Monday was Memorial Day. Let me begin by saying "Thank you" (inadequate as that is) to all of the Servicemen and women. Oh, I know, I've been your hippie anti-war protesting sort; I was always quick to say "Fighting for Peace is like F***ing for Virginity" and other assorted colorful phrases. I'm no less anti-war now than I was then -- but I'm NOT anti-soldier, and I was very troubled by the fact that my friends and college-mates who went off to Viet Nam were not feted upon their return but often encountered idiots asking them why they were so stupid as to go. So I DO honor soldiers, and I do most earnestly mourn the loss of those men and women whose faces I see on the teevee, who are at this point more than ten years younger than my youngest child, and whose losses make the back of my eyes hurt.
I'm in love with a guy. Mr Dearling knows this, and not only condones it but brags about it. The guy I'm in love with is a Dead Civil War Guy, Lucius Fairchild , seen here as a young man returned to Madison from the Civil War. The photo is from 1865; the next year he was elected 10th Governor of the State of Wisconsin, in which position he served three terms.
Here's how it came about: in 1995 I "met" a fellow named Tim Fairchild on line, in a Living History chat room, and when he learned I was in Madison, he asked me to look up his ancestor, Lucius. (Tim was a Civil War reenactor living in NJ at the time.) I did, and found his family plot at Forest Hill Cemetery, the municipal cemetery dating back to the earliest days of the city. This is the obelisk marking the family plot. In the immediate plot are buried Lucius; his wife Frances (he called her, affectionately, "Frank"); his parents, Sally and Jairus (Jairus was the first Mayor of Madison); Lucius' older sister, Sarah Conover; and his older brother Cassius, another Civil War soldier who ultimately died from a wound sustained in battle.
Now, I've said more than once that I'm totally terrible at math. However, when I found the family plot I was able to figure out that - the next year (1996) would mark the centennial anniversary of Lucius' death. And Tim and I began to plan a small memorial service. As it turned out, Lucius had died on May 23, 1896, which falls on or close to Memorial Day each year.
In a word, a year of planning resulted in the following: We held a small service at the graveside for the reenactors of the Iron Brigade, which Fairchild led into battle at Gettysburg. I found a picture of Lucius and had it enlarged and framed (we leaned it against his headstone), I was able to arrange for a small group of reenactors of a Civil War band to come and play, in their Union uniforms, and I wrote a small booklet and had it printed to serve as a program.
I was aided in this by Mr. Thomas Johnson, president at the time of the local chapter of the Sons of the Union Veterans. Tim arranged to fly out for it, and for a brief visit.
The result, in spite of the fact that it was cool and rainy, was a very nice ceremony. We remarked, in fact, that Fairchild had died during a fierce thunderstorm, described in the newspaper of the time as a fitting tribute to a great soldier.....
During Tim's visit I had the privilege of accompanying him to the State Historical Society headquarters on campus where the head Curator took us down into the labyrinthine bowels of the building and showed us, all white-gloved and silent, the vest Lucius was wearing - which had been cut off - to facilitate the amputation of his left arm. We also went to the Wisconsin Veterans' Museum on the Square and the Curator there showed us, again white-gloved and awestruck, some of his uniforms and sashes and so on.
Editor's note: come visit Madison some time; I'll show you the Vets' Museum, our historical Museum (including the best little Fur Post in Wisconsin) and other Very Cool stuff!
During the time between our initial decision and the ceremony itself, I found that there are over 90 boxes of personal correspondence and papers, gathered and saved by sister Sarah...and I began transcribing them. I need to find my notes and resume - I'd like to write an article (or perhaps more) about the Fairchild family. To say simply that they were "Madison's First Family" doesn't do it - they were truly known for their great hospitality, and their letters reveal a warm, loving, educated and interesting family; the truth is, I fell in love with the whole lot of them. Reading people's letters is an introduction, and I felt like those movies where you see someone reading and then you hear the voice of the writer.....
