Civil War at 150: A memorial procession

Memorial Day weekend this year, I went with my friends  Ron and Patty to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y., for a procession to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the U.S. Civil War — a war in which my great, great grandfather Union Pvt. Arthur Bull served with the 6th New York Heavy Artillery.

Grave of Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching -- commander of my ancestor's 6th NYHA regiment -- at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y. His was one of 5,000 stones of Civil War soldiers that received luminaries for Green-Wood's night-time procession on 23 May 2015 marking the 150th Anniversary of the end of the U.S. Civil War. Photo by Molly Charboneau
May 2015: Grave of Bvt. Brig. Gen. J. Howard Kitching — commander of my ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment — at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Kings Co., N.Y. His was one of 5,000 stones of Civil War soldiers lit by luminaries for Green-Wood’s night-time procession on 23 May 2015 marking the 150th Anniversary of the end of the U.S. Civil War. Photo by Molly Charboneau

As the large, respectful crowd gathered at dusk to honor the 5,000 Civil War soldiers buried at Green-Wood, I thought back to four years before — when Patty and I marched in a similar procession commemorating the war’s beginning after volunteering that morning to place luminaries on Civil War soldiers’ graves.

That 2011 memorial event seemed so long ago — a four-year stretch that must have seemed even longer to combatants living rough and risking their lives on Civil War battlefronts, and to their families back home.

Before the start of this year’s procession, we three walked halfway across Green-Wood’s 478-acres to pay our respects at the grave of Union Brevet Brigadier General J. Howard Kitching — the fallen commander of my ancestor’s 6th NYHA regiment who died in 1865, at age 26, from injuries sustained at the Battle of Cedar Creek.

At BBG Kitching’s peaceful resting place in the shadow of an old-growth tree, we laid flowers on his grave and paused to remember him and the great cause for which he died — and to honor my ancestor who fought with him as well as Patty’s Union Army ancestor, who are both buried too far away to visit.

Then at sunset, we stepped off to the beat of regimental drums behind cavalry reenactors on horseback and slowly wound our way through the cemetery grounds as the moon came out, the stars grew bright and thousands of flickering luminaries cast their warm glow on the stones of the Civil War departed.

Ron expressed pleasant surprise at the size and diversity of the march — which drew young and old to remember and pay tribute to Civil War combatants and to find closure 150 years after the conflict’s end.

But I have learned in the course of writing this blog — and sharing the story of my ancestor Arthur Bull, his fellow combatants and even my civilian Irish ancestors in Civil War Baltimore — that large outpourings at Civil War events are not unusual.

Leaving Green-Wood after the procession, we passed a group of young Zouave reenactors in ornamental jackets and crimson pants tossing wood onto a roaring campfire in front of their tents — jumping back and laughing each time the flames shot up toward the dark night sky.

They were living reminders that — far from being forgotten — the memory of those who fought to end slavery, preserve the Union and set the country on a new path is rekindled in each new generation that connects with their heroic story.

More in the next post on my Union Army ancestor in postwar Virginia.

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