presented to a dignitary.

The procession will step off after a 2 p.m. service at the Presbyterian Church of Gettysburg at 208 Baltimore St., a church where Lincoln attended a Republican rally with, among others, John L. Burns, a cantankerous 72-year-old local cobbler who was wounded three times in the battle.

"We bury a lot of gallant men who served their country," said Capt. Gary Hopper, a ceremonies officer with the Old Guard at Fort Myer, Va., "but everybody on this detail feels the history of this Gettysburg assignment; it's very special."

Hopper said that because of uncertainty about the Civil War remains being interred Monday, "we really don't know if we're burying an enlisted man or officer, a Confederate or Union soldier. The issue of which flag to drape over the coffin arose, but it was quickly pointed out that we are now a united states."

The remains, in bones and bone fragments, come from the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War, acquired by the National Park Service in 1972 from various private collections, the largest having belonged to John H. Rosensteel. The collections represent 128 years of relic hunting by amateurs and professionals. Relic hunting is no longer legal at the national park.

"We know where collectors found them and most came from finds around High Water Mark [Pickett's Charge], Clingle Farm and Spangler Spring around Culp's Hill," said Park Ranger Andrews.

"The ceremony will be symbolic of the kind of tribute Memorial Day means to all veterans, and the remains symbolize sacrifices made in all of our nation's wars since the Civil War."

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