Thank-you--ladies and gentlemen, friends of the North Queen Street and Locust Grove Cemetery, fellow Veterans. I’d like to thank Nancy Hodge for asking me to say a few words this morning.
Memorial Day or Decoration Day as it was
formerly called, originated in 1865 just after the close of the Civil War.
I think it is appropriate then if I tell you a story that began in Southampton
Township in about 1830.
The earliest record of the Casper Shirk family is the 1830 Federal Census—he was enumerated as a free black man in Southampton Township, Franklin County. I didn’t locate the family in the 1840 census—however they were listed in the 1850 census. Casper and Harriet Shirk’s 1850 household consisted of:
Sons—George, Casper, William, Samuel, James and JohnCasper Shirk, the father, listed his occupation as a “Forgeman”. He was 56 years old. Harriet, his wife, was 37 years old.
and daughters—Elizabeth, Catherine and Abby Shirk.
Just before the Civil War, in 1860, Harriet Shirk was apparently widowed and headed a household in Southampton Township consisting of:
Sons—Casper, William, James and John ShirkThree of those sons would serve in Regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
Bill Burkhart, a WW II Veteran and local historian, interviewed Ella Nocho, the daughter of James Shirk in 1959 at age 87. Ella stated that her father and her uncle John Shirk served in the 55th and 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiments, both of which saw action at Ft. Wagner. She also claimed that her uncle, Casper Shirk served in the 54th Massachusetts and was killed in action during battle. Bill Burkhart searched for Casper Shirk, but could find no record of his service at the National Archives. That was 43 years ago, long before the computer age.
Today the National Park Service Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System website lists all Regiments of the Civil War and the soldiers that served in those Regiments. Ella was right, her uncle, Casper Shirk, did serve in the Civil War. However, he did not return to Shippensburg as did his brothers, John and James Shirk, both who are buried here in the North Queen St. Cemetery. Casper Shirk, served with the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment of the USCT. His name along with the names of his two brothers appears on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. The 5th Massachusetts Cavalry was ordered to Texas, before it was mustered out on 31 October 1865. However, Casper Shirk did not make it to Texas with his Regiment—he is buried in the Chalmette National Cemetery in St. Bernard’s Parish, Louisiana.
As citizens and Veterans, we set aside today, to pay tribute and to honor men like the three Shirk brothers, Casper, John and James--who answered the call to arms when their country needed them most. Men and women who gave their lives so that we may enjoy and celebrate our freedoms today.