Louis Manesca’s tombstone stands out amidst my other ancestor’s decaying and illegible monuments. Its mirror finish and clear writing are accompanied by an American flag that marks it as the resting place of one of Green-Wood Cemetery’s more than 5,200 Civil War veterans.
During the Covid pandemic, I decided to act on my long-term intention to visit the 478-acre U.S. National Historic Site where my Italian, Cuban, and Basque relatives are buried. They are interred in section 1, the oldest part of the once-rural Brooklyn cemetery. Wendy and I might not have found the family plot at all were it not for the cemetery’s 2002 Civil War Project. Green-Wood’s website notes that “hundreds of volunteers searched New York State Military Museum records, pension records at the National Archives, regimental histories, Green-Wood’s Burial Registry and monuments, online databases and other resources too numerous to mention” to find and honor these heroes. Volunteers periodically mark all the graves with new American flags.
They also created biographies for them that are available on the site. Louis Manesca’s biography, misspelled Manesco on the monument, tells me that at age 44 he enlisted in the Union Army on “April 18, 1861, at Brooklyn, to serve three years; mustered in as private, Company D, May 23, 1861; promoted corporal, November 1, 1862; mustered out with company, June 6, 1864.”
I ask myself why a descendent of refugees joined the fight against slavery at an age approaching life expectancy for the time. Is it that those who came here searching for liberty have a special devotion? Were they more sensitive to the hypocrisy of slavery than those born here, who like the proverbial frog may not have realized that they were already boiling? Yet, there are more than 5,000 of them in just one cemetery, even though the North did not institute a draft until March 1863. Evidently, many of them, native-born and immigrants, purposely chose to suffer the mayhem and bloodshed of the world’s first industrial war to defeat an immoral system. I like to think that my ancestor staked his life to bring truth to the plain language of the Declaration that “all men are created equal.”
Louis did not die during the war. The first Brooklyn casualty was Private Clarence D. McKenzie, a 12-year-old drummer boy who joined the Thirteenth Regiment, New York State Militia. Since that terrible war, we steadfastly remember those who died in the service of their country. Many died to eradicate the evil that people do and to liberate the oppressed. Ukraine reminds us that evil persists, and that the world always needs courageous men and women of conscience. All of us at Treasure Coast Financial Planning salute them.