An old tour about the Civil War at the Greenridge Cemetery in Saratoga Springs made ties to modern times on Sunday.
The Saratoga and The Civil War Tour, held by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation, took participants on a walking tour through the cemetery on a rainy morning.
The tour starts at a monument of a Union soldier, facing north, in the cemetery. He is holding a flag close to his body. The monument is surrounded by headstones identifying the grave sites of the locals who fought in the Civil War.
The tour was led by volunteer Gloria May of Saratoga as it has been for the last few years. There are over 365 Civil War veterans buried in the cemetery, she said. The walking tour highlights about a dozen of them.
For May, the easiest way to explain the history of something is to focus on the people who lived through it.
"The best way to learn history is through biography," she said.
May handed out cards bearing the names of veterans, their age at the time of enlistment, and some other facts. As the tour made its way around the cemetery, May stopped at the grave of each soldier's card and explained their respective ties to Saratoga, either talking about what the soldiers did prior to their deaths during the war, or how they influenced the city upon their return if they survived. Many of the soldiers died young, ranging from age 22 to 24 years old.
The tour happens once a year. While they walked, participants also munched on hardtack, a tough cracker-like substance that soldiers ate during the war. Hardtack, May explained, was meant to be dipped in a liquid and consumed, and is said to have a shelf-life of "forever."
"If you guys didn't come, I'd save it for next year's tour," May joked.
Mentioned during the tour were many famous Saratoga Springs residents and veterans on the tour, including past publisher of the Saratogian newspaper, B.F. Judson. Judson returned to town early from the war, and while he was working at the paper, published letters he received from soldiers who were serving on the front lines.
Those letters, May said, were often the main way that citizens learned information about what was going on in the war.
The home of Luther Wheeler, who served as a captain, still stands on Broadway, May said. Wheeler, who died in the war, was extremely popular around town, she said. Prior to his death, May said, Wheeler predicted that he was going to die.
"Still, even with that prediction," May said, "he led the charge."
His death charging into battle brought people together, both in his unit and at home. Many Saratoga Springs residents came out to greet Wheeler when he came home from the war. What they didn't realize at the time, she added, was that Wheeler was not going to come home alive.
Many street names in Saratoga Springs, she also pointed out, are named after people buried in the cemetery.
Upcoming events held by the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation include a tour of the Spa Complex and another tour at the Greenridge Cemetery focusing on the unusual tombs and history of prominent members of Saratoga Springs.