October 17, 2009

In Search of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather - Part Two

On a cold and sodden Saturday I ventured down to Fredericksburg in an attempt to locate the grave of my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Maj. Robert Henry Gray of the 4th Maine Volunteer Regiment, who fell at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 9 1864. Mortally wounded, he died en route to Fredericksburg and is presumed to be buried there.

Included as an appendix to my transcript of Maj. Gray's 1862 diary is a 190x letter to his son from a colleague, Frank Farnham. In this letter, Farnham gives a likely clue as to where Maj. Gray was buried, and may still now lie. I used this letter as a basis for my search.

I marched with my regiment through Fredericksburg a few days after he was shot.
This would be, presumably, about May 11.

We halted outside a city cemetery which is on the right hand side of the road leading out to Spotsylvania (The National Cemeteries are on the left of this road now).
He presumably is referring to the Town Cemetery on the corner of Washington and Williams; Williams St is the only road he can be referring to. It connects with Rte 3 which is the Old Plank Road running Westbound out of the city. If facing westbound, the City Cemetery is on your right, and the National Cemetary is further down on the left.

I looked through the large gates, set in the stone wall front of the cemetery and saw many tombs and monuments and one new-made grave.
The walls of the cemetery are red brick now. The Fredericksburg Ladies Memorial Association created the Confederate memorial cemetery in the land adjoining the City Cemetery in 1867, and presumably the brick walls surrounding the entire cemetery were built then or soon after.

The cemetery itself is quite fascinating: the Confederate cemetery is arranged in a large rectangle with two diagonal paths (subtly evoking the Stars 'n' Bars) with a memorial statue in the center.

Some of the Confeds are still interred in the City portion of the cemetery. Overall, the graves of the soldiers were in pretty poor condition, covered in moss and eroded by nature and time; some were virtually unreadable.

The large gates and the imposing sandstone archway on Williams St, which I presume are the ones he looked through, appear to be original (1844). The City gate is locked, due to the deteriorating condition of the sandstone, so all enter through the Confederate gate on Washington St.

"Hello" I said "here's a Yankee got in among the FFV's"
(An FFV is a First Family of Virginia. I only know this because I was in a production of '1776' once. )

A few days afterward, I met a member of the 4th Maine, and asked about your father. This man (whose name I never knew) told me that a few days before the regiment was ordered into a hot place, that the other officers got off their horses on account of the danger, but that your father kept his saddle and led the regmt into the fight and as pierced with several bullets that he was placed in an ambulance and died on his way back to Fredericksburg and was buried in the city cemetery as he was one of the first officers to fall in that might, much against the wishes of the rebel proprietors of the cemeteries, and that he was the only Union soldier buried there. So I told that it was your father's grave that I had seen.
He bases his conclusion that the grave he saw was Maj Gray's entirely on the word of that unnamed soldier; not particularly the most watertight case on which to go on, but worth a try.

Alas, I must report that I was unable to find Great-Great-Great-Grampa's grave. There were many possible reasons, even if that was his grave that Mr Farnham had seen.

It's highly unlikely that the Yankees who buried him had a stone marker, so perhaps there was some other identifying marker of a temporary nature (even the Confederate graves initially had wooden markers until the 1880s) which was lost or discarded by the unhappy 'rebel proprietors.' If this is the case, he's still in the City Cemetery, somewhere in view of the sandstone entryway, but unmarked.

The Frederickburg National Cemetery was created in 1867 for the fallen Union soldiers killed in the various battles nearby, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Wilderness, Chancelorsville, etc. Out of the more than 15,000 soldiers there, the identities of 85% of them are unknown... this being the time before soldiers wore dogtags. The register at the National Cemetery does not list Major Gray among the known fallen. So if they did re-inter him there, they likely had no idea of his identity, and he is now one of the many, many unknowns with only a number to mark his remains. (The number on the pictured stone indicates the lot number, 67, and that there are two unknown bodies buried there.) The same appears to be true of his brothers, Madison (fell at Fredericksburg, Dec '62) and Augustus (Cedar Creek, Oct '64). No stone - with their name on it at least - marks where they lie today. That astounds and saddens me.

