I haven’t come to meet all 154,000 people who reside in the city. I haven’t come to see the Basketball Hall Fame, or the headquarters for Smith and Wesson, or where Breck Shampoo is made, or the building that houses the Springfield Republican, one of the most influential small city newspapers during the Civil War. I do know this was the first and is still the largest city or town in the country named Springfield. Settled and named before Springfield, Vermont, or Springfield, Illinois, or Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessese, Kentucky, Missouri, Florida, Oregon, Washington, California, New Mexico, or Springfield, Colorado.
My wanderings will, however, take me to the Springfield Armory, the main supplier of rifled muskets to the Union Army during the Civil War, which, alas, is closed to tours on this day, the Indian Manufacturing Company, which began production of motorcycles a full two years before Harley Davidson and has been converted to apartment buildings, the Dr. Seuss National Memorial built to honor Springfield native Theodore Geisel, and the Quadrangle, a renaissance project which houses two neighboring art museums, a local history museum, and a science museum. The Dr. Seuss Memorial is full of the whimsical and fantastic, of Green Eggs and Ham and Sam I Am, of Horton, Yertle, Foo-Foo the Snoo, and the Lorax, all placing smiles on the faces of those young or old and in between.
I’m back in the car looking for 171 Maple St., the address for Springfield Cemetery. I ride down the street, not once, not twice, but four times. There’s no cemetery here, no number 171, just a stretch of low-rise apartment buildings that become progressively shabbier as you move further from the downtown area. I take a right off Maple down a side street, then two more rights, and finally pull over, having spotted an elderly woman standing at a bus stop. I figure she might know if the cemetery’s still there, or if it’s been moved. She’s waiting for her husband and their car, but he’ll know she assures me.
And so starts a conversation with the two who appear in their mid-eighties, if not older. I’m amazed by their trust in me. They see no harm or danger in me. If evil had lurked in my heart they wouldn’t have seen it coming. They listen to my story, of my quest to find a single grave, and they nod and smile knowingly of the oddity of our meeting, which is by chance, yet not by chance. And I follow their car through the cemetery gate, which is a narrow unmarked passage between two apartment buildings that leads to a long drive that suddenly explodes into an oasis of greenery and trees.
The dead have been laid underground for the last 154 years. Thousands of the dead I imagine. To locate one grave will be near impossible. I give thanks to my escorts and watch as they drive away, left to my thoughts and surroundings, thinking both will probably lie in a place like this within a few short years.
I drive on a little further and park in a small paved area near the caretaker’s cottage. When I get out of the car and lean over the roof, formulating a plan of where to begin, my eyes are drawn to a reddish obelisk ten feet away. At the base, two feet above the ground, the name Barnes is inscribed in raised letters.
Oh, Jimmy Barnes historians slander your name. They all repeat, one after another, in book and biography that you were too old, that your “incompetence” at Gettysburg endangered not only the troops under your command, but those under the command of others. They repeat rumors you were drunk during the Wheatfield fight when evidence suggests you may have been a teetoler. They overlook the fact you were incapacitated by a wound to your thigh, that the men of the First Brigade, First Division, Fifth Corps would have been annihilated if not ordered to withdraw. They continue to spread the tainted gospel according to Dan Sickles. They attack you Jimmy, now as then, when gentleman of honor that you were you did not stoop to Sickle’s level. Oh, Jimmy Barnes they do not praise you for your bravery at Fredericksburg when two horses were shot out from underneath you. They do not think your West Point education, subsequent military career, or supervision of large railroad building projects merited command and they dismiss you still as a mere political appointee. They do not understand Jimmy that you could have sat on the sidelines, used your age as an excuse, continued to focus on your successful business ventures, and lazily summoned any one in a house full of servants to meet your need for tea. They do not state that your Regiment, the 18th from the Old Bay State, was one of the best disciplined and drilled in the entire Army of the Potomac. Oh Jimmy Barnes they do not cite your exemplary record at West Point, the fact you taught French while still an undergraduate and served as an instructor of infantry tactics for four years afterward. Or your extraordinary gift as an artist. West Point Mathematics Professor A.E. Church wrote to your son after your passing, “He was one of the very few graduates of the Academy who went through without a single demerit mark on the record against him.” They do not know you as did your son Commander John Sanford Barnes of the United States Navy, who said, and I quote, “He was always a star.” They do not cite the fact that your health was wracked and ruined through service to your country, yet you responded when called upon again, with Gouvernor Warren, to serve as a watchdog on the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Your men loved you Jimmy Barnes, in spite of their grumbling that you drove them oh so hard. They knew you loved them, knew you loved the Regimental flag. A father to sons. Sons to a father. Only men who loved and respected their Colonel would have purchased a new horse and saddle, which they presented to you before you assumed new duties as a Brigade commander. And do you remember Jimmy Barnes when you ordered a drunken John Duffy confined to the guard house, and failed to keep a straight face because of his antics? And do you remember the night at Hall's Hill Jimmy, when a terrific storm blew down all the Regiment's tents, including your own, and how you maintained a proper military bearing and your dignity, even while standing there drenched and in your long johns? But, oh, Jimmy Barnes, please tell me that you did your best to ensure the survival of Confederate Prisoners of War at Point Lookout, when that camp came under your supervision. Tell me that you did not purposely starve or allow men to rot from disease. Tell me, please, that you granted them the decency of a Christian burial in marked graves.
My hand reached out to touch the pillar, which rose ten feet into the sky, and I wept. I wept for Jimmy Barnes, and then for his wife Charlotte, whose own devotion to cause helped raise thousands at Soldier’s Fairs in Springfield to provide comfort to those on the battlefront and in hospitals.
Christ Church Cathedral. 35 Chestnut St. It was where Jimmy, Charlotte, and their five children, Susan Virginia, William Henry, John Sanford, Emilie Julia, and James Alexander, took communion, eating of the body and drinking of the blood of Christ. Where Jimmy served as a Vestryman. To the left, high above the altar, is a gift of love, from children to the memory of their mother and their father.