There is something about a national military cemetery that gives pause.
Almost 13,000 federal Civil War soldiers rest in Chattanooga National Cemetery – 13,000 human drops in the 1861-1865 national bloodbath that saved the Union and ended slavery.
I went to the burial ground on a rainy day last month as part of a personal writing and research project that followed the path of my great-great granddad Charles Dickerson and the 23rd Michigan Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
Charles didn’t die in the war, but several men from my hometown did.
At least two – Elisha Kitchen and Joseph Lonson Bryant – are buried in Chattanooga, a vast cemetery and final resting place today for some 40,000 to 50,000 mostly American soldiers and their families.
I felt overwhelmed at times by the thousands of white grave markers standing upright like dominos and stretching across the rolling landscape under the crying sky.
It was beautiful but also sad and haunting. Flowering trees bloomed. Massive oaks dotted the fields of graves. Grass greened. I heard a train in the distance.
It took an hour to find Elisha’s grave site and get the pictures I wanted.
Afterward, I stood paying respects and sorting thoughts and emotions.
I knew little about Elisha. He was born in Canada and later moved to Tuscola County’s Fremont Township near what is today Mayville.
He was 23 and a farm worker in 1862 when he enlisted.
He died Nov. 13, 1864, at a Chattanooga military hospital.
I wondered if I was his first visitor during the 150 years he has lain in his grave, some 700 miles from his hometown in Michigan’s Thumb. How sad that distance must have been for his family.
The search for Bryant’s grave lasted about two hours and took me near the top of a 100-foot-tall sloping hill in the center of the graveyard.