UPDATE: For an article describing the governor’s visit to the National Cemetery on Memorial Day, click here. More than 400 turned out to hear him talk, about double our usual attendance at the annual ceremony. HIs remarks, and his patient willingness to stay afterward to talk to everyone who wished to speak with him, gained praise all around.
From Hennessy: Until this morning, tomorrow’s visit by Governor McDonnell to speak at the Fredericksburg National Cemetery’s Memorial Day observance hasn’t received much public notice. We believe Governor McDonnell is the first governor–and probably the most prominent individual ever–to speak at the cemetery’s Memorial Day observances since they began in 1868. For an article on tomorrow’s program from this morning’s Free Lance-Star, click here.
As a historical aside, Donald Pfanz records in his unpublished work on the Cemetery that from 1868 until the early 1880s, the Memorial Day observances in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery were organized by Fredericksburg’s African-American community. Indeed, in 1871, the observance included both black and white speakers–an almost unheard of event in 19th-century Virginia. But, in the early 1880s, veterans started getting involved in the ceremonies. Union veterans initiated the effort. Then as a gesture of goodwill and reconciliation, they invited Confederate veterans to join them. The Confederate veterans did, but only with the understanding that the ceremony would exclude those who had formerly organized it–the area’s African Americans. By 1884, African-American involvement in the Memorial Day observances in Fredericksburg was largely done, and the chasm between the war and its emancipationist legacy would grow for the next century.
Finally, last night’s illumination of the National Cemetery attracted about 4,000 visitors. It’s a powerful spectacle–more than 15,300 candles–pulled off by hundreds of scouts and volunteers and a full turnout by our permanent and seasonal staff.