President Lincoln proclaimed in the Gettysburg Address that the world would not “long remember” his words about our nation’s bloodiest war. Maybe some places have forgotten, but not Redwood City where the Civil War is immortalized at Union Cemetery.
The cemetery will soon become part of a coast-to-coast drive called Wreaths Across America, a campaign by volunteers dedicated to honoring deceased veterans by placing wreaths on their graves. In a brief ceremony Dec. 19, wreaths will adorn the approximately 55 graves at Union Cemetery’s Grand Army of the Republic plot that is guarded by a statue of a Union Army solider at parade rest, a familiar sight to motorists driving by on Woodside Road.
Making Redwood City a link in the 2,100 locations that belong to Wreaths Across America resulted from a joint effort by the Gaspar de Portola chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Historic Union Cemetery Association.
The first wreath-placing took place in 1992 when the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, found itself with extra wreaths at the end of the holiday season. These were placed at Arlington National Cemetery, in one of its oldest sections, which had fewer and fewer visitors each year.
The annual ceremony at Arlington continued quietly until 2005 when a photo of snow-covered headstones adorned with wreaths circulated on the Internet, suddenly drawing national attention. The Worcester Wreath Company was inundated with requests to help continue what was becoming a unique holiday tradition. The company returned the unsolicited money to donors, leading to the establishment of the nonprofit Wreaths Across America.
Sponsor a Wreath
Climate readers who wish to honor a family member or friends on Dec.19 can attend the ceremony at Union Cemetery but they can also volunteer. People can even sponsor one or more green wreaths, which feature a red bow and cost $15 each. To do so, go to wreathsacrossamerica.org/CA0578P. Organizers of the Redwood City observance hope there will be enough donated wreaths for all 55 graves.
The ceremony will be a subdued one, necessitated by Covid-19 social distancing and masks. Too bad. In normal times the event would have provided a great opportunity to recall Lincoln’s stirring words dedicating the cemetery at Gettysburg. Among other things, the President’s words, emblazoned on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., noted “the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.” In words that could, or should, resound today, Lincoln called on living Americans to dedicate themselves to making sure that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
None of the men buried in Redwood City’s Union Cemetery plot died in the Civil War, but they certainly fought in it. For example, George Filkins fought at Missionary Ridge, Nashville, and Stone River. William Frisbie of the Wisconsin volunteers was a veteran of several famous battles, including York River, Suffolk and James River. Men who fought in units from several states are buried in the cemetery, including New York, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland and Illinois.
They Died for Union
The words on the statue erected in 1889 read: “To the memory of California’s patriotic dead who served during the War of the Union.” Near the base is an inscription which says “mustered out,” a military term meaning discharged or separated from service.
By 1887 there were six veterans’ graves to decorate with flowers. This led the Grand Army of the Republic’s veterans’ organization to buy the land for the plot. Decorating the graves became an annual event. In 1927 hundreds of people attended ceremonies that included bands and a parade in which four Civil War vets “rode in machines” and “occupied seats on the platform” at the cemetery, newspapers reported.
The last headstone was erected in 1984 to mark the grave of James Henry Baxter who fought at Gettysburg, where he was wounded in the neck with a sword. Baxter died in Redwood City in 1936 at the age of 92. He was buried at the foot of the statue of the Union soldier. His grave was unmarked until relatives put up the stone.