Memorial Day 2013

Barton Mitchell's Headstone at Hartsville Baptist Cemetery. Photo Credit: Nick Sacco
Barton Mitchell’s Headstone at Hartsville Baptist Cemetery. Photo Credit: Nick Sacco

I must admit that up until today, I’ve never participated in any Memorial Day services. That has changed, thankfully. As mentioned in my last post, I met up with Wisconsin history teacher Chris Lese, several of his co-workers, and about a dozen of his students at the Hartsville Baptist Cemetery in Hartsville, Indiana, for a brief Memorial Day ceremony. I met Chris a few months ago while at the Gettysburg conference back in March, and his talent for teaching history is truly inspiring. He has arranged for his group to take a nine day trek around the country following the paths of two Indiana soldiers during the Civil War. The group started here in Indiana, but are on their way to Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and will be visiting the Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields later in their trip.

Hartsville is a very small town, numbering less than 400 people. It is in Southern Indiana and very close to the city of Columbus, which is the birthplace of racecar driver Tony Stewart and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, among other notable people. This was my first time there. While I’m not really cut out for the small-town lifestyle, I thought the area was nice. Anyway, Hartsville was a good place to hold this ceremony because it was the final town in which Union veteran Barton Mitchell lived. Mitchell is famously known as the soldier who found Special Order 191, a series of instructions written by Confederate General Robert E. Lee that were rolled up into three cigars (notice the replica Chris’s students placed on Mitchell’s headstone above) and accidentally discarded on the ground. The orders were eventually sent to General George McClellan and played a role in the Union military’s strategic planning at the Battle of Antietam. The story has been published in a million books, I’m sure, but none do it better than Bruce Catton’s fine work Mr. Lincoln’s Army, in my opinion.

The ceremony was very nice and the turnout was impressive. I’d estimate 50 people were there. A few speeches and prayers were made at the beginning, followed by a recreation of a Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Day ceremony that included the use of a GAR Memorial day booklet from 1895. Towards the end “Taps” was played, followed by a decoration of Mitchell’s grave, as seen above.

When I first arrived in Hartsville, I was given directions to the wrong cemetery. Nonetheless, Hartsville College Cemetery is beautiful.

Hartsville College Cemetery. Photo Credit: Nick Sacco
Hartsville College Cemetery. Photo Credit: Nick Sacco

Several volunteers graciously donated their time to help during the ceremony.

Photo Credit: Nick Sacco
Photo Credit: Nick Sacco
Photo Credit: Nick Sacco
Photo Credit: Nick Sacco

There are other Civil War soldiers at the cemetery whose graves were decorated as well. Lafayette Trisler was 18 years old when he enlisted in the 33rd Indiana Infantry in 1862. Tragically, he died during the war on July 21, 1863. The National Park Service’s Soldiers and Sailors database states that the 33rd was in Middle Tennessee or Tullhoma from June 23-July 7. They then moved to Guy’s Gap in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, shortly thereafter. Since his regiment wasn’t in battle, I’d assume Trisler died either from disease or a previously acquired battle wound.

The Headstone of Lafayette Trisler. Photo Credit: Nick Sacco
The Headstone of Lafayette Trisler. Photo Credit: Nick Sacco

I am glad that we as nation continue to observe Memorial Day, but I’ll be even happier when we no longer have to bury soldiers like Lafayette Trisler into the ground at such a young age. It would be great if someday we could observe Memorial Day and say something along the lines of this:

“We are here to honor those who fought and died for our country from 1775-2013. Their sacrifices have given us a loving, peaceful nation today that is no longer in the throes of war and a shining example to the rest of the world. For that, we give our dead our eternal gratitude.”

I can dream.