The site of the battle is well-kept, although suburban encroachment onto the battlefield tended to wreck any sense of the era. The tour guide occasionally pointed out significant events by saying "over there, down that street, around where that blue truck is..." I wonder if the residents know how many dozens of Union soldiers died in their backyards.

October 12, 2009

Doctor Who Geekery Report - Unreleased

Upcoming Region 1 DVD releases:
3 Nov 09: The War Games (yay!), "The Black Guardian Trilogy" (Mawdryn Undead, Terminus, Enlightenment)
5 Jan 10: The Keys of Marinus, The Twin Dilemma

Forthcoming release announced, date to be determined:
Frontier in Space
Curse of Peladon
Planet of the Daleks
Monster of Peladon
Remembrance of the Daleks (Special Edition)

The 48 remaining releasable Classic Series serials with no scheduled or announced DVD release, in order of Dynamic Rankings (as of 10/12/09).
The Rankings are utilized to suggest, though not to specifically reflect, fan demand.

Top 10

  1. The Seeds of Doom
  2. Terror of the Zygons
  3. The Dæmons (requires new re-colorization)
  4. Terror of the Autons (requires new re-colorization)
  5. Kinda
  6. The Ice Warriors (requires reconstruction of missing eps 2 & 3)
  7. The Masque of Mandragora
  8. The Tenth Planet (requires reconstruction of missing ep 4)
  9. The Crusades (requires reconstruction of missing ep 2 & 4)
  10. The Face of Evil

Middle 28
Frontios, Day of the Daleks, The Mind of Evil (requires colorization), Snakedance, The Ambassadors of Death (requires recolorization), Planet of the Spiders, Planet of Fire, The Sunmakers, The Moonbase (requires reconstruction of missing eps 1 & 3), Greatest Show in the Galaxy, The Awakening, Death to the Daleks, , The Reign of Terror (requires reconstruction of missing eps 4 & 5), The Android Invasion, Revenge of the Cybermen, The Ark, Nightmare of Eden, The Happiness Patrol, The Krotons, Colony In Space, Meglos, The Creature from the Pit, The Chase, The Mutants, Planet of Giants, Dragonfire, The King's Demons, The Horns of Nimon

Bottom 10
Invasion of the Dinosaurs (requires colorization of ep 1)
The Gunfighters
The Silver Nemesis
The Sensorites
The Space Museum
Paradise Towers
The Dominators
The Time Monster
Time and the Rani

October 7, 2009

In Search of my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather

My Great^3 Grandfather Robert Henry Gray is buried somewhere in Fredericksburg, VA, and I'm on a mission to find him.

Robert was one of four brothers from the tiny town of Stockton ME (near Belfast), who fought in the Civil War. Of the four, Robert, Clarendon, Madison & Augustus, Clarendon was the only one who returned. Madison fell at the Battle of Fredericksburg (Dec 13 '62) age 18, Robert at the Battle of the Wilderness (5 May '64) age 28, Augustus at the Battle of Cedar Creek (Oct 19 '64), age 16. Clarendon saw virtually every significant battle of the Civil War, from First Bull Run to the surrender at Appomattox.

Robert's Civil War story is actually pretty spectacular. He signed up in '61 with the 4th Maine Volunteer Regiment, Company I, and was quickly made Sergeant. At First Bull Run he was wounded and captured; he escaped back to his lines with only a newspaper map for a guide, floating across the Potomac on a fencepost. He received prompt medical care, and was promoted to 2nd Lt. After Fredericksburg he replaced the slain 1st Lt, and was promoted to Major after Gettysburg. On the first day of the Battle of the Wilderness he was shot from his horse by three Rebel bullets, and died being transported back to Fredericksburg.

