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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sometimes coincidences work in combination like tumblers on a padlock and really do leave one wondering about the possibility of a shadowy paranormal universe existing on the fringes of time, space, and dimension. But shelving the Rod Serlingesque script for a moment, ten days before the Veteran's Day ceremony in Dighton, Massachusetts honoring Frederick Anderson, I stumbled across this snippet from a 1996 edition of Forbes Magazine posted on the Web:

"[The flag of the 27th South Carolina Infantry which was captured] by Union Private Frederick C. Anderson (who won a Medal of Honor) for this action) was auctioned off at Lancaster, Pa. for $73,700. The buyer, Pamplin Park Civil War Site, is currently displaying the flag at its museum in Petersburg."

Approximately a week before seeing the reference to the flag my friend Lynn had emailed pictures of the actual Medal of Honor awarded to Anderson, which had passed through generations of Anderson descendants and now rests in the possession of his niece Cecilia. If you've read Parts One through Three of the Anderson saga there's no need to write anything more about the misty shadow of tumblers.

On the drive to Petersburg I passed Ft. A.P. Hill and then later, close by the entrance to Pamplin Park Historical Park, historical marker S49, which read: "In the field a short distance north of this road, the Confederate General A.P. Hill was killed, April 2, 1865...." Two and a half years earlier than the date recorded on the sign, Frederick Anderson and the 18th Massachusetts Infantry had squared off against Little Powell's Division at Shepherdstown, after which Powell wrote of the Potomac running red with the blood of Union soldiers.

If you can apply significance to and know the history of an artifact on display in a museum it takes on a completely different quality. The artifact becomes more than a curiosity, more than an inanimate object from the distant past. It takes on form, substance, and becomes a living, breathing testimonial. I was transfixed by the flag, studying every small hole, every tear in its fabric, seemingly every thread in the four foot square cloth; its red triangles, its blue cross, and its now browned borders and stars. I ran a movie in my head of a field hard by a railroad track on a late August afternoon in 1864 shrouded in a fog of smoke from discharged muskets, of men shouting, screaming, running, advancing, retreating, falling, standing still, and of one man in blue closing distance on another in gray, the latter at the head of his decimated South Carolina regiment lifting his staff skyward, waving it from side to side, trying to rally those not yet fallen, trying to rally those who had, until hands that had tilled soil in Raynham, Massachusetts tore the wooden pole from his grasp and leveled a gun barrel at his chest.

Mine has been a full circle journey in a universe of time, space, and dimension; a full circle journey that accompanies me on a short drive to a field hard by a railroad track; a full circle journey that has led me to a medal for gallantry and ultimately to a grave of one that I've never known, yet, at the same time, have known all my life.


Picture courtesy of Cecilia Miles

Photo courtesy of Cecilia Miles


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