May 30th was chosen as a neutral date, because no battle had been fought on that day.
In 1868 a Northern veterans’ organization decreed it should be a national holiday, but a hundred years later a federal bill moved it to a Monday to create a three-day weekend,
which is now more of a jumpstart into summer than a day to pause and remember deceased and living veterans, feel the loss and heartbreak, and bring together those who once were bitter
enemies. (Adapted from Lillian Daniel’s “Memorial Day” Communitas for May 29, 2016)
This year’s calendar has us observing Memorial Day on the original and intended date, and the Church Year has us hearing a Gospel story that begins with the words:
…he entered Capernaum. A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death.3
When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave.
The rest of the story tells of Jesus’ compassionate response, and the slave was healed.
It is a story of slaves being treated humanely, especially by Jews who remembered their ancestors’ harsh years of enslavement in Egypt.
We know that is not our nation’s memory which a re-making of the 40 year-old mini-series “Roots” will help us remember as it is aired on TV for four nights, beginning on May 30th.
Timing is timely, because we have a whole generation who may have no memory of the horror the film will bring to life. It the same reason for us to extend on ongoing invitation to walk Trinity’s cemetery and let gravestones open up a history that is a remarkable story of a congregation’s commitment to join the abolitionist’s call to end slavery,
even if it meant abandoning their Mennonite commitment to pacifism and put on the uniform of the Union forces.
The response was nurtured by this congregation’s benevolent founder, Abraham Hunsicker, who made sure his children would learn, and the schools he financed, Freeland Seminary for Boys and the Female College, would teach the right of every human to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Walk the cemetery, note the graves marked with the Civil War star and American flag (and if visitors have left them in place, a cluster of red. white, and blue carnations) and read the names - all 34 of them, and later,
when the book is ready and you have time, you can study their stories, thanks to Lisa Kirkhoff’s sleuthing through all available records.
But now, in the air-conditioned comfort of this May 29th service of worship, let’s bring sampling of names inside and imagine what their gravestones can say to us, rather than “could,” through the research that has been done.
Of course the stand-out name is one of the tall-standing monument with the most words around and below the name: Capt. Irvin Bean, also listed as Irwin or Urwin.
He had previously served in the Mexico American War, then returned to his family in Trappe where he worked as a shoemaker until he joined his brother, Pious, in Ohio, where, on April 24, 1861, when the war broke out, he enlisted in the Union Army.
Both as a shoemaker and a soldier, he sent $10. to $20. a month back to his mother.
His regiment moved from one conflict to another until they engaged in the Battle of Stones River from December 30 and 31, 1862 through January 1 – 3, 1863. On January 2, 1863 Capt. Irvin Bean lost his life, according to Civil War papers he was shot through the heart. The Union soldiers went on to win the victory needed by the north. President Abraham Lincoln’s armies were stalled, and the terrible defeat at Fredericksburg spread a pall of defeat across the nation. There was also the Emancipation Proclamation to consider. The nation needed a victory to bolster morale and support for the proclamation when it went into effect on January 1, 1863. President Lincoln got the victory he wanted. Lincoln himself said it best in a telegram to General William S. Rosecrans later in 1863.
“I can never forget, if I remember anything, that at the end of last year and the beginning of this, you gave us a hard earned victory, which had there been a defeat instead, the country scarcely could have lived over.”
Captain Irvin Bean’s death was not in vain, his valor helped to preserve a nation. (Quoted from forthcoming “Our Boys in Blue” by Lisa Kirkhoff)
A very different story is held in two stones of two very different people; one is John Devlin, about whom little is known except that he served in the Navy on the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron,was in and out of the poorhouse, and would have ended up in a pauper’s grave, if he had not been buried at Trinity. (IBID)
The other name is Capt. Bennett Bethel, who, a month before his March graduation from Penn’s Medical School, enlisted and was assigned to serve as Assistant Surgeon to the United States Colored Troops who were the first unit to fight against Gen. Lee.
He accompanied them at Appomattox, then on to Texas until he and they were mustered out in November, and came home to marry Dr. John H.A. Bomberger’s daughter, Mary, and raise two sons, one a dentist in Germany and the other a doctor in Philadelphia who also served in World War I. (IBID)
Of the remaining 31 Civil War veterans whose stones are waiting to tell us their stories, four served as musicians:
1st Lt. Samuel S. Augee who reenlisted in fighting units twice, and Musicians Mathias Fox, Davis Longaker, and Samuel Shuler.
Davis Longaker kept a diary from the day he left Collegeville July 15, 1861 until the Union Brass Band was disband in August 1862 when the government decided regimental bands were too costly.
He described “battles, helping the doctors and ambulances, washing his clothes in a creek and going into Washington where he went to the post office and then to have his ambertype photo taken” (IBID before heading home with stories all four musicians had to tell, like this one Capt. Bean experienced two days before his death:
New Year’s Eve the Union band at Stones Creek played Union songs and the soldiers filled the night air with loud applause. As the band packed up, the Confederates who had listened from a nearby field, shouted, “Play some of our songs.” and they did.
Their last song was “Home, Sweet Home” which both sides joined in singing – a count of 81,000 men.
The editors of the book, “Civil War Battles: The Journal” (Google Books)
“It was the greatest chorus in the history of the Western hemisphere. Three days later, 23,000 of those voices would sing no more.” One of them was Capt. Bean.
Seven names out of 34, with this being but a snippet of all that there is to read about them.
Thanks to Lisa Kirkhoff’s ongoing work to uncover more and more about Trinity cemetery’s “Boys in Blue,”
the gravestones will prove it is not “if they could speak,” but what they have to say for us to hear.
Today’s New Testament letter first read by Christians in Galatia serves as a fitting Blessing on this Memorial Day Sunday for all “Our Boys in Blue”:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
And a fitting song to sing is one the soldiers sang at night after a days’ fighting and the unknown consequences of tomorrow:
I need thy presence every passing hour;
what but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
who like thyself my guide and stay can be?
through cloud and sunshine, O abide with me.
I fear no foe with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies:
Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!
Henry Francis Lyte