July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd of this summer marked the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, the battle recognized as the bloodiest, and most significant, turning point in the American Civil War. North against South, brother against brother, the Civil War lasted exactly four years, from April of 1861, until April of 1865.
The commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg, known as a sesquicentennial, is an extremely significant event in our nation’s history, if you think about what would have happened had the Union lost that key battle, and then ultimately the war. So I was determined to be standing on one of the Gettysburg battlefields, on one of the most historical anniversary dates of what was, arguably the most, famous battle of the American Civil War, or any war on American soil.
I would also be able to attend the re-enactments planned by The Blue-Gray Alliance for June 29 & 30th. I had always remembered the excitement and disbelief I felt when I had accidentally stumbled upon Civil War re-enactors camped out in Forest Park about thirty years ago.
My experiences during my three days at Gettysburg were far more moving than I had even imagined, and I had wished I could have stayed the entire week rather than just a long weekend. The excitement of the re-enactments, the respect demonstrated in the 150th Commemoration Ceremony, the quiet reverence shown during the illumination of the soldiers’ graves, and just the serenity and beauty of the Military Park, touched in a way I won’t ever forget.
On Sunday evening, June 30th, a commemoration ceremony was held on the main lawn of the National Military Park and Cemetery. There was live music by the U.S. Military Academy Band, Trace Adkins sang the National Anthem, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, bestselling author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, delivered the Key Note Address. When that part of the ceremony was over, the hundreds of people attending it silently stood up, and quietly walked to the National Cemetery, to a field with nearly 1,000 illumination candles had been placed on the markers for unknown Civil War soldiers. Then a bugler played the most moving rendition of taps I had ever heard. It was an extremely respectful, solemn, and moving commemoration, that I felt very proud, and yet humbled, to be a part of it. It was hard not to become emotional.
New York and Gettysburg
It was on my third and last day there that I learned about the significant role New York had in the American Civil War, and Gettysburg. New York contributed about 465,000 soldiers to Union armed forces, more than any other state, and over 50,000 of them died.
It then made sense why the New York State Memorial in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg is the tallest monument in all of Gettysburg National Military Park. It was dedicated in 1893, and is about ninety feet tall. As you enter the National Cemetery, the New York State Memorial is the first thing you see, and it was quite a sight to behold.
So when I returned home from Gettysburg, the whole experience was far from being out of my system, especially since the actual three-day anniversary wasn’t even over yet. So on July 3rd, day three of the actual battle, I headed over to The Evergreens Cemetery, on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, in search of some civil war graves, and to pay my respects.
Civil War Graves
The first Civil War graves I found were at the G.K Warren Post, and while I was reading some of the headstones my friend Danny Daddario, a worker at The Evergreens, as well as a historian and tour guide, happened to spot me. True to form, he immediately took me to some of the other key Civil War gravesites, one of which was an area for the 20th New York, and other members of the U.S. Colored Troops regiments. There weren’t very many headstones, but the few that were there were marked with the letters U.S.C.T., in addition to the soldiers’ name, company, and regiment.
He then brought me to exactly the type of grave I was hoping to find, that of a Civil War soldier who had fought in the Battle of Gettysburg. According to Mr. Daddario, this soldier had taken his own life, while still in service, and was therefore not entitled to a military headstone; I found this to be unfair, considering everything this soldier had done for his country. He was only 44 years old when he died, and his wife had an entire paragraph describing his service etched into the headstone she bought for him. Although the top of the headstone was very worn and difficult to read, it stated that he had fought in, and survived, the Battle of Gettysburg, was later captured, spent nearly two years at Andersonville prison in Georgia, and then served his country in the Modoc Indian Wars in Oregon, in 1873. Yet his death, likely caused by severe depression accompanying physical and mental trauma, was considered to be dishonorable by military standards of the day. At that time, those suffering post-traumatic stress were invisible casualties of war.
When I left The Evergreens I made a quick stop at Cypress Hills National Military Cemetery to try to find some Civil War, and specifically confederate graves, that Mr. Daddario had told me about. Ridiculous as it sounds, I didn’t realize that there was a National Military Cemetery in my own neighborhood, let alone one that contained the graves of confederate soldiers. But at least I can share these facts with my students at PS229Q, to ensure that the next generation is aware of these local treasures.
I then went to the Cypress Hills private cemetery, and found plenty of sections with Civil War soldiers as well as confederate soldiers from states such as South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.
So clearly there is no shortage of local history about the Civil War, and even the Battle of Gettysburg, in our own area to keep civil war buffs and historians engaged in their pursuits of discovery and documentation. And although most of that history is found in our local cemeteries, there are a few stories that have to do with events that occurred
outside of the many Civil War internments found here.
