On Sunday, April 19th, at 3pm, a brief but solemn service was held in Hampton Park, Charleston SC. A small crowd gathered in the park to honor the memory of all who died in the American Civil War, both Union and Confederate, black and white, enslaved and free, men, women, and children. After the Citadel Chamber Choir led the attendees in the singing of “God Bless America,” Lieutenant Colonel Joel Harris, Chaplain to the Corps of Cadets at the Citadel, began the service with an invocation. Then historian David Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of History at Yale University, spoke to the audience about the historical significance of Hampton Park. He described what may have been America’s first Memorial Days, May 1, 1865—a ceremony at which African-American citizens of Charleston reinterred more than 200 Union prisoners-of-war previously buried in a mass-grave at the site. The day consisted of a parade, which included African-American troops of the 54th Massachusetts, the construction of a monument to the dead, sermons and readings from Scripture, and feasting and games. Blight thought it well that almost 150 years later we were gathered in that same space to honor and commemorate the dead of the Civil War. Following a singing of “America the Beautiful,” led by the Choir, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. in Charleston, gave a homily. He read from the nineteenth chapter of Second Samuel, in which King David mourns the death of Absalom, the son who rebelled against him. Pinckney urged the audience not only to remember the ultimate sacrifice of so many but also to honor their sacrifice by continuing to work for the ideals presented by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address. The Choir then led the attendees in the singing of the “Navy-hymn” “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” and this was followed by a moment of silence, so that all could in their own way ponder and pray over all those who gave their lives in the war. A member of the Choir then played “Taps” as the audience continued to think and reflect. Rev. Harris brought the service to a close with a final prayer that reflected the solemn and conciliatory tone of the ceremony.
We would like to express our thanks to all who came out to join in the commemoration of the end of America’s bloodiest war and the honoring of all who paid the ultimate price in that terrible time of our national history.