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Students from St. Gregory’s School in Albany took part in a gravestone installation to honor a Civil War veteran at St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands last week.

Twenty-four students from Grades 7-8 worked with Albany Diocesan Cemeteries staff to install a new polished marble gravestone for Private James Connors on May 20. A musket salute was performed and “Taps” was played by The 125th NYVI Regimental Association Inc. The New York State Chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders and JROTC students from La Salle Institute presented the Colors.

The American Civil War is the pivot point between the seventh- and eighth-grade curricula for students at Saint Gregory’s: Seventh grade ends its year talking about the roots of the conflict and eighth grade begins the year with the war and its aftermath.

“Having this great opportunity will allow our eighth-grade students to return to the Civil War material and will allow us to introduce the material to our seventh graders,” said Eric Martell, teacher at St. Gregory’s School. “More importantly, this kind of trip brings history alive and connects our 21st century students to the realities of war in the 19th century.”

Installing the new gravestone memorial ensures Connors’ service to the nation will not be forgotten. Kelly Grimaldi, historian and associate director of Albany Diocesan Cemeteries, has been working for the past 11 years to ensure veterans buried in Albany Diocesan Cemeteries are properly memorialized. This stone is one of over 1,000 veterans’ gravestones that have been restored or replaced under Grimaldi’s direction.

“Burial of the dead has always been recognized by the Catholic Church as a religious rite and a corporal work of mercy that shows compassion and respect for all, living and deceased,” said Rick Touchette, executive director of Albany Diocesan Cemeteries. “We take that charge seriously, and we are honored to provide a proper memorial for Civil War Veteran, James Connors.”

Grimaldi has been unable to uncover many details about Connors’ life. He fled Ireland at the height of the Potato Famine and, at age 44, enlisted in the Union Army as a volunteer soldier in Company I, 18th Infantry, NYC Volunteers, in May of 1861.

The 18th Infantry participated in major battles and one of them — The Battle at Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862 — is known as the bloodiest single day in American history when 23,000 men were killed or wounded. Connors was wounded during that battle, discharged and sent home. Five years after the war ended, Connors drowned in Coeymans on Nov. 10, 1870. He rested in peace but with a broken and illegible memorial for decades.

Over 150 years after his death, Connors’ memory was honored because our nation makes a promise never to forget our veterans no matter how long ago they served their country.