With all the research that has been done on the Civil War, at times it seems as if the individual is lost in the seas of voices, stories, and statistics. Armies are huge entities, regiments move like blocks on a map, and the individual experience is lost. I found that when looking at a cemetery or even during Memorial Day events, the whole scope of death and devastation was apparent as one took in the rows of uniform graves, but there was no deeper connection to the lives and deaths of the men sleeping below our feet. And why not? These men are the very reason we study this war, it is their actions, feelings, and thoughts that we see as a historian. They are the reason hundreds of books exist on the topic, they are the reason that a large National Park occupies the area of Fredericksburg, VA. So why not get acquainted with them? I will gladly admit that my view of that cemetery has changed over years as I have come to know some of its inhabitants. It is not uncommon for me to pass a grave now and speak a soft greeting to James Clark or Edith Tench as I walk by. Because I know them, I am now invested in their stories and retelling them to others.
Over the past few weeks I have shared the stories of just a few of the men buried in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. As many posts as I have done on this topic, I have barely scratched the surface. While there is information for some of these men, for others it is very limited or nonexistent. As much as historians will try to unravel the veil of death and obscurity from the soldiers buried there, the cemetery will always hold its secrets.
On this Memorial Day, I hope you will make a visit to a military cemetery or a local cemetery where veterans are buried, to visit the men and women who had sacrificed much for the sake our our country.
Kathleen Logothetis Thompson graduated from Siena College in May 2010 with a B.A. in History and a Certificate in Revolutionary Era Studies. She earned her M.A. in History from West Virginia University in May 2012. Her thesis “A Question of Life or Death: Suicide and Survival in the Union Army” examines wartime suicide among Union soldiers, its causes, and the reasons that army saw a relatively low suicide rate. She is currently pursuing her PhD at West Virginia University with research on mental trauma in the Civil War. In addition, Kathleen was a seasonal interpreter at Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park from 2010-2014 and has worked on various other publications and projects.