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Memorial Day procession to Fredericksburg National Cemetery will re-create early post-Civil War events led by African-Americans to honor Union dead
An 1874 photo shows the grave of 1st Lt. Warrenton
F. THEODORE MILLER /JERRY AND LOUISE BRENT COLLECTION
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More than 180,000 U.S. Colored Troops served the Union. Toward war's end, a third of all U.S. soldiers in the South were black.
"Now is a time for a new reconciliation among the entire population, recognizing that the Civil War was the watershed epoch in American history, and an understanding that it affected and continues to affect everyone," Smith said.
That is especially so this year, the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Fredericksburg, Smith said.
He views the sesquicentennial as a kind of "do-over" for the Civil War's centennial, which left a significant portion of the American people out of the commemorations.
"At best, black people were viewed as recipients of freedom, rather than actors in their own cause, while their white counterparts celebrated reconciliation between North and South," Smith said in an interview. "Consequently, black people have not had that much interest in the Civil War."
It wasn't always thus.
The first collective Decoration Day ceremony took place on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, and included a parade by some 10,000 people, most of them former slaves, and the decoration of the graves of the Union dead with spring flowers.
In Fredericksburg, observances at the then-new National Cemetery began in 1868 with an African-American excursion from Washington and Richmond, according to Donald Pfanz, staff historian at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.
Records are not complete for every year, but the local Decoration Day commemoration was multiracial for at least three years, Pfanz writes in an unpublished book manuscript on the National Cemetery. The last procession and program sponsored by blacks was in 1880, with "a very large crowd" of African-Americans, he records.
In 1884, the program was sponsored by both Union and Confederate veterans. Blacks were excluded, Pfanz writes.
In 1885, Confederate veterans and local whites held a program at the Confederate Cemetery, then marched to the National Cemetery, where the former Confederates strew flowers on graves.
In 1888, Confederate veterans and four Union veterans marched to the National Cemetery, where both sides gave speeches and decorated the Yankee soldiers' graves.
Blacks were excluded from the program, in a gentlemen's agreement reached by the white veterans, Pfanz said in an interview.
WHAT: Memorial Day procession, ending at Fredericksburg National Cemetery in time for its noon exercises. The Rev. Lawrence A. Davies, the recently retired pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church, will deliver the keynote address.WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Monday WHERE: Starts at Riverfront Park on Sophia Street, then up Charlotte Street, to the National Cemetery at Sunken Road and Lafayette Boulevard. DETAILS: Procession and Memorial Day program at the National Cemetery are free, and the public is invited. The walk's route is about one mile long. Historian-led tours of Sunken Road after the cemetery program. For those with mobility issues, buses will be available at Riverfront Park. MORE INFO: 540/373-6122