SARATOGA SPRINGS — Just inside the Lincoln Avenue entrance to Greenridge Cemetery is a statue depicting a Union soldier, facing north, holding a flag close to his body. The monument is surrounded by headstones identifying the grave sites of a couple dozen locals who fought in the Civil War.
“There’s been a lot of talk of Civil War monuments lately,” volunteer guide Gloria May said Sunday, motioning to the most visible statue on the grounds of Greenridge Cemetery in Saratoga Springs and prompting murmurs from those in attendance.
Once a year, Greenridge Cemetery and the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation offer a tour titled Saratoga and the Civil War. The roughly 90-minute tour tells the history of the war through the stories of individuals buried in Saratoga Springs. May said she believes this is the best way to learn.
There are more than 365 Civil War soldiers buried at Greenridge Cemetery, May said. The walking tour highlights about a dozen of them. The property offers other, more general tours, she said, but a few years ago began one dedicated to the Civil War in response to guest interest.
While attendance has been steady at the annual Saratoga and the Civil War tour, May said recent national discussions about the removal of Confederate statues and monuments has brought the war back into the spotlight.
That may pique some visitors’ interest, May said, but it doesn’t much apply to Greenridge. The only major statue it boasts is the one near the entrance. Otherwise, it is simply a resting place for the dead, many of whom have rich backstories.
May chooses which ones to focus on based on if she can find a picture of them, and then digs into their personal history, she said.
Of the roughly 15 individuals discussed Sunday, many left lasting impressions on the Saratoga Springs community. B.F. Judson, who’s buried at Greenridge, was the publisher of the Saratogian newspaper.
The home of Luther Wheeler, who served as a captain, still stands on Broadway, May said.
Windsor Brown French, who May jokingly calls her boyfriend because of her tendency to go on and on about him during tours, served as a colonel in the war. A monument was erected in the middle of Broadway in the late 1800s to honor his regiment.
After the war, he became a prominent public figure, serving as Saratoga County’s district attorney and postman in Saratoga Springs.
Robert Howard of Gansevoort served in the Army from 1972 to '74 and has had a longtime interest in the Civil War. He said he enjoyed the tour, particularly information about the soldiers that went beyond their service.
Others echoed Howard, saying they found nuggets of information unrelated to the war interesting. For example, multiple people mentioned they learned statues and monuments honoring Union soldiers and leaders typically face to the north, something May pointed out at the beginning of the tour
What makes the tour unique is how many average citizens fought in the Civil War, May said. She makes a point of recounting stories of men like Orrin Rugg, the only child to go fight from a family that had lived in the United States for generations. He was killed when he was 23.
“There are so many stories and so many interesting people, I can’t possibly do them all,” she said. “Some of these stories are just average people, not people with monuments."