Anyway, since 1996 I have gone every year to the cemetery and planted something nice at the stones before Memorial Day. May I add: on the occasion of our ceremony we had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting Mrs Sally Fairchild Reuter, who is in fact Lucius' great-great-granddaughter. She was near 80 at the time, and an absolute hoot! She comes every Memorial Day too, often before her afternoon golf game. She's very active in the Colonial Dames who are responsible for maintaining and exhibiting the Indian Agency at Portage, Wisconsin, a true gem of an historical site. She explained that she sleeps in the bed Jairus Fairchild brought here from Ohio when the family moved to Madison in 1846! (She invited me over for tea one day and showed me not only the bed but other furniture and paintings and heirlooms of the family, and I just love seeing her. God willing I'll be just like her in fifteen years! I don't see her often, but she always comes out on Memorial Day.)
There's a very nice ceremony here on Memorial Day: at Forest Hill there are two areas designated "Soldiers' Rest", on each side of the main Mausoleum. On the left is found Union Rest, and on the right Confederate Rest. There are 100 stones marking the graves of men who died in the Civil War. (The Confederate soldiers buried here died at Camp Randall, the prison camp here in town, and I find their graves very poignant indeed, as the truth is, they were probably very young, very frightened, homesick and lonely, and likely many died from dysentary and other wretchednesses, far from home and cold.)
At each site there is a small service; there is a small representative group of reenactors of the Iron Brigade, a squad of Veterans to fire a salute (this year I think might have been the first that did not have any veterans of World War II included) and a Color Guard. There are speeches, a prayer and concluding remarks at the Union Rest - and then everyone marches down to Confederate Rest where a similar service is held. There are Confederate reenactors present as well. It's actually very moving indeed....OK, I admit it, I cry my eyes out every year. I usually make it until the playing of "Taps", but then it's all over for me.
For the occasion, small American flags are placed at each Union grave - and small Confederate state flags at Confederate Rest. (See above right.)
Here is the Color Guard forming up - again, this year there were no representatives from WW II, I believe. There was an additional bit this year: the ashes of a very old flag were carried by The Widow (a woman present every year wearing the "high mourning" of the Civil War) and her escort, an Eagle Scout. At the appropriate time, they proceeded to the base of the large flagpole in the center of Union Soldiers' Rest and there scattered the ashes of the flag. Comments were made about those men who "carried the colors" in the Civil War, and how many tales of bravery...from both sides...of boys falling, only to have the flag taken up by another soldier and carried forward again.
Following these very moving ceremonies - since our day in 1996 - the Iron Brigade reenactors form up and march up to the Fairchild plot. This is not part of the "public ceremony" as advertised in the paper, and the only "public" attendees are usually two or three folks who follow along out of curiosity. At the gravesite the leader of the Brigade makes a few patriotic comments about Fairchild and a volley is fired in his honor under the watchful eye of myself and Sally and Mr Dearling - then they march back down to the Union Rest to disband and enjoy the rest of their day.
I like to think that Sally's ancestral family is gathered, watching us all: Sally and Jairus observing their wonderful descendant, sister Sarah nodding approvingly at me, and Lucius, bride Frances and brother Cassius exchanging bemused looks. The last couple of years the leader asks his soldier-reenactors if anyone has any comments before he begins...they never have. NEXT year, I'm going to step up and say, "May I?" and deliver a shortened version of the speech I delivered on our Centennial Memorial Day; it is my earnest hope that I can end by saying something about our own soldiers coming home, but that's just the old hippie talking.
Note: Mr Johnson passed away in 2005; after seeing him on Memorial Day for nine years I arrived that year to see the tripod of muzzle-loaders with his kepi on top and his shoes. I was invited, to join his predecessor and others at a small memorial in the mausoleum. I visit him every year, mindful of his enthusiastic assistance to some ol' lady from Madison who wanted to honor a "dead Civil War guy" on the 100th anniversary of his death. Mr. Johnson was a man of dignity and elegance not seen so much any more, and I really do miss him every Memorial Day.