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Hagerstown observes Civil War, 2013

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Hagerstown observes 150th anniversary of Civil War with ceremonial observance

September 21, 2013

Hagerstown observed the 150th anniversary of the Civil War on Saturday with a ceremonial observance, including marker unveilings and an address by Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown at Rose Hill Cemetery.

The City of Hagerstown, Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and Rose Hill Cemetery sponsored the event, which kicked off Friday night at City Hall with a lecture by Daniel Toomey titled “Old Men in Blue and Gray.”

Area dignitaries and a smattering of residents gathered Saturday morning under gray skies in lively winds as clouds threatened to burst. Re-enactors and color guards decked the lawn among grave stones. The Rohrersville Band played patriotic songs, and Hagerstown native Kelly Wright, a reporter with Fox News Channel’s Washington, D.C., bureau, welcomed guests as master of ceremonies.

Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts said event organizers aimed to honor all Civil War veterans of the Hagerstown area, but especially “those who have long been overlooked in our community.” He specified members of United States Colored Troops. Gysberts said Washington County was one of the most productive areas per capita for U.S. Colored Troops recruiting officers in Maryland.

Rose Hill Cemetery is the final resting place for many Civil War veterans, including 2,000 Confederate soldiers who are laid to rest at Washington Confederate Cemetery, a smaller cemetery within Rose Hill.

“When the city council gave the nod to move forward with the this event in 2011, it was with the stipulation that the heritage of all involved would be treated fairly and with respect, and I’m happy to report that we are fulfilling that directive,” Gysberts said.

A highlight of the ceremony was the unveiling of the renovated grave marker of Jacob F. Wheaton.

Wheaton, who was born near Middletown, Md., and moved to Hagerstown during the 1850s, served as a nurse during the Civil War years and is widely believed to be the first African-American to vote in Maryland after the Civil War. He also was instrumental in establishing a high school on West North Avenue in Hagerstown for “colored” children.

Maryland Del. John P. Donoghue introduced Brown. Donoghue said that years ago, as students at St. Maria Goretti, he and Wright used to play pickup basketball at Wheaton Park in Hagerstown. At the time, he said, neither he nor Wright gave much thought to the park’s namesake.

Donoghue said it was “fitting” that Wright would emcee the ceremony. Even more fitting, he said, was that Brown, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves who served a tour of duty in Iraq, would provide the address.

“Here we have today an African-American soldier to talk to us about African-American soldiers,” Donoghue said.

Brown spoke to a receptive crowd, warming to them with a joke about the gloomy weather.

“This is what we call ‘infantry sunshine,’” he joked. “This is what we like when we are out there.”

Brown said the battles of the Civil War touched “young and old, Blue and Gray, black and white.” He pointed out that Maryland saw men killed “on both sides,” and that the soldiers believed they were “defending their home, their state, their way of life and their beliefs.”

“And the graves and monuments here are a testament to their courage, their determination and to their ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

The Ebenezer A.M.E. Church Choir sang fiery hymns that rang across the grounds.

The Washington Confederate Cemetery was rededicated at the event, and a monument to Lyon Post 31 of the Grand Army of the Republic — known as the GAR — was unveiled.

The GAR, an organization for Civil War veterans that preceded and was similar to the American Legion, had two segregated posts in Hagerstown. In the 1920s, a monument to the Reno Post 4 for white veterans was established at the cemetery, but one never had been created for the African-Americans of Post 31.


Alicia Notarianni, Hagerstown Herald-Mail

Photograph by Colleen McGrath.

Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts, left, Carolyn Brooks, great-great granddaughter of Bandmaster Robert Moxley, 1st Brigade Band, U.S. Colored Troops/Lyon Post #31 G.A.R. member, Maryland Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Janice Kelsh, niece of the late Marguerite Doleman, African American local historian, look over the newly restored grave marker for Jacob F. Wheaton. Wheaton, who was born near Middletown, Md., and moved to Hagerstown during the 1850s, served as a nurse during the Civil War years and is widely believed to be the first African-American to vote in Maryland after the Civil War.


Collection Location:

African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.

Washington County (Md.), 1890-2013

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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