I love going for walks in cemeteries. And have all my life. For some that makes me creepy. To sister and brother taphophiles, a walk through a cemetery is as normal as a walk around the neighborhood. The residents of this graveyard community have stories to tell. And mysteries to share – the mystery that surrounds the dash between their birth year and their death year. Who were they in life? What were their hopes and dreams? What adventures did they have? What tragic circumstances surrounded those that died prematurely? Sometimes those puzzles are resolved by considering the tombstones that share a last name and death date. A mother who died in childbirth? Possibly – especially during the early centuries of our country. The epidemics that swept through communities besieged by poor water supplies and lack of nutritious food? Some ambiguities will never be unraveled.
Recently I had a few extra minutes in my day and decided to visit Lakeside Cemetery in Canon City. Lakeside is one of three cemeteries in this small Colorado town known as “The Corrections Capitol of the World (nine state and four federal prisons, including Supermax, are situated in and around Canon City.) At first just wandering among the headstones, watching the deer graze, enjoying the peace that cemeteries hold and beholding the various grave markers. Large, ornate monuments of prominent and wealthy citizens of the community. The easily recognizable white marble headstone of a deceased veteran of the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines or Coast Guard. Some headstones emblazoned with the deceased’s fraternal organization such as the Masons, Order of Eastern Star or the Woodmen of the World.
I was getting back in my vehicle, ready to head to my meeting when I happened to glance down and found a plaque next to a headstone.
WOW! Joseph B Smith was a veteran of the US Civil War! I don’t know what I found it surprising that veterans of the US Civil War would be buried in CO but I did. Not only had Mr. Smith served during the Civil War but he was OLD even by today’s average. If you don’t do math, he was 102 years old when he left this realm. At the time of Mr. Smith’s death not only was he the last remaining Civil War veteran in the county he was one of the three oldest people in Colorado. His life spanned too many wars (Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, WWI, and WWII) and several major historic events (the sinking of the Titanic, The Great Depression, The San Francisco earthquake, and the advent of cars and planes)
So, who was Mr. Smith in life? He was born November 25, 1842, in New York. At 19 he enlisted on June 10, 1862, with Company C, of the 5th New York Artillery. His unit had 12 pieces in place at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Famous charge. In November, he was a guard only a few yards away from the platform where President Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address. Mr. Smith is quoted in the Canon City Daily Record saying “My recollection of President Lincoln is his extreme height and his gangling arms that seem to almost reach his knees. It seems to me that he walked with a slight limp.”
Mr. Smith spent the last part of the war in Libby Prison. He remembered conditions in the prison were horrible. Week after week prisoners would only get a four-square-inch piece of cornbread each day. The South didn’t have food for their Confederate soldiers let alone the Union prisoners. Joseph was released April 1, 1865, 8 days before General Lee surrendered. Mr. Smith saw General Lee on the day he was taken prisoner stating “He was the finest looking man I ever saw. The union forces had great respect for General Lee and he was a fine soldier as well as a gentleman”. During World War II it was said that Mr. Smith would walk unassisted to purchase War bonds.
You never know who you will meet in the cemetery. Or what you’ll learn.
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