In 1993, Montfort Academy fifth-grader Kent Ingalls was advancing for the anniversary adjustment of flags on graves at Fredericksburg Civic Cemetery. Kent’s abecedary told the chic about a longtime cemetery mystery: flowers that arise every year at the cairn of a Union soldier from Massachusetts.
Those flowers were no abstruseness to Kent, however. He told his classmates that afterwards the Civil War, the soldier’s ancestors had beatific $100 to his great-great-great-grandfather, cemetery administrator Andrew Birdsall, to abode flowers at Jerome Peirce’s grave every Memorial Day, and his birth had agitated on the attitude for able-bodied over a century.
That year, The Free Lance–Star appear an commodity about the longtime tradition. It angry out that the Civic Park Account knew little added than that Peirce had enlisted in the 36th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment in 1862 at age 31, and that he had been asleep May 12, 1864, at the Bloody Angle on the Spotsylvania Court House battlefield. No added capacity were accustomed about how he was killed, the ancestors he larboard behind, or how his final comatose abode concluded up on a acropolis on Marye’s Heights.
The adventure anon advance above Fredericksburg, and an commodity appeared in the May 1994 affair of Reader’s Digest. The magazine’s editor had abstruse that Peirce had larboard abaft a widow, Albinia Peirce, and a daughter, Lucy, in Orange, Mass. In addition, he apparent added than 150 belletrist Peirce had accounting that were—and are still—in the control of his great-grandniece in Dayton, Ohio.
Peirce enlisted in the Union army Aug. 4, 1862, with 14 added men from his town. Anon thereafter, with basal training, the regiment larboard for Washington, D.C. Assigned to Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s 9th Corps, the regiment anon begin itself in Maryland. From there, it beyond into Virginia, catastrophe up in Falmouth. In December 1862, during the Activity of Fredericksburg, the 36th Massachusetts was positioned beneath town, abreast the lower arch bridge, but it did not participate in that battle. In January 1863, the regiment took allotment in the abominable “Mud March.”
In March 1863, the 9th Band larboard Virginia and headed west. It crisscrossed Kentucky, alternate in the Activity of Vicksburg, confused to Jackson, Miss., alternate to Kentucky, and again confused into eastern Tennessee. It took allotment in the Activity of Campbell’s Station, and in backward 1863, accurate the aegis of Knoxville. The regiment again spent added time in Tennessee, afore actuality ordered to Annapolis, Md., breadth it accustomed April 6, 1864.
A few canicule later, the regiment marched to Washington, breadth Admiral Lincoln and Burnside advised the 9th Band to the acclaim of a ample crowd. In a letter to his wife, Peirce wrote:
“A abundant day yesterday. We were accustomed actual agilely by Genl. Burnside and Admiral Lincoln on the balustrade of the Willard Hotel to address us as we passed. The admiral looks anemic and careworn—very.”
The band bent up with the Army of the Potomac abreast Brandy Station and, on May 5, confused adjoin the Rapidan River. It anon beyond Germanna Ford and the abutting morning, proceeded bottomward the Germanna Plank Road (now State Route 3) to Wilderness Tavern, breadth it able for action.
On May 6, the additional day of the Activity of the Wilderness, the 9th Band entered the activity by affective adjoin the Confederate center. By nightfall, the abundant angry came to a halt, but by May 11, the regiment was ordered to move to the developing activity abreast Spotsylvania Court House.
On the morning of May 12, a algid and backing day, the regiment avant-garde adjoin the eastern face of the “Muleshoe Salient,” a huge apparent appendage in the centermost of the Confederate line. It aboriginal drew blaze at 4:30 a.m.
In a letter to Albinia, Peirce’s administrator wrote:
“Jerome knew our danger, yet he faced it like a adventurous soldier and was aboriginal of our aggregation to fall. I did not see him abatement as we were falling aback beneath the awning of a fence, the adversary advancing bottomward on us and application the arena on which he fell. Consequently his anatomy was in the enemy’s easily for about 15 minutes. It lay in a actual apparent position, and it was absurd to move it. His anatomy had to abide until afterwards aphotic back we active it the best that affairs would permit. He was asleep at about 7 AM. I begin the ammo that asleep him, which I took from his larboard breast. He charge accept died instantly. His grave is in a ache grove—well marked.”
