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A Confederate general is buried in New London

I used to live near New London's splendid Cedar Grove Cemetery, and a neighbor who walked her dog there always remarked when she would come upon a Confederate flag planted beside a stone marking the grave of Gustavus Woodson Smith, a Confederate general.

As the debate about Confederate monuments and flags roared anew in recent days, I decided to visit Cedar Grove, curious whether Smith's Confederate flag might still be flying there.

I've read stories about flags also sometimes appearing at the graves of Confederate soldiers buried in Norwich and Stonington. I wonder who puts them there.

I am sympathetic, although I don't agree, to the arguments about preserving the memory of Christopher Columbus. But I have no tolerance for those arguing, in these tumultuous times, to preserve any respect for the treasonous Confederate effort to preserve slavery.

Smith, who died in 1896, at the age of 74, was a native of Kentucky and a graduate of West Point, Class of 1842. He met and married a New London woman while working as an engineer in the construction of Fort Trumbull, soon after leaving West Point.

He was buried in his wife's family's plot at Cedar Grove, and his grave was never marked until a family member put up a stone in 1977, according to news reports.

I couldn't find Smith's stone or any trace of a Confederate flag on my visit, but I was grateful for the chance to explore again the magnificent sprawl of Cedar Grove, its remarkable monuments a testament to the great wealth of 19th century New London.

The elaborate stonework, towering obelisks, mausoleums and landscaping at many of the sprawling family plots, some with names that still linger on New London institutions, recall some of the great fortunes made in whaling.

They are also a reminder that you may not be able to take it with you when you die, but you can leave a lot of it on display at the exit ramp.

The cemetery, organized as an inviting park, with sloping hills, winding roads, shade trees and a reflective pond, tells a lot of the city's history, beyond whaling.

Those buried there include a governor of Connecticut, two United States senators, 10 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and a member of the Continental Congress.

It is largely the white history of New London, although also buried there are abolitionists and soldiers who fought against slavery in the Union Army.

There is a 23-foot-tall monument to honor Civil War veterans, erected in 1900 by the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization created by Union Army veterans. A life-sized statue of a soldier is at the top.

In my reconnaissance for a Confederate flag at Cedar Grove, I did come upon a small American flag planted beside the headstone of Lt. Andrew T. Johnson, a Union Army officer. It was one of the few flags I spotted during my long walk through the cemetery.

I haven't had much luck learning more about Johnson. His headstone says he died Nov. 7, 1862, in the service of his country, at the age of 28. He died in Louisiana at the time of a battle in which eight of the 2,250 Union Army soldiers engaged were killed. They won.

As the country, Black and white people together, continued to mourn the death of George Floyd, I was pleased that I surreptitiously got to pay my respects at the grave of a young man from New London who died far from home, a long time ago, in the fight to end slavery.

And I was glad to know that his was one of the few graves in the vast Cedar Grove Cemetery adorned with a flag.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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