Below is a report from the event that provides a full account of what must have been quite an experience. The program for the day was posted on November 22; this fills in the color for the memorable event. Further posts will contain pictures.
On Saturday, November 23, 2013, the Michigan Historical Commission and the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee participated in the Michigan Remembers Gettysburg commemoration in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The commemoration, hosted by the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial History Partners, in cooperation with the Michigan Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States (MOLLUS), the Woman's Relief Corps (WRC), and others, was an honorable and memorable tribute to the sacrifice of Michigan citizen-soldiers during the Gettysburg Campaign of July 1863.
The event took place on this year’s annual Remembrance Day, which typically takes place on the nearest Saturday to November 19 - the date when President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the cemetery and delivered his now immortal Gettysburg Address in 1863. This year marks the 150th Anniversary of that historic event, and the Michigan Remembers Gettysburg ceremony was our State’s opportunity to observe and memorialize those Michiganders who fought and died for the preservation of a more perfect Union.
In addition to the parade, various ceremonies, and other tribute activities that take place during Remembrance Day, the Michigan contingent started out at 8:00 am in the Michigan section of the National Cemetery. With a crisp, cold and sunny morning at hand, these volunteers placed a small U.S. and Michigan flag at each one of the Michigan graves. Although the stone marker at the head of the Michigan section indicates that there are 171 men buried in this location, research has found that there are indeed more. There are also several Michigan men buried in the U.S. Regulars section of the cemetery. There are over 3,500 Civil War graves in the cemetery, and each one of them at minimum had a U.S. flag placed over it. Every Michigan soldier in the Cemetery received both flags. Michigan white pine boughs and vines were wrapped around the base of the State section stone marker. An evergreen wreath with a red, white, and blue bow and blue ribbon with the silver letters ‘MICHIGAN’ was placed adjacent. With the graves fully decorated and honored, the participants left to participate in the parade through town.
At 3:30 pm the Michigan group, along with many others, gathered at the Michigan section for the formal program and ceremony. Just prior to the start, commemorative buttons with attached ribbons with an inscription that read, “Michigan Remembers Gettysburg; Thank God for Michigan; The Honored Dead – Gettysburg National Cemetery – November 23, 2013” and programs were distributed to all those present. Large flag streamers with the same information were also given to each organization that carried a flag as part of the Color Guard. Bruce B. Butgereit, History Partners member and Commander of the Michigan MOLLUS, welcomed everyone as the Master of Ceremonies and detailed Michigan’s past efforts over the 150 years to honor her fallen at Gettysburg. Keith Harrison, also a History Partners member and past Commander-in-Chief of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) and MOLLUS, posted the Color Guard, and the ceremony began. The cemetery is located on the summit of a hill that overlooks the town of Gettysburg and is subject to the strong winds that come from the valley below. This day was no exception, as strong cold winds blew across the graves stirring over 3,500 flags both small and large alike. The sound of the fluttering flags set to the backdrop of red, white, and blue, towering fully mature trees, monuments and markers, created a powerful scene that will not soon be forgotten by those in attendance.
Michigan Historical Commissioner and Chair of the Michigan CW Sesquicentennial Committee, Brian James Egen, spoke about the importance of remembering the past and then presented a proclamation issued by Governor Rick Snyder declaring Saturday, November 23, 2013, as Michigan Remembers Gettysburg Day. Commissioner Egen also announced that on November 14, 2013, the Michigan House of Representatives adopted House Resolution No. 270 – A resolution to commemorate the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address of November 19, 1863, and to honor the sacrifice made by the 90,000 Michigan soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War.
Chaplain Wenda Foe from the Champlin Corps No. 41, WRC, delivered a fitting address. The main portion of the program was conducted by Marcia Butgereit, Past National President of the Woman’s Relief Corp. Jim Paul, Past Commander-in-chief SUVCW, and Paul Davis, Commander, Department of Michigan, SUVCW, assisted by reading the names of the Michigan soldiers buried within the grounds. During this portion of the ceremony, volunteers from Michigan and from the crowd fanned out across the Michigan graves and commenced emptying a small tin of soil over each grave. A three-inch, round tin, labeled with the soldier's name and unit, were placed at each respective grave. The soil, collected from volunteers across the Great Lake State, was from each soldier’s hometown, school grounds, or memorial marker back in Michigan. The scene of these volunteers spreading a “little piece of home” over the graves as the names of the fallen were read aloud filled the cold air with profound homage and commemoration to these honored Michigan dead.
At the conclusion of the reading of the names, Harry Dillon III, 2nd Military District, SUVCW, played taps. Fred Priebe, Michigan resident who portrays Abraham Lincoln, read the Gettysburg Address not more than fifty yards from where it was first recited 150 years ago. Following these few appropriate remarks, several wreaths and floral elements were placed by the various primary participating organizations, including the Michigan Historical Commission. The presentation of these tributes was assisted by Michigan youth, Cecilia Jennett, Jr., Member Champlin Corps No. 41 WRC, and Rylan Vazquez, Jr., Member guide/Guard Gen. John A. Logan Camp No. 1, SUVCW. Chet Trybus, vocalist representing Gen. John A. Logan Camp No. 1, SUVCW, led the gathering in singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, and Jannine Trybus, President, Champlin Corps No. 41, WRC, provided the benediction. Bruce Butgereit closed the ceremony with final appropriate remarks and thanked everyone for attending.
The U.S. and Michigan flags flown during the ceremony will be retired after several years of service. The flags, along with tins that contained the soil for each soldier, will be sold as a fundraising effort for future History Partners activities. A commemorative Michigan Remembers Gettysburg booklet is being produced of this sesquicentennial project. The booklet will include a history of Michigan in the Civil War, soldier biographies, the story of the Cemetery, then and now photographs of Michigan monuments, remarks from the ceremony, and much more. Each participant in the November 23 program will receive a complimentary copy while others are available at cost. Those interested in purchasing flags, tins, or the Michigan Remembers Gettysburg commemorative booklet should contact Bruce Butgereit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The State of Michigan can be proud of the extraordinary effort made by those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Civil War. The Michigan Remembers Gettysburg event was a fitting tribute of commemoration and appreciation. Over one hundred people stood in the cold winds of Pennsylvania to participate in this ceremony and pay their respect to the fallen. It was a great day for Michigan and for remembering a portion of Michigan’s rich historical past.
Brian James Egen
Michigan Historical Commission
Chair, Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee