The Journey Through Hallowed Ground will hold its first Living Legacy tree-planting ceremony of the year April 12, when it will add 500 trees to the Inn at Meander Plantation in Madison County, Va.
National Guard members will join wounded veterans and descendants of Civil War soldiers for the planting ceremony, which will be on the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.
A Waterford, Va.-based nonprofit organization, Journey Through Hallowed Ground created the Living Legacy project with the goal of planting a tree in memory of each of the 620,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War. The group and its partners are planting the trees along a historic corridor stretching from Charlottesville to Gettysburg, Pa., officials said. The route passes through Prince William and Loudoun counties.
Peter Hart, project director, said that representatives from the 116th Virginia Army National Guard, the brigade founded by Stonewall Jackson, will help plant the first batch of trees at a site crossed by Jackson and 16,000 of his troops on their way to the Battle of Cedar Mountain.
“We’re going to be planting trees in the very ground that some of these soldiers who lost their lives in the battles walked across,” Hart said.
Descendants of soldiers from both sides of the war will join in the planting, Hart said, including representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
“We think it’s important to emphasize forgiveness and the reuniting of the states,” Hart said. “We want to say that we were a nation that was divided and is no longer divided, so there’s forgiveness instead of finger-pointing.”
Cate Magennis Wyatt, president and founder of Journey Through Hallowed Ground, said that one reason for the project is that so many of the men who perished in the Civil War were never properly buried. Many died in battles that happened within the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area, she said.
That area is about 180 miles long and 75 miles wide, Magennis Wyatt said. It encompasses sites from the beginning of the Civil War (Harpers Ferry and Manassas), the middle (Antietam and Gettysburg) and the end (Appomattox). The area is mostly centered around Route 15, parts of which have been designated a National Scenic Byway.
Magennis Wyatt said that the group has been working with middle school students from across the country who are learning about the soldiers from their communities who fought and died in the Civil War.
“With each planting, we have a proper dedication . . . [and] a proper benediction, remembering that 50 percent died anonymously” and without a proper burial service she said. “The students come and tell stories about their soldiers.”
Hart said veterans of other wars have told him that what they had feared most going into battle was dying and being forgotten.
“So imagine the [Civil War] soldiers, many of whom marched into battle knowing that they were going to die, and then, for the nation to forget them,” Hart said.
“It gets real for people when they start planting a tree and realize this is a real human being that we’re planting this tree for, someone [who] cried and laughed and had loved ones . . . and this nation hasn’t remembered them,” he said.
About 2,000 trees have been planted so far through the project, Magennis Wyatt said. The organization plans to add 4,000 this spring and 4,000 in the fall. After that, she hopes to double the number of trees planted each year until the project is complete, she said.
Each tree is geotagged and linked to online historical information about a particular soldier, including his name and where he was born and died, Magennis Wyatt said.
Hart, a certified arborist, said that because red is the color of honor, many of the trees he is selecting for the planting have red hues, including red maples, red oaks and red cedars. He also is mindful of the climate and tries to select mostly indigenous trees that he expects to thrive along the roadsides in this region.
“We’re not only remembering and honoring these soldiers, but we’re actually creating beauty along this National Scenic Byway that people will enjoy for hundreds of years,” Hart said.
Barnes is a freelance writer.