Closer to Home, Remembering the Forgotten Dead
We are surround by history. History brought us to the present moment. But our memory beyond 2-3 generations past is dim indeed.
Yesterday, to remember my grandparents, Otis and Vanga Moore, we visited the Walker Chapel Cemetery in Kirksville, IN. My grandfather, Otis C. Moore Jr., himself served in the Second World War in the 8th Armored Division, and from best we can tell, he served with them through their entire tour in Western Europe from January 1945 to the end of the war.
Today, we remember him and the many other veterans that lay near by, a generation now nearly completely gone.
But on Memorial Day we remember especially those who didn't come home except to be buried. And there were many other wars besides.
Walker Chapel was founded in 1848 and a few markers indicate that the cemetery was in use from the decade previous to that. It is astonishing how the forces of time: wind, rain, and mold erase even words written in stone. Among the many faded tombstones was the one pictured above. I think the inscription reads:
George A., Son of G.W. & C. Whitaker DIED Jan. 13, 1863 AGED 16 Yrs, 8 Ms, 5 Dys, Co. F. 82nd Reg. Ind. Vol.
A quick search for the 82nd Regiment Indiana, 1863, yields some helpful information. It was organized at Indianapolis and mustered for a 3-year enlistment on September 8, 1862. It was, in turn, attached to the Army of the Ohio and the Army of the Cumberland. It saw action throughout the war in Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas. It was involved in the battles of Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Kennesaw Mountain, and apparently, Sherman's famous march to the sea.
Indiana was a strong supporter of the Union cause in the Civil War sending some 210,000 men into enlistment, filling some 150 or so regiments. Losses were 25,028: 7,243 in battle, and 17,785 to disease. The 82nd regiment itself lost 244 men during the war.
Among them, the very young George A. Whitaker. From December 31 to January 2, 1863, the 82nd fought in the battle of Stones River, also known as the second battle of Murfreesboro.
George A.'s tombstone records his death on January 13, 1863. Was he a lingering casualty of the battle? Of disease? There's a story there that we don't know. But sometime in early 1863, a family in Whitaker Bottom received news of the death of their son in wartime. And they received his body. And they buried him in the nearby Walker Chapel cemetery at the top of the ridge. Just ten minutes drive from here today.
The teenage George Whitaker died in the opening campaign of his regiment. He didn't live to see victory. He died before Gettysburg, before Appomattox. For his parents, the Civil War wasn't history; it was great loss, grief, sorrow.
We can remember the forgotten dead not just by walking the treads near the great monuments, but by being observant near to home. Not too far from you, just a drive into the country, lie men and women who sacrificed their all. Stop a minute, take a walk among them, read the tombstones, and remember.