Only I didn’t say fudge. I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the F-dash-dash-dash word!*
As I described here, while in Wilmington, DE over the Thanksgiving holiday I took a walk through the Wilmington and Brandywine Cemetery. While I did manage to find a Civil War section with a damaged canon monument, I didn’t come across anything particularly noteworthy. But if I had, as I always intend but seldom do, brought along one of the many books I buy for just such things-to-do-in-a-strange-town occasions, I would have been able to see something significant. And now I’m thinking when am I ever going to get this chance again?
Thomas Alfred Smyth was a brigadier general from Delaware. A former colonel of the 1st DE Volunteer Infantry, in April, 1865 he was serving at the head of a division in the 2nd Corps of the Army of the Potomac as it pursued Robert E. Lee’s army to its eventual surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. While riding on his skirmish line during the fighting at Farmville on April 7, Smyth was mortally wounded, shot in the mouth by a rebel sharpshooter. He lingered for two days. On April 9, the day Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant, Smyth became the last Federal general officer to die in the Civil War.
Now,Wilmington and Brandywine is a big cemetery, and it’s certainly too much to expect to serendipitously stumble across one grave among thousands. But if I had just brought along Lest We Forget: The Gravesites of Union Civil War Generals Buried in the United States (I wrote about the book here) I would have found in the Delaware section, on page 35, that Thomas Alfred Smyth is buried there, next to the cemetery road. In addition, there are two Union brevet BGs, various political figures, and two ACW MOH winners who rest there.
Some of you might say “You didn’t really miss anything but a carved stone”; to me visiting a gravesite is more than that. Not that I think anything abides there. But all that’s physically left of a person resides there. And one day long ago his or her loved ones stood on that very spot. Let me be clear that it’s not a spiritual thing for me. It’s the same as visiting a battlefield. Beside the practical understanding gained by visiting the sites of events about which we’ve only read – and believe me, there is nothing as valuable as walking the ground to understand what happened on and because of it – there’s just something about being where it happened, whatever it was. It’s what separates the history lover from normal, sane people who can go about their lives without being driven to distraction by such thoughts, such…compulsions? I can’t explain it any better than that – yet.
Here’s a picture of General Smyth’s grave (he received a posthumous brevet to MGUSV) from www.findagrave.com:
*Thanks to Jean Shepherd, author of In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, and the movie for which it served as a basis, A Christmas Story. The picture at the top of this post is from the film. Life Buoy…yech!