Many years ago my father transcribed his 1862 diary (which is kept at the Harvard library), and my uncle and namesake Bob presented the family with an annotated version a few years ago. It's a pretty interesting look into the day-to-day minutae of a soldier's life. A lot of the time he was at Camp Knox in Alexandria, and frequently was downtown, so I may have traced his footsteps over the past three years. Through most of the year he was ill with dysentery. That year marked the birth of his daughter Alice and the death of his brother Madison. While not forthcoming with deep emotional insight, one can read between the lines... typical Yankee terseness. Also, quite a lot of "when will these poor Secech's see the error of their ways" type stuff.

According to a letter written in the first decade of the 1900's by his comrade Frank Farnham to his son, Frank Boynton Gray, Major Gray was hastily buried in the Fredericksburg town cemetery (as was brother Madison 18 months earlier), the only Yankee officer buried there. An email inquiry to the Fredericksburg National Cemetery (a memorial cemetery for the fallen Yankee troops) suggests that they were not re-interred, so they're likely still there. The question is are their graves marked?

My intention this past weekend was to go to the cemetery to see; I was going to an audition in Staunton on Saturday, so I took the back roads back thru to Fredericksburg. After staying in Staunton for lunch with some colleagues, by the time I arrived in F'burg it was after 5pm and the sun was starting to descend, giving me only a good hour of exploring at best; plus I was under strict instruction from Al to find a legendary icecream stand called Carl's (every bit as good as its reputation promised). So my next available weekend (after this coming weekend's Baltimore wedding) will see me back down to F'burg for another look.

On the drive from Staunton to Fredericksburg, I did stumble across the Wilderness battlefield site, which I stopped at for about 20 minutes. My research afterwards that evening showed that I wasn't on the part of the field where he fell, so I may go back there as well.

Why am I so interested in finding and communing with my Great-Great-Great Grandfather? After all, I'm a pacifist. I think there's something about the Gray brothers' story that I find inspiring. Not the killing and dying, but I just wonder how I'd react in the circumstances they were in. Would I have the wherewithall to react like he did? Would I find such courage under fire? Do I carry some of that in me, being his descendant? Who knows.

More reports to follow after I go back and attempt another search.

RIP Traip Academy?

According to this article in the Portsmouth Herald, serious discussion is happening about the closing of my beloved high school, plucky little Traip Academy.

This is particularly troublesome to me, given that I just went to my 20th reunion this summer. Traip also underwent a major renovation in the 90's in which the original "Main" building was torn down and a new structure built to connect the two other buildings, and it seems a waste to close a building that recently had so much money poured into it.

The kids would be sent to Marshwood High School in the neighboring town of Eliot, which has the capacity to accommodate Traip's entire student body (currently numbering a fairly paltry 280).

Kittery is falling victim to the State of Maine's plan to consolidate the various school districts, as well as the downsizing of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard whose 'navy brats' comprised a sizeable chunk of the students. Kittery's school system is overbudgeted and underpopulated, and it's a legitimate argument that the consolidation plan makes sound financial sense.

Except that many Traip teachers would likely lose their jobs, likely including some that were teaching back when I was there. That's a more pressing concern to me than any sentimental attachment I have to my old alma mater.

But still, those sentiments still matter to me. Traip's drama club shaped my artistic aesthetic, which is why prefer serious drama over musicals. Traip was where working backstage on a one-act cutting of Agnes of God as a freshman forged the direction of my life. Traip was where we learned to make do with meager resources, ancient equipment, occasionally indifferent teachers, and cramped facilities, because it taught us how to deal with adversity and how to transcend it.

Before the renovation, we had to eat lunch in the gym because we didn't have a cafeteria. We had the smallest gym in the state, we didn't have an auditorium (just a stage in the gym), we frequently had to walk outside between buildings in the dead of winter, our athletic fields were halfway across town, etc. The memories of teachers who died too young linger with me: Ms March, Ms Ryder, Mr Whitten, etc. still wander the halls in my mind.

Still, sentiment for times long past aren't enough to justify keeping the place open. Alas for Traip Academy, which soon might join the other shuttered Kittery schools that I went to: Wentworth-Dennett (grades 2 & 3) and Frisbee (grades 4-8).

I hope that if they do close it, they at least keep the building in use. Traip could be the long-delayed new community center, an adult-ed center, a performing arts center, or, hell, all three.