From John Hennessy:
[A note: I’ll be sharing occasional musings, curiosities, and discoveries about my research on Twitter henceforth–@JohnHennessy2]
Memorial Day in Fredericksburg is always special. This is a community touched deeply by war, and the quest to accord meaning and understanding to the loss is an annual rite, often intensely felt.
The day began, as it does every year, at the Confederate Cemetery at the head of Amelia Street. Compared to the NPS effort in the National Cemetery, this ceremony is almost always more colorful and musical, and often more compelling. Today Bill Freehling spoke about the six Confederate generals buried in the cemetery.
The ceremony at the Confederate Cemetery is managed by the Ladies Memorial Association of Fredericksburg, one of only two LMAs remaining in Fredericksburg. The continuity of the Fredericksburg LMA’s efforts over the decades is one thing that makes this ceremony so powerful each year. It is the definition of tradition and a heartfelt expression to the spirit of those who served and fell under the Confederate flag.
While most years the ceremony in the Confederate Cemetery is the better ticket, this year the ceremony in the National Cemetery got more attention. This year, the 23d USCT (re-constituted) resurrected the long-ago tradition of members of the African-American community leading the Memorial Day services in the cemetery. We have discussed the end of those services here.
The 23d USCT, with a considerable throng of citizens trailing behind, marched through the streets of Fredericksburg to the cemetery, where they were joined by members of the 13th Virginia and 3d U.S. Infantry.
Rev. Lawrence Davies (former mayor and pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church Old Site) offered up thoughtful, direct, and hopeful address on the importance of the traditional connection of the African-American community to the practice of honoring the dead in the Fredericksburg cemetery. More than that, he offered up the idea that the effort was vitally important today, as an expression of reconciliation–not between sections, but between, as he called it, “factions” within the community.
Today was, indeed, the first time that we know that any sort of organized groups representing the African American Community, the former Confederacy, and the U.S. Army came together to observe Memorial Day in Fredericksburg.
I hear constant rumblings that some think this a bad thing or a bad idea. I daresay no one who was there today could thoughtfully label it such. The audience in attendance–about 350–was the largest the ceremony has seen in many, many years.
It was a good day for history in Fredericksburg.
The procession from the church to the cemetery was joined by a few self-styled “Flaggers,” each bearing a Confederate flag. They were respectful and genial every step, as was, I think, the audience toward them.
A passing shot: here is Captain James Keith Boswell’s grave at the Confederate Cemetery this morning. He fell in the volley that mortally wounded Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville.