On Memorial Day my mother and I took a trip to Camp Chase Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio which was a Confederate Prison during the War Between the States. Shortly after our visit I attended a cousin’s graduation and we were telling about our visit. One of my cousins asked “Why would you go there?”
Before I answer that, I must tell you about our visit. The entire cemetery is enclosed with a brick wall about 4 to 5 feet high on the outside and 3 feet on the inside. On top of the brick wall is iron fencing for another 3 feet or so. The entrance is in the middle and is two iron gates. Immediately upon entering, I was met by a large monument with a confederate soldier standing on top and a boulder beneath that says “2260 Confederate Soldiers of the War 1861-1865 buried in this enclosure.” Surrounding this monument are the graves of those soldiers, all uniform, straight lines, lined up as if even in death they are still in formation.
As you walk through the cemetery, you can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. Young men so far away from home, in a climate that they could have never imagined just a short time before. And then when the end of their life came, they knew that they would never see their home again or their family. Unlike many military cemeteries, these men did not choose to be buried here. I couldn’t help but feel their pain and sadness as I walked among the headstones.
And my family history adds a varied twist to this conflict. My mother’s family is deeply rooted in the South, while my father’s family is just as deeply rooted in the north. There are men buried in this cemetery from units formed in the part of Alabama where my family is from. And then I also know that my paternal great-great grandfather was a guard at this prison. I equally love both sides of my family and I am equally proud of their history, but standing in that cemetery that day, I truly felt a clash of differences that I had never felt before.
As I roamed the lines of markers, I noticed that other people were coming to visit the cemetery. Many were families, some small children carrying little flags to place on these proud veterans’ graves. It made me feel good that these soldiers are still honored with visits from perfect strangers.
So to answer the question why would I go there, well the answer isn’t quite so simple. And I knew that if I tried to explain it, I would not be understood. So I politely replied, “It is an interesting piece of history.”