This is Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day is an American holiday honoring those who lost their lives during active service in the military. It began after the Civil War, but just got “official holiday status” in 1971. It is celebrated the last Monday in May.
Many people don’t know the difference between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. When you lump these holidays together they become simply generic patriotic holidays that mean far less than they should. And is “Happy Memorial Day” an appropriate greeting?
As a personal exercise for myself, so I wouldn’t forget the meaning of the day, years ago I began a tradition to pick a soldier who died while in military service to research and remember. I’ll typically come up with qualities or specifications that led me to the one I select for the year. I then keep them in my mind as I commemorate the day. It reminds me that a life was lost that should be remembered and to think upon the lessons I can learn on this day.
This year I took a walk in one of my favorite cemeteries, Fourth Creek Cemetery located at 114 West End Avenue in Statesville. The cemetery is an old one, with graves going back to the 1700s. I started going there many years ago when attending North Iredell High School, when I heard there was a ginkgo tree where I could get a leaf for my leaf collection. I have taken many walks there since.
The graveyard contains graves from the time of the Revolutionary War and Civil War. The inscriptions of many gravestones have worn off over time, and many graves are unmarked. The cemetery is a beautiful and peaceful place.
I randomly looked around until I found a gravestone that mentioned the person died in battle. I like a bit of randomness as I do this exercise, as I believe the stories of all soldiers should be told, as much as we can tell them.
I found one for 1st Lt. Joseph Caldwell White C.S.A. (note some sources list him as a Second Lieutenant.)
White volunteered May 16, 186, along with others from Iredell County, for the newly formed Company C of the 4th Regiment of the NC Infantry, a unit also known as the “Saltillo Boys of the Bloody Fourth” (because some had participated in the Battle of Bueno Vista during the Mexican-American War and won that battle.)
White was just 22 years old when he volunteered. His wife Amanda was pregnant with their first child. Their daughter Margaret was born December 6, 1861.
During the Battle of Seven Pines, near Richmond, Va., on May 31, 1862, White is said to have led the charge for his company declaring “the Battery soon will be ours.” He died in that battle. He was just 23, his daughter not even six months old.
This is the first time I have picked a Civil War soldier to remember during my Memorial Day exercise. As is my goal, it certainly makes me think.
White was one of more than 620,000 Civil War soldiers who died. About 2% of the population at the time. That’s more casualties than in World Wars I and II put together.
On this Memorial Day, in a world of conflict, division, and intense emotion, let us think about how we each can resolve our issues peacefully so more lives are not lost. Let’s learn from history and let it make us better.
"On thy grave the rain shall fall from the eyes of a mighty nation." - Thomas William Parsons
Here is my story of last year’s soldier remembered.