This winning entry was submitted by Mr. Frank Grzyb of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, to The Civil War Monitor’s “Weirding the War Essay Contest”—an event held in honor of Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges (edited by our own Dr. Stephen Berry). For winning the contest, Mr. Grzyb will receive a complimentary copy of the book signed by Stephen Berry and several of its contributors.
While writing about a Civil War hospital formerly situated in Rhode Island, something happened that made me realize my efforts were not in vain…
In June 2009, my daughter moved to Brooklyn, New York. Unbeknownst to her, she had moved within six miles of a cemetery where the remains of 292 soldiers from the Rhode Island hospital had been reinterred. She was also quite unaware that the present occupants of the only surviving structure from the hospital had been born in Brooklyn.
Months later, we visited the cemetery. After finding the site, we parked behind a truck from Rhode Island. Rhode Island, I thought; can’t be. After exchanging pleasantries with the owner of the vehicle, I learned that the gentleman actually hailed from my hometown and was visiting the cemetery to photograph headstones for a website. What are the odds: we came from the same town, went to the same cemetery for the first time, and arrived on the same day—both with the same purpose in mind?
There’s more. After visiting the state archives to verify source data, a previously unviewed file was brought to my attention. Within it was a single letter from Albert Reeve, a steward who had served at the hospital. Here’s the kicker: a few days prior, my daughter had moved to another Brooklyn apartment at Reeve place.
Some might say, “All the coincidences relate to your daughter and only indirectly to you.” They would be right had the coincidences ended there. They did not.
While finalizing my research, I learned about a collection of letters written by an invalid from the hospital. After arriving at the collector’s home, I was handed a binder. Upon opening it, two words immediately grabbed my attention. No, it can’t be, I thought, as shivers ran up my spine. The words were the home locale of the author of the letters: Webster, Massachusetts. What’s so remarkable about that? You see, I, too, was raised in Webster and like the convalescent who wrote the letters, I also served in a war—only a century later. After reading more, I was astonished to notice several requests by the veteran to have his parents send the hometown newspaper, The Webster Times, to him. While serving in Vietnam, my parents had done the same for me. He and I both found the newspaper a welcomed respite.
While reflecting on these usual events, I wondered: Perhaps there’s something to it; maybe I was called through some rather extraordinary means to recognize these forgotten souls.