The story that is closest to home, and the one I am naturally most fascinated by, has appeared in past issues of the Juniper Berry magazine/website. The story is about one of the first families to settle in Queens County, and who purchased land in Maspeth in 1656. Generations later they spread to Middle Village, and eventually built a tavern that was located on the site of the C-Town at 75-43 Metropolitan Avenue. The basement of that tavern was used briefly to hold Confederate prisoners, during the Civil War. I’m sure one can deduce that there must have been other buildings in the area that were used for that same purpose.
One rather interesting Civil War grave that I discovered all on my own while exploring in All Faiths Lutheran Cemetery was that of Union Lieutenant Colonel Otto Botticher. It caught my eye because he had a new military headstone, which was hidden away in one of the older private sections. What makes him interesting is that his tombstone reads “American Lithographer.” So when I got home I went straight to the Internet, man’s greatest invention for part-time historians such as myself, and found an entire bio about him, as well as images of some of his beautiful 19th century military and Civil War Lithographs.
One of his most famous lithographs, entitled, “Union Soldiers at Salisbury N.C.,” depicts Union prisoners of war from the 165th New York Volunteer Regiment, playing baseball at the Confederate prison camp there. What is even more fascinating is that this is one of the earliest images of baseball being played in America. Although various forms of the game were being played in England and America, the modern rules of the game were not developed until the 1850s. The rules, also known as the Knickerbocker Code, had their origins in New York City in 1845. Union soldiers from New York, more familiar with the game, introduced Southerners and Westerners to baseball throughout the Civil War, resulting in thousands of soldiers learning the game. 1
All Faiths Cemetery is also the home of several Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), Posts’ Gravesites. The GAR was actually the first veterans’ organization founded exactly one year after the end of the Civil War.
Although it is no surprise that New York City is the final resting place for thousands of Union Civil War soldiers and officers, I was still intrigued to find that there are so many Confederate soldiers buried here in New York City, many right in our own neighborhoods. In addition to that, I found out from a former classmate of mine who is also a Civil War re-enactor, that there are six Confederate generals buried in our own Green-Wood Cemetery.
So how did six Confederate generals end up buried so far north of the Mason Dixon Line in Brooklyn, New York? The answer is what makes the American Civil War so unique in the eyes of the rest of the modern world. Nearly every General on both sides of the Civil War attended West Point Military Academy in Orange County, NY, including Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate Army. In addition, many Southern officers, as well as civilians, had located in the north before 1861 for economic or other reasons. Therefore, many formed strong ties to New York. Yet when the War began, their strong sympathizers with the Confederacy pulled them back home to the South, where they swore allegiance to General Lee. In some cases, those who died during the Great War were buried in the North, because of previous contacts with our area.
As it turns out, one of those six Confederate Generals buried at Green-wood, Robert Selden Garnett, who was the first General killed at the start of the Civil War, was first buried in Baltimore by his family. Later the family decided to move his burial place so he could forever rest with his wife and son who had died in their home in New York before the war even started.2
One of the other Confederate Generals buried at Green-Wood is William Barksdale, who happened to die on the final day at The Battle of Gettysburg. For years Confederate soldiers and officers were interred in unmarked graves in the north, for fear of anti-Southern sentiments but it was not only Confederate soldiers who ended up in unmarked graves, sometimes lost for all eternity. Unidentified Civil War soldiers from both sides were buried in mass graves on battlefields like Gettysburg. Some ended up in a potter’s field, only to be covered over by city parks. And still others were buried on their family’s land. Their resting places were never marked or paved over by parking lots to feed America’s demand for more shopping stores.
Green-Wood Cemetery is now in its tenth year of something called the Civil War project. Green-Wood Cemetery’s historian Jeffrey I. Richman, along with hundreds of volunteers, have spent ten years, and counting, identifying and locating the graves of thousands of Civil War veterans, many in unmarked graves. The Civil War project has since applied to the Veterans Administration for gravestones and bronze markers for many of the unmarked Civil War soldiers’ graves.
My only personal connection to the Civil War, besides my love of American History, is the fact that I have two great-great-great grandfathers, both on my mother’s side of the family, who served during the Civil War. One of them, Martin Ebert, was part of the 119th New York infantry and later with the 178th New York, and therefore might have been at Gettysburg with the 119th New York.
To view all Ms. Roswell’s photos from these events, just search “Gettysburg Photos” on Facebook, and click on Photos/Albums.