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Auburn keeps Civil War memory alive on Memorial Day

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Cpl. Sylvester Sprague doesn’t get many visitors these days at his home atop a hill in Auburn. Neither do Henry Erwin or Edwin Clapp or John Bonham. But without them, there would be no Memorial Day holiday today. The four — plus 32 others — are veterans of the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. Their final resting places are at the crest of a hill in the Old Auburn Cemetery. Ron Santini, a Walnut Creek resident whose family once lived in Auburn, was a visitor on Memorial Day weekend after stopping to have a quiet remembrance at the graves of his mother and father nearby. Santini had just returned from the eastern United States and a reunion with other American Security Agency veterans he had served with in the early 1960s. He’d visited some of the Civil War battlefields there and when he returned to Auburn, was attracted to the cannon that marks the Old Auburn Cemetery’s Civil War graves. Fresh in Santini’s mind from his battlefield visits in the east was the carnage of Antietam in 1862. There were 23,000 casualties during the day. It was the bloodiest battle on U.S. soil. Santini also spoke of Gettysburg in 1863, with more than 51,000 casualties over three days. “I’ve gone by this place maybe 30 times and never stopped,” Santini said. “This time I came back and, as a veteran, when you’re around this, you get a feeling that someone who hasn’t served never feels. It tugs you around.” Memorial Day – a holiday now on the last Monday in May – initially was time set aside each May 30 to decorate the graves of Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. It has evolved into a federal holiday honoring American casualties of any war. Auburn now has a monument at the New Auburn Cemetery, where a ceremony Memorial Day will be held. The monument has space on it for U.S. servicemen who have been killed in 20th and 21st century wars. There are 12 names from World War I, 42 from World War II, seven from Korea, 13 from the Vietnam War, and four – Jesse Mizener, David Waters, Sean Stokes and John Lucente – from Iraq. The 36 Civil War soldiers at the Old Auburn Cemetery have had flags placed at their markers and they won’t be forgotten on Monday. A ceremony with a wreath-laying will be at 10 a.m. Bonnie Potter, president of the Placer County Council of the Navy League, said she’ll be saying a few words there and speaking from the heart. Her great-grandfather – Charles Mason Kinney – served with what became known as the California 100 of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. The California 100 fought in 51 Civil War battles and Kinney was one of the survivors. He returned to San Francisco. California’s Union Army contingent helped keep the Oregon Overland and Santa Fe trails open. They also guarded gold shipments the western transcontinental telegraph lines. In the southwest, California cavalry kept the New Mexico and Arizona from being invaded. The California State Military Museum Web site says that the Golden State provided more troops per capita than any other state in the union during the Civil War. “We shouldn’t forget the Civil War vets,” Potter said. “And that’s why we go to the Old Auburn Cemetery.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- Auburn remembers Auburn-area veterans will hold ceremonies today, beginning at 9 a.m. at the War Memorial at the New Auburn Cemetery, 1040 Collins Drive. This ceremony includes a fly-over of local aircraft, a white dove release, remarks by Placer County Supervisor Jim Holmes and Auburn Mayor Mike Holmes, a wreath-laying, a rifle salute and the playing of taps, according to Bonnie Potter, president of the Placer County Council of the Navy League. Brief ceremonies, with a wreath laying and the rendering of honors, begin at 10 a.m. at the Old Auburn Cemetery, 170 Fulweiler Ave., at 11 a.m. at the Newcastle Cemetery, 850 Taylor Road, and noon at the Maidu Indian Cemetery, on Maidu Drive off Auburn-Folsom Road. For more information, call Potter at (530) 823-2820.