The aboriginal postwar accomplishment to balance the Union asleep from Southern battlefields took abode in June 1865. Fredericksburg Civic Cemetery was accustomed one year later, and it would eventually accommodate added than 15,000 burials, with about 84 percent of those active there actuality “Unknown.” During the abutting two years, burying parties scoured the Fredericksburg area, bringing in wagon amount afterwards wagon amount of animal remains. It took until abatement 1868 to accomplishment the assignment of blasting the asleep from the bounded battlefields and appointment them to the cemetery. Peirce’s charcoal were apparently re-interred in 1866 or 1867.
Because Peirce’s assembly had active him in a acting grave abutting to breadth he had collapsed and had apparent its location, his charcoal could be articular back they were transferred to the cemetery.
A account was captivated for Peirce on June 19, 1864, in the abbey in Orange, Mass., breadth he had been the Sunday School superintendent.
His added never remarried, and their babe Lucy never affiliated or had children.
Lucy’s afterlife at 86 in 1946 would assume to accompany Peirce’s adventure to an end, back there were no absolute descendants. Instead, he has been remembered for several generations.
In the aboriginal 1880s, the Peirce ancestors contacted Fredericksburg Civic Cemetery Administrator Andrew Birdsall and beatific him $100 to adorn Peirce’s grave every Memorial Day. Birdsall, a blood-soaked Union veteran, accomplished the family’s ambition anxiously until he was transferred to addition cemetery in 1892. Birdsall’s daughter, who lived in Fredericksburg, connected the attitude of agreement flowers on Peirce’s grave alike afterwards her father’s afterlife in 1897. Birdsall and his wife are both active in Fredericksburg Civic Cemetery, not far from Peirce’s grave.
A diffuse obituary for Andrew Birdsall was appear in a Massachusetts bi-weekly because of his affiliation to the Peirce family.
“On the 23rd of February the angelic dust of an accustomed soldier was committed to the admirable Civic Cemetery in Fredericksburg, amid the endless graves over which he had so affectionately and so anxiously watched in above days. His affection was unlimited, his statements minute, accurate angle were beatific by him, and every Memorial Day he anxiously accustomed commissions for the floral adornment of the grave of Sgt. Jerome Peirce. And later, back Mrs. Peirce and her babe visited the cemetery, Maj. Birdsall and ancestors affiliated in their accessible attentions. Afterwards the government removed his casework to Hampton, Virginia, his babe has connected a affectionate absorption in the soldier’s grave.”
Birdsall’s daughter, Florence Birdsall Heflin, who anesthetized abroad in 1941, took prime albatross for befitting her father’s affiance to Jerome Peirce’s family. Florence again anesthetized the grave-decoration assignment on to her daughter, Alice Heflin, who was built-in in 1904 and who afterwards affiliated Shelton Abernathy. Alice Heflin Abernathy was the active force in this activity for abounding years.
After she anesthetized abroad at 95 on Aug. 31, 1999, her obituary read:
In 1993, she accustomed civic absorption as the third bearing babysitter of a Civil War soldier’s grave in the Fredericksburg Civic Cemetery. Her ancestors had busy the grave of a Massachusetts soldier for added than a century.” Afterwards her death, her niece, Lucille Ingalls, and her accouchement and grandchildren took over.
Fredericksburg citizen Gary Ingalls, Kent’s ancestor and Lucille’s son, has in contempo years affected albatross for decorating the grave.
“At assorted times, all the ancestors associates accept participated,” he said recently. “I became added complex in the 1990s, back it became difficult for my mother to accomplish the trip. By then, it had become a absolute ancestors tradition, and it was our family’s way of anniversary addition who died for the account he acutely believed in.”
For abounding years, the ancestors best flowers out of their garden to booty to the cemetery, Ingalls said. Afterwards a while, the beginning flowers were replaced by cottony ones, so that they could be reused.
“Before my mother anesthetized away, she accurately and absolutely told me not to balloon to adorn Jerome Peirce’s grave every Memorial Day,” Ingalls said. “If for some acumen I could not do it, my son, Kent, and one of my cousins would backpack on the tradition.”
Even admitting decorating Peirce’s grave every Memorial Day has now endured over 130 years acknowledgment to several ancestors of the Birdsall family, one aspect of the attitude has not afflicted for as continued as anyone can remember. The flowers accept consistently been accompanied by a agenda that has read, “Once lost, now found, never forgotten.”
Josef W. Rokus is a freelance biographer and a advance researcher for the Civic Park Account in Fredericksburg. He lives in Locust Grove.
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