Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Here are two graves of Civil War soldiers, neither of whom survived that war. With Memorial Day approaching, we will be caught up again with a sense of urgency to pay meaningful tribute to the fallen of recent wars or wars still within the memory of those living today. A scene such as this photo, with two companionable graves in a quiet cemetery reminds us, by contrast, that urgency pales with time, and truly meaningful, lasting tribute may be beyond our abilities.
Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, was a by-product of the American Civil War and the then very urgent need to commemorate the service of thousands and thousands of fallen, in some cases, the entire male population of many small country towns, north and south.
These two men are Ruggles B. Palmer, and William Palmer. Despite the close proximity of the graves and the same surname, I am not certain at this time if they were related. They certainly may have been.
Ruggles served in the Massachusetts 27th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which arrived first in Maryland in 1861, and then after two months’ training, sailed to North Carolina, where they fought under General Ambrose Burnside in many minor battles. We can see by the date of death on his headstone that Ruggles died before the advance on Richmond in 1864 and the bloody battle at Cold Harbor and the Siege of Petersburg. It is possible Ruggles was killed in one of the minor skirmishes when they were still in North Carolina, though it is more likely he died of illness. More than twice as many men in this regiment, some 261, died of disease than of battle wounds (128). This was a common statistic during the Civil War.
William A. Palmer served with the Massachusetts 37th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which left for Washington, D.C. in 1862, fought at the horrendous Battle of Fredericksburg, at Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg among the most famous battles. As we can see by the death date on William’s headstone, he died just a couple days after the third battle of Winchester began in the Shenandoah Valley. We may well guess that William was a battle casualty, and strikingly, more men of the 37th died of mortal wounds, 165, than of disease, 92.
A lot to consider when inserting the flag into the metal holder, and leaving the flower by the stone.