Monday, December 16, 2013

Antietam: General Rodman's resting place then and now

SEPT. 15,  2012: In time for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, a local 
Boy Scout troop  cleaned up the cemetery where Union General Isaac Rodman lies buried
 in Peace Dale, R..I.  Rodman was mortally wounded at Antietam. (Photo: Tom Filiberto)
NOV. 20, 2013: A little more than a year after Boys Scouts cleaned up the cemetery, nature
 took over again.  Rodman's memorial obelisk is at right.
Brigadier General Isaac Rodman was mortally wounded
at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.
On a spring day decades ago, the well-manicured fields surrounding the small cemetery on a hill in rural Rhode Island were full of huge dandelions and Holsteins grew fat on the lush pasture land. A local boy used to harvest those dandelions by the basket full for salads before he went to examine the headstones in the walled graveyard near a tree line of oaks and blueberries. "Once you entered," Robert Gough wrote of that long-ago visit with his grandfather, "a feeling welled up deep inside of you that struck you dumb, and words seemed trivial and unneeded." Gough was especially impressed with the tallest obelisk in the cemetery, the one in honor of Civil War Brigadier General Isaac Rodman, who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Antietam. "I marveled at it in the spring sunshine," he wrote, "the lichen-dabbled marble, the edges of its raised and graved letters smoothed and rounded by time and salt air. This was a serene plot untouched by vandals; a little piece of ground from another time."

Today, the lush fields and pasture land are a distant memory. A sand and gravel operation has carved up the area surrounding the once-serene plot of land where Rodman was buried in Peace Dale in early October 1862. During my visit in November, the nearly inaccessible cemetery was a weed-choked jungle, with many of the tombstones toppled or broken. An old metal Grand Army of the Republic marker and an American flag lay haphazardly beside Rodman's obelisk. A few feet away, the general's small tombstone was nearly obscured by briars, weeds and grass.

"It is amazing how quickly Mother Nature reclaims her space," Tom Filiberto e-mailed me recently. An assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 1 in Kingston, R.I., Filiberto and his Boy Scouts took on cleaning up the Rodman Cemetery as a community service project on Sept. 15, 2012, two days before the 150th anniversary of Antietam.  "I was there from beginning to end and can say it was a daunting task that I didn't think we'd be able to complete in one day," wrote Filiberto, who supplied the photo of the result of his scouts' labors at the top of this post.

Thankfully, there soon may be good news about the status of the Civil War hero's final resting place. In a story about the neglected cemetery that was posted recently on the Providence Journal web site, the owner of property, Roland Fiore of South County Sand And Gravel Co., vowed to have his employees clean it up. Kudos to him. Good for history. In the spring, I am eager to visit Rhode Island again to see the result of their labor.

When he visited the Rodman memorial as a youth, Robert Gough "marveled at it in the
 spring sunshine." During my November visit, the memorial was surrounded by weeds.
I found this toppled flag and Grand Army of the Republic marker beside the
 Rodman memorial during a November 2013 visit.
Many of the markers in the cemetery were toppled or broken  during my November visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment