“Serve & Succeed”—Reflecting on the 2023 Theme from Wreaths Across America

Earlier this year, the non-profit Wreaths Across America announced their theme for 2023—Serve & Succeed. Their website states:

The inspiration for this year’s theme came while discussing the significance of 2022’s theme, which was “Find a Way to Serve,” and the need to continue to stress the importance of service and the positive ways it can impact lives. Wreaths Across America plans to focus on the storylines of veterans and military families who have found success through their own service, while also highlighting local volunteers across the country and the success that comes from serving their communities. The organization will continue its commitment to supporting and bringing attention to the needs of our veteran community while also showcasing the continued contributions of those who serve.

“There are many ways to serve your community and country, and just as many definitions of success,” said Karen Worcester, executive director, Wreaths Across America. “We hope through focusing on those stories of success we will help change the dialogue around what it means to serve your country.”

In 2022, more than 2.7 million veterans’ wreaths were placed by volunteers on headstones at 3,702 participating locations around the country in honor of the service and sacrifices made for our freedoms, with each name said out loud. Wreaths Across America volunteers work year-round to ensure military laid to rest are remembered, their families and living veterans are honored, and the next generation is taught about the value of freedom. [Read more here]

Wreaths in Winchester National Cemetery in 2022

As I’ve been reflecting on the theme and preparing for the fundraiser tour and virtual program that Emerging Civil War is hosting to benefit Wreaths Across America, a few interpretive angles have come to mind. The upcoming fundraiser events will have a battle of New Market focus—exploring the fight, the aftermath, and the stories of some of the battle’s soldiers eventually buried in Winchester National Cemetery. So…as usual…New Market has been on my mind as I’m thinking about the theme.

  1. Serve and Succeed – May 15, 1864

The dominating story in the battle of New Market’s traditional interpretation is connected to Virginia Military Institute Corps of Cadets and their charge which helped secure the Confederate victory. The accounts of the cadets’ military service and cannon-capturing success on the battlefield stand large in the events and memory of this battle. Across the muddy fields, Union troops served but did not succeed to win a victory that day. Perhaps stories of individual service and success come under consideration, though—especially James M. Burns of the 1st West Virginia Infantry who would later receive the Medal of Honor for his under-fire actions which saved the regimental flag and a badly wounded comrade. The theme unfolds with multiple stories and perspectives to consider in the combat’s history.

2. Serve and Succeed – June 5, 1864

Three weeks after their defeat at New Market, surviving Union soldiers fought again at the battle of Piedmont. This fight ended in Union victory, and in their moment of triumph, many soldiers in blue saw a redemptive moment for their reputations. They shouted, “New Market! New Market!” at their retreating foes, showing the impact of that earlier fight in their minds and a retribution for their defeat a few months previous. Union soldiers had been forced to retreat at New Market, but they stayed in the ranks to serve in battle again and succeeded in securing a Union victory further south in the Shenandoah Valley.

3. Serve and Succeed – April 9, 1866

On April 9, 1866, Winchester National Cemetery was established as the centralized burial place of Union soldiers in the northern portion of the Shenandoah Valley. Colonel J.M. Moore oversaw the work of the burial crews to find, disinter, and rebury soldiers in the new cemetery. (More information may soon be available about Colonel Moore since he is part of my continuing research.) The work of reburying was not easy, but Moore and his men served the fallen soldiers, giving them permanent resting places and final honors. Winchester National Cemetery now holds the remains and the hints of stories for many Union soldiers, and the creation of this hallowed ground would not have been possible if Moore and his men had not served and succeeded in their task.

Winchester National Cemetery, 2023 Summer evening during a recent research visit. (Bierle)

4. Serve and Succeed – October 1, 2023

History gives us accounts of service and success while offering the challenge, “what do we do with the stories of the past?” Personally, I want to share research in meaningful ways and try to make a difference. That’s what inspires my efforts for Emerging Civil War to support Wreaths Across America. Can we do something good and meaningful while exploring and remembering Civil War history?

The New Market Battlefield Tour on the afternoon of Sunday, October 1, 2023, will be an opportunity to walk the fighting fields and talk about the history that happened there; it is also a fundraiser to help place more wreaths on Civil War soldiers’ graves during the 2023 holiday season. I anticipate this opportunity and hope we can support Wreaths Across America’s tradition to “remember, honor, teach.” It’s a chance to serve and succeed…will you donate and join us? (If you are not able to come to the fundraiser battlefield tour, ECW is also offering a recorded, virtual presentation which will share some of the new research and “emerging stories” from New Market.) Tour and virtual program details here.

Emerging Civil War gives the donations directly to Wreaths Across America at the end of the fundraiser events. The ECW historians volunteer their research and time to make this fundraiser possible.

5. Serve and Succeed – December 16, 2023

In December in cemeteries all across the United States, there will be an opportunity to “serve and succeed” as thousands of people volunteer to help place the evergreen wreaths on veterans’ graves. Over the years, it has been such an inspiring and special experience to volunteer…to take a few hours during the busy holiday season and remember the sacrifices that service men and women have made through the centuries to preserve and protect our nation and the ideals of liberty. Whether it will be your first time or a continuing tradition, considering volunteering. Visit https://www.wreathsacrossamerica.org/ to find volunteer locations for December.

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