Veteran Receives Special Recognition and a Gravesite Makeover
Every year on Memorial Day, Teller County residents show their love for those soldiers who never made it home from fighting for their country by placing flags on the veterans’ gravestones and holding special ceremonies.
One of these special tributes annually occurs at the Woodland Park Cemetery and usually attracts a strong attendance by area residents, civic leaders, veterans and veteran support groups. During this ceremony, typically a former war hero is recognized, or a particular historic story, involving the heroics of a former military veteran, is highlighted.
This year, members of the community resurrected an old hidden grave from a Civil War veteran and then gave him a special mention at the annual ceremony held at the graveyard in Woodland Park.
As a tradition every year, local residents go to graveyards in the area to place American flags on the graves of war veterans to show that they have not been forgotten.
Before the ceremony this year, veteran organizations in the region were informed by longtime resident and local historian Steve Plutt that there was a gravesite of a fallen Civil War soldier that had been hidden inside Woodland Park’s graveyard for years.
“Steve Plutt contacted me and said that we have a grave in the Woodland Park cemetery that had sort of fallen into disrepair,” Teller County Commissioner and local veteran advocate Dan Williams said. “It was tilted to the right and buried about 27 inches into the ground. He said that he believed it was the grave of a Civil War veteran that had never been recognized. He took it upon himself, which is very inspirational for him to go and fix the grave. I think he spent four to six hours there.”
The dilapidated gravesite was that of James Mead who served as a private in the Civil War on the Union side in the 175th New York Infantry Regiment.
The group Mead served with hailed from Brooklyn, New York before being beckoned down south to Louisiana to partake in key Civil War battles.
In late 1862 and early 1863, the regiment conducted several operations around Louisiana. Then on May 21, 1863 the group of soldiers participated in the siege of Port Hudson which was one of the Confederate Army’s last strongholds along the Mississippi River.
During the lengthy battle on June 14, the regiment lost their leader Colonel Michael Bryan and 10 other soldiers in the skirmish. On July 9 after a 48-day battle, the Confederates surrendered which rendered a huge victory for the Union that as a result of their win, took control of the Mississippi River, which divided the Confederate’s Army.
This occurred shortly before the battle of Gettysburg, often considered the turning point in the war.
The group then participated in more battles during 1864 and served until the war ended in 1865. Overall, the infantry group lost two officers and 12 enlisted men by being mortally wounded in the war’s fierce battles. Another three officers and 117 enlisted men passed away from disease during the war.
Mead, however, survived to tell the story and moved to Colorado after the country’s deadliest war in history ceased. He lived in the Pikes Peak region for 20 years before his life ended and he was buried at the Woodland Park cemetery.
After learning Mead’s story, Williams and other community members knew they had to give him the recognition he deserves. “We thought it would be really good to honor someone who was essentially forgotten because we always say we don’t want to forget, which is key,” Williams said.
The county commissioner also pointed out that Memorial Day was started by widows of the Civil War after it ended in 1865 to show respect for all of the soldiers whose lives were taken during combat regardless of what side they were on. Women and children started the Memorial Day tradition by gathering together at the graves to pay respect for their beloved fallen heroes.
He said that the discovery of Mead’s grave made this year’s annual ceremonial gathering on Memorial Day extra special.
“I think it was very, very fitting and it was very well attended,” Williams said of this year’s holiday event. “There were probably about 150 people from all over the county. It was a nice ceremony. It was a somber day, but I thought it was really respectful. Now we know where that guy is, he has been added to the register so he will never be forgotten again.”
The local American Legion and the VFW posts were both present to pay their respects. An honor guard participated in the event and there was also a World War II vehicle brought to the ceremony.