Lessons From An Elmira Cemetery

{As Chaplain of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Buffalo Guards Camp (#1975), I helped officiate the grave memorial ceremony held in the Woodlawn National Cemetery in Elmyra, NY, where nearly 3000 Confederates were buried from the nearby prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. Due to unimaginable overcowding and resulting health issues, as many people died there in less than a year than did Union prisoners in the worst camps in the South over a period of several years. }

The scripture reading used for the service were:
2 Corinthians 4 (13-18) & Mark 12 (18-31)

Blessing Over the Graves

Lord, we ask a blessing upon us all, that we hold the goodness of our common heritage in our hearts, and let go of those times we have not loved each other as you have loved us.

May You bless and keep all those buried here at peaceful rest, and never having been reunited with their loved ones in this life, have long since made their journey back to their eternal home with You, creator of us all, and Hope in all ages.

We pray for he wisdom to learn from the lessons of the past, and honor those who have gone before us in this place. Lord, let them know we accept them as part of our ancestry, in all their faith and achievements, as well as their faults and failings. Let them know they are remembered – they are not forgotten in our hearts.

We ask for this, and all good things, in Your name. Amen.


We live today, again, in a time where man takes up arms against his fellow man. The nature of war may be defensive or offensive, autonomy or imperialism, and its goals may be anything from freedom and peace to conquest and economic gain. But all in this world that is deemed good or evil has a price, and in war, that is more than munitions and property, but human life itself. For whatever reasons the powers that be go to war, the soldier has found himself the instrument – and ultimate cost – of any conflict.

George Orwell once remarked “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men and women stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” While some of us raise protest when duty calls, others answer the call to stand between us and those who would do us harm under the guise of politics, religion, or historical claim. Some are forced into service and learn lessons they never intended to learn.

What lessons do we learn today from commemorating the graves of Confederate soldiers who died while imprisoned here at Elmira nearly seven generations ago? What do these stones speak to us?

History tells us that these men had families and friends. Some of their descendants are perhaps here today. Many had jobs or worked the land, danced, laughed, cried, sang, and prayed, as did their captors. But if there were any difference between each other, and between them and us, it is erased by the ultimate fact of our own mortality. Perhaps the founding fathers were exaggerating in declaring all men born equal, but our eventual equality is not insured exclusively by Smith & Wesson. Violence and accidents, illnesses and old age, all call us back to task in the next life.

History tells us that a single man, “Reverend Eddy”, chaplain of a Texas regiment, committed these boys and men to the next world in the Christian rites. History tells us that a single man, John W. Jones, a freedman and sexton to a local church, dug each and every one of these graves we plant flags on today. He did so for up to 48 burials in a day, and some say he acquired a hefty sum of money by the end of the war by doing so, but others note that he gave extra assurance that the burials of the so-called enemy were properly and reverently conducted.

As human nature dictates, many looked down on their brothers buried here with disdain and even mockery. We still face the bitter fruits of ignorance of our common heritage to this day. But there were others who showed mercy, and pity, even charity and compassion, to their fellow man irrespective of the superficialities of rank and uniform.

But from these graves we learn the harshest lesson of all – that death knows no denomination, just as war acknowledges no creed, nor color, nor anything else that seems to set us apart. We have nothing to win by being against each other, for in the end, we shall all stand at attention on the other side.

Ken posted at 2004-8-29 Category: Uncategorized

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  1. #1Ken Stuczynski @ 2004-8-29 08:50

    {Here are the unused notes of the passage above, truncated for brevity and my wife's convition that it had a perfect ending and closure where I eventually cut it.}By default, our forefathers here can speak of nothing else. That is their lesson and final message.What message do I have for all of you today? A new kingdom is at hand for all of us. Not a nation to rise up against all other nations, but a new world within our own hearts, here to be ours at every moment. In each new day, we can make that choice. We can chose to follow the ways of the world, and after countless wars and memorials learn nothing. Or we can beat the swords of our hearts in the plowshares of tolerance, respect, charity, and above all else Love.We can do this even when we cannot take the ball and powder from our very hands, lest we lose our homes and lives at the hands of others in this imperfect world. But we do not have to hate our brother across the field, or the ocean, or across all the rifts of politics, ideology, religion, or culture. If we cannot in clear conscience lay down our arms, we can still chose to pray for them, love them, and better care for them when wounded or imprisoned than some of those who have gone before us.And so I pray today that we may leave behind the prejudices of the past, reject those of the present, and be on guard against those yet to come.

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