Honoring a Union Man in the Heart of the Confederacy
I had a great time last night in Fredericksburg where I spoke to the Rappahannock County Civil War Round Table. My friend and fellow historian John Hennessy gave me a very gracious introduction and the audience seemed very receptive to the topic of the Crater and historical memory. This is my second time speaking to this particular group and both occasions have been well worth the drive from Charlottesville.
Before the evening’s program got underway I spoke with a gentlemen who is working with the National Welsh American Foundation to honor Sergeant Henry Reese of the 48th Pennsylvania with a Medal of Honor for his roll at the Crater. Reese was actually recommended for the medal but for some reason it was not conferred. Here is the recommendation:
Having performed a conspicuous act of gallantry on July 30, 1864. In the undermining and destruction of the Rebel Fort No. 5 in front of Petersburg, Va, the fuse leading to the magazine had been spliced about 15 feet from the face of the mine, where the fuse was first lighted, it burned to the splice, when the fire went out, and, after the time set for the explosion had elapsed Sergeant Henry Reese volunteered to enter the mine and relight the fuse at the splice, which he successfully accomplished, and returned to safety to the mouth of the mine, and in one minute after the explosion took place.
I have no idea what happened following Reese’s recommendation.
Perhaps the high command simply did not want to be reminded of a dismal
day in the life of the Army of the Potomac. Who knows. Regardless,
there is a small group which hopes to correct this perceived wrong.
What I find very interesting is the decision to contact the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission
for some type of acknowledgment in 2014 for the 15oth anniversary of
the battle. Apparently, they have already contacted the people in
charge so as an adviser for the commission it will be very interesting
to see if this is raised as a viable program. Of course, it raises a
number of important questions for the commission. Should it be
involved in this type of recognition for any individual from the war
years and beyond? If so, is it fitting for the state of Virginia to
honor a Union soldier for acts of bravery on one of its own
battlefields? I find this question to be quite interesting as it
forces us to think about the balance between a national and regional
focus. Should the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission remember the
war as a former state in the Confederacy or as part of the United
States? I suspect that most people out there assume the former, that
there would be something inappropriate about Virginia recognizing
The easiest and perhaps most appropriate stance for the commission
to take is to steer clear completely of these types of events. I am
not suggesting that it necessarily do so, but given the emphasis that
various groups will place on honoring and commemorating the typical
players and themes it may be the safest route. Focus on educating the
public in a way that brings the latest scholarship to as wide an
audience as possible.
In the end I wish the parties involved all the best in their
endeavors re: Sgt. Reese. I know I would have run as fast as possible
in the opposite direction rather than run into that mine shaft.