The eventful life of Civil War correspondent Lynde Walter Buckingham was cut short in Loudoun County as he encountered a group of “Mosby’s Rangers” one evening in June 1863. As he was riding to Washington to file his latest dispatch for the New York Herald, his horse bolted at the sound of gunfire from the Rebel fighters, Buckingham was thrown and fatally injured.
The reporter died and was initially buried at the Mount Zion Old School Baptist Church along Route 50 in Aldie, all of which was memorialized on a plaque sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists and unveiled outside the church cemetery last year.
Soon after the unveiling, another war correspondent — longtime CBS News reporter David Henderson, who covered conflicts in Vietnam, Northern Ireland and the Middle East — came upon the Buckingham memorial and was appalled. It only honored one reporter, not all the journalists killed in the Civil War, it was placed outside a cemetery where Buckingham is no longer buried, and it violated a pledge by the journalism society to honor all the reporters who died during that war, Henderson said.
Henderson published a heated blast on his blog late last month attacking the SPJ and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which now owns and preserves the church site, for posting a plaque that is “largely myth, promotion, spin and hype. It’s not entirely truthful.” He headlined it, “A professional journalism group gets the facts wrong.”
The journalism group strongly disagrees, as does the park authority, as does the man who was the driving force behind the memorial, Civil War student Gerald Regan of Queens, N.Y. Regan learned of Buckingham’s story, and the fact that he was first buried by noted Harper’s Weekly artist Alfred R. Waud, in the late 1980s and pushed the SPJ to sponsor the memorial in the late 1990s.
“What moved me deeply,” Regan said, “was Waud’s commitment to the dignity of the person, even in the chaos of war. Buckingham was not notable, but it’s the nexus of Waud’s commitment to his friend and a bouquet to a wartime journalist.” The plaque in fact begins with Waud’s action, and was written by Regan with some editing by the SPJ and the park authority.
Both Regan and Tracy Gillespie of the park authority said that the journalists’ society never promised a plaque honoring all of the fallen Civil War reporters, and Regan said he never intended that. “There are many correspondents who lost their life in the Civil War,” Regan said, “it would be silly to acknowledge them all” in the Buckingham plaque.
Gillespie noted that, in the final line of the plaque, the SPJ designated both the church and cemetery as historic sites, and they “recall the devotion to duty and fellow man that embody the best qualities of America’s war correspondents.” At the memorial’s unveiling, Gillespie pointed out, a display describing the deaths of eight Civil War reporters, as tracked by the Newseum, was included and the announcement of the memorial said it was “honoring not only Buckingham [and Waud], but…indeed all of their fellow wartime journalists.”
Regan, a former writer and editor at USA Today and Newsday, pitched the idea of a memorial to SPJ in 1998 and the society’s executive committee approved it then, executive director Joe Skeel said. But no action was taken and Regan raised it again in 2012. Skeel, who hadn’t been with SPJ in 1998, looked into it, had the executive committee approve it again, and worked with the park authority to fund it and sponsor an unveiling.
Though Regan is not an SPJ member, Skeel said anyone can nominate a Historic Site in Journalism, and places such as the Ohio birthplace of broadcaster Lowell Thomas and the South Carolina site of the first woman newspaper publisher have similar plaques. But Skeel said the mostly volunteer organization cannot “vet and verify all of these things.”
Paul Gilbert, executive director of the park authority, said he was pleased with the memorial and it was worded as proposed by Regan. “One of the things we try to do is tell the many stories that happened” at historic sites, and he noted there were many signs at Mount Zion. The plaque reminds people that “it wasn’t only soldiers who died in the war, there were civilians, and there were journalists. That’s a good, important story to tell.”
Buckingham, a Massachusetts native, actually began the war as a Union soldier who was severely wounded at the first Battle of Bull Run, Regan said. Disqualified from active duty, he turned to war reporting, and the New York Herald was spending heavily to cover the conflict. “He was present in all the engagements which have recently taken place in the front,” the Herald reported, “and was in the front with General Kilpatrick throughout the battle on Sunday last.”
But on June 22, 1863, just east of Aldie, “a squad of [Maj. John Singleton] Mosby’s guerrillas dashed out from a piece of woods and fired upon” Buckingham, the Herald reported. Buckingham’s horse wheeled and fled, fell and threw its rider, fracturing his skull.
Buckingham died the next day. Waud, a renowned artist with the widely popular Harper’s, found him and dug a grave himself next to Mount Zion, Regan said. But the following day, a Union Captain received permission to disinter Buckingham and return his body to Massachusetts, Regan said.
“This is not an attempt to lionize Buckingham,” Regan said. “It’s the idea that a journalist had that strength of commitment to a colleague I find notable and worthy of comment.”
Henderson, who lives in Arlington and whose father is buried in Mount Zion, said the placement of the memorial at the entrance to the cemetery was offensive. But more important, with journalists still under attack today, and 28 killed this year alone, “if you’re going to honor one, honor them all. Because they all gave their lives doing the job. And it’s a dangerous job.”