Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day, and the Reconciliation of Former Enemies

On this Veterans Day morning I attended a brief ceremony in the cemetery of my local church in Annandale, Virgina. American Legion Post 1776 of Annandale placed American flags on the grave sites of the twenty-five veterans who are buried in the church yard. Afterwards, I read the headstones on those graves and noted that most of the men had served in the Second World War, a few in the Great War or the Spanish-American War, and three in the Civil War. Among the Civil War veterans was one Elhanah W. Wakefield, a First Sergent in the 2nd Massachusetts from 1863 to 1865, who has a special connection to that Annandale church.

In 1864, when Union troops around Alexandria, Virginia, were being raided and harassed by Confederate partisans under John Singleton Mosby ("the Grey Ghost"), First Sergent Wakefield was ordered to burn down the Annandale Chapel, and he did so. The reason for the order is no longer known, but possibly it was in reprisal for assistance given to Mosby's men by local residents. One year later the war was over, and Wakefield choose to be mustered out of the Army in Alexandria, where he married a local woman. He then helped to re-build the Annandale Chapel, and later became its Sunday School superintendent. He eventually became an ordained minister and started another chapel nearby (today known as the Wakefield Chapel, and a Fairfax County historic site). When Wakefield died in 1920, he was buried a few feet from the Annandale Chapel he had restored, which still stands and is in use on Colombia Pike.

A fuller account of Wakefield's story can be found here, based on contemporary sources from around the time of his death.

J.S. Mosby also had a sort of reconciliation with his old enemies, but not until one hundred and ten years after the war. When the U.S. Army built a training center for reservists at Fort Belvoir in Mosby's old stomping grounds of northern Virginia, it was dedicated as the John Singleton Mosby United States Army Reserve Center. When I was in a Reserve unit and attended drills there, it always tickled me that the place was named in honor of a man the U.S. Army would once have hanged if only it had been able to catch him.

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