Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

RSS feed of this blog

Leahy to speak at National Cemetery on Memorial Day

MORE: Read more news from Fredericksburg

Last year, the gentleman speaking on Memorial Day at Fredericksburg National Cemetery was Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia.

This year, it will be Kevin Leahy, a former member of the Spotsylvania County Planning Commission who serves on the board of directors of the Central Virginia Battlefields Trust. He works for the Marine Corps, and was a historian at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

A strong advocate for historic preservation in the Fredericksburg area, Leahy played a role in Spotsylvania’s protection of the First Day at Chancellorsville battlefield, which had been proposed for a high-density, “new town” development.

Leahy’s remarks are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.

The National Cemetery holds the remains of more than 15,000 Union soldiers. Its earliest Memorial Day observances, in the 1860s, were organized by the town’s African Americans.

The cemetery was designed as a proper burial site for Northern soldiers killed in battles in the area, including the battles of Fredericksburg, the Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania Court House, Mine Run and North Anna River.

Many of those soldiers had not gotten a proper burial–or any at all. It took two years for workmen to scour the city and countryside, identify soldiers, and reinter them in an organized way in the cemetery.

The cemetery saw its first burial in 1866,  more than a year after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox. The first Decoration Day observance there was held in 1868. Wishing “to honor those who had died for their freedom,” African Americans came from as far away as Washington and Richmond to do so, according to Don Pfanz, staff historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.

Photo (above): Sgt. Beth Thomas of the U.S. Army’s Old Guard plays “Taps” at the close of a Memorial Day commemoration at the National Cemetery. Image by Mike Morones, The Free Lance-Star.