A Memorial Day tradition at Fredericksburg National Cemetery continues
BY JOSEF W. ROKUS/FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
In 1993, Montfort Academy fifth-grader Kent Ingalls was preparing for the annual placement of flags on graves at Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Kent’s teacher told the class about a longtime cemetery mystery: flowers that appear every year at the gravestone of a Union soldier from Massachusetts.
Those flowers were no mystery to Kent, however. He told his classmates that after the Civil War, the soldier’s family had sent $100 to his great-great-great-grandfather, cemetery superintendent Andrew Birdsall, to place flowers at Jerome Peirce’s grave every Memorial Day, and his descendants had carried on the tradition for well over a century.
This Connecticut Yankee has grown to love my new home in the Fredericksburg, Virginia area. History hangs thick in the air and my local paper revels in retelling it. After a long drive home from Saratoga, New York, it was a joy to read this article in my morning paper. But this article went beyond retelling a story that continues to this day. It offered a lesson in what it means to keep one’s word and faithfully discharge a duty. Major Birdsall not only learned this lesson well, but he passed it along to future generations of the Birdsall family. This is the stuff of a healthy and successful society. I fear it is a lesson only rarely taught today.
There is another tradition involving the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. This Saturday night, the local Boys and Girl Scouts will light 15,300 candles in the cemetery - one for each soldier buried there. This luminaria will be accompanied by a bugler playing Taps every thirty minutes and park staff posted throughout the cemetery telling the stories of the soldiers buried there. It is a moving sight among my brethren lying in the hallowed ground above Marye’s Heights.