by Norman C. Shaw
Even though there has not been an official Memorial Day ceremony at Knoxville’s National Cemetery for 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19, four Knoxville CWRT members banded together to give a ceremony to anyone visiting the cemetery at 11 a.m. on Memorial Day Monday! These four RT members are: Norman Shaw (RT founder and 3-term president), Dennis Urban (president for 3 consecutive years), Dewey Beard (well-known Civil War reenactor, historian and musician) and Randy North (bagpipes player, member of Knoxville Pipes and Drums). For 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, about 40 people observed our efforts, but this year the crowd was larger at around 150!
With each RT member playing a part, the ceremony took about 45 minutes in this order: Dewey Beard–Since the early 1990s, reenactors for the 79th New York Highlanders have given a full ceremony for Memorial Day, including a color guard, 7 soldiers bearing muskets, and musicians to play the fife and drum! The last two years, Dewey led an abbreviated presentation, with only a sole drummer and him marching to the small memorial monument for the 79th, defenders of Ft. Sanders on Nov. 29, 1863. Dewey gave a brief history of the 79th and explained the origin and meaning of Memorial Day. Both men then laid thistles, the Scottish badge of honor, on the several headstones of the 79th and its unique memorial stone.
Randy North–played three tunes on the bagpipes, including the popular “Scotland the Brave” and the always moving “Amazing Grace.
Norman Shaw, after explaining the presenters were members of the KCWRT, briefly pointed out some of the interesting historical aspects of the National Ceremony, such as the Union monument, the grave site of Gen. Neyland of UT football fame, the lone Confederate grave, some of the USCT (U.S. Colored Troops) headstones, and the six graves of “Sultana” survivors.
Dennis Urban— at the headstone of Union soldier George Messer, 107th Illinois, told the sad story of George’s death, who, afflicted with severe diarrhea, died on Dec. 30, 1863, at the Lamar House (present day Bijou Theater) in downtown Knoxville. Dennis has done extensive research on Messer and showed his wedding photo and one of his original letters.
Dewey Beard–played TAPS to conclude the ceremony. Note: Chad Rogers, Director of Wreaths Across America for Knoxville’s National Cemetery, gave information about the 2021 event scheduled for mid-December. Based on positive feedback from spectators in the two audiences, one year apart, we knew our efforts were effective in remembering Memorial Day!
Notes: Photos from the event are posted in the July 2021 KCWRT newsletter, The Scout.