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.

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Some quick notes on Memorial Day at Fredericksburg National Cemetery

Members of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops, and the Civil War Civilians of Spotsylvania lead the Memorial Day procession up Charlotte Street past the Courtyard Fredericksburg Historic District. (CLINT SCHEMMER/THE FREE LANCE-STAR)

Click here for a slideshow of more local Memorial Day observances.

2:42 a.m. Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I suspect that anytime one walks alongside a large group of enthusiastic people engaged in excited conversation, it makes for a memorable experience.

Particularly if their ages run the gamut from 5 to 85.

So for me, Monday was an unusually noteworthy day as I reported on the procession of folks who walked from the Rappahannock River to Fredericksburg National Cemetery, following in the spirit of people who made the same journey six years after Appomattox to honor Union soldiers buried there.

At noon, when these individuals and many others gathered atop Marye’s Heights for the National Park Service’s annual ceremony, they were told it was the largest group that the current staff of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park remembered assembling there for Memorial Day.

Park Superintendent Russ Smith said their presence should remind others that, in some sense, “every day should be Memorial Day.”

I got the feeling that many in the crowd and that all of the dignitaries, from Jim Breeden of the local American Legion post to the Rev. Lawrence Davies to Congressman Rob Wittman, understood that idea very well.

Davies, who was Fredericksburg’s mayor for two decades, gave an energetic keynote address whose vision spanned from the Civil War to the present moment. It included many enlightening details, but before I can hope to do any justice to his remarks, a full report will have to await some sleep.

For now, let me end with his closing:

“Today, we have gathered on this sacred soil to honor and recognize every faction of the Civil War in which we were at odds with each other.

“Each faction represented here–North and South, black and white, male and female–can recognize and show appreciation for the principles for which the warriors within our nation–among them the souls who rest here today–sacrificed their lives,” Davies said.

“But now we have, with this reconciliation, a nation that has emerged from the monumental conflict of the Civil War–and as the victor in many other conflicts–a new nation, home of the brave and land of the free. Because of all of these things, we stand reconciled and united in proclaiming for …”

And then the retired minister moved seamlessly into quoting the lyrics of “America the Beautiful”:

heroes proved in liberating strife.

Who more than self their country loved,

And mercy more than life!

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!