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In North, Civil War sites, events 'forgotten'

Associated Press | 4/19/2011, 11:36 p.m.

Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group open to male descendants of veterans who served in the Confederate armed forces, boast 30,000 members across the Old South.

The Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War has 6,000 members.

Kevin Tucker, Massachusetts Department Commander for the Sons of the Union Veterans, said some Northern descendants don’t even know they’re related to Union veterans. “I found out after my father did some research and discovered that my great-great-grandfather had collected a Union pension,” said Tucker, of Wakefield. “Until then, I had no idea.”

Mark Simpson, 57, South Carolina commander of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said his family knew for generations about his great-great-grandfather’s service in the Confederacy. “I visit his gravesite every year and put a flag down,” Simpson said. “He is real to me.”

Mintz said the North has another factor affecting its Civil War memory: immigration from Italy and Eastern Europe at the turn of the 20th century. He said those populations, and more recent immigrants, sometimes struggle to identify with that war compared to more contemporary ones.

Then, Mintz said, after the Civil War a number of Northerners moved West — and to the South.

History buffs with the Framingham History Center in Framingham, Mass., a town where residents say “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first sung, said they are using the sesquicentennial to bring attention to long-forgotten local Civil War sites and personalities. Included in a planned event is a celebration at Harmony Grove, site of many anti-slavery rallies where abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison famously burned a copy of the U.S. Constitution and called it a “pact with the Devil.”

Today, only a small plaque in front of a house announces the historic site now surrounded by industrial lots, train tracks and a motorcycle shop.

Volunteers also hope to raise around $1 million for Framingham’s dilapidated Civil War memorial building to repair its cracked walls and leaky ceiling. The building houses a memorial honoring Framingham soldiers killed in the war and an American flag that flew over the Battles of Gettysburg and Antietam. (Murphy said the flag was discovered in the 1990s after being forgotten in a case for 90 years.)

Fred Wallace, the town’s historian, said that more importantly, volunteers wanted to bring attention to Gen. George H. Gordon, a long-forgotten Union hero from Framingham who was a prolific writer and organizer of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. “I don’t understand how this man was lost to history,” said Wallace, who has researched Gordon’s life and is now writing a biography on him. “He was in the middle of everything.”

During a recent afternoon, Murphy took a reporter and photographer to Gordon’s gravesite, which she said would be included in a planned walking tour. But Murphy couldn’t locate the site and a cemetery official needed to comb through maps to find it.

Murphy said putting the pieces together of Gordon’s life is part of the fun, even when it surprises residents.

“When I was told that I lived in what used to be a barn of Gen. Gordon’s horse,” 81-year-old Ellen Shaw said, “I was like ... General who?”

Since then Shaw has joined history buffs in searching for what they believe is a marker announcing the gravesite of Ashby, Gordon’s horse in many battles. She hasn’t located it on her property.

“I hope I find it one day when I’m just walking around outside,” Shaw said. “Then I can say, ‘Glad to meet you. Sorry we forgot about you.’ ”

Associated Press