Everyday is Veterans’ Day for Michael Perrone, weather permitting.
Perrone, the president of the Belleville Historical Society and a mason whose family owns Perrone Mason Contractors in Bloomfield, has for more than 20 years been painstakingly cleaning, throughout northern Jersey, the soiled gravestones and memorials of veterans killed in action. He does this because he feels it is his patriotic duty.
This past week he was in the Bloomfield Cemetery cleaning the monument of Lt. Henry M. Baldwin, a Civil War casualty, mortally wounded at the Battle of Cedar Creek.
The Battle of Cedar Creek was a brutal one day affair occurring Oct. 19, 1864, in Virginia, along the Shenandoah Valley, between the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, near the West Virginia border.
Historians say the Union victory gave Lincoln a boost three weeks before the 1864 elections. Future presidents, Col. Rutherford B. Hayes and Capt. William McKinley fought at Cedar Creek.
This week, Lt. Baldwin was remembered by Perrone, a local mason with a scrub brush.
The Baldwins were one of the first families to settle in Bloomfield. The founding ancestor of most Baldwins was Benjamin Baldwin, a weaver from Milford, Conn.
Henry Moore Baldwin was born in Bloomfield on April 11, 1840, and died Nov. 8, 1864, in Taylors Hotel Hospital, in Winchester, Va., from wounds suffered at Cedar Creek several weeks earlier.
A graduate of the Kentucky Military Institute, June 1861, he was commissioned a lieutenant of the 5th Regiment U.S. Artillery and served in the Army of the Potomac. He was buried in Bloomfield on Nov. 20, 1864.
The battle began as a surprise attack by Confederate troops under the command of Gen. Jubal A. Early. The offense was initially slowed by the 8th Vermont Brigade which lost 106 of its 159 men, and a saying was born: Don’t run until the Vermonters do.
At the onset of the Confederate attack, the commander of the Union forces, Gen. Phil Sheridan, was 12 miles away, in Winchester, Va. Alerted, he made a dramatic ride on his horse, Rienzi, to lead his troops. This ride was heralded in poem and song.
Sheridan wrote about his approach to the battle scene: “There burst upon our view the appalling spectacle of a panic-stricken Army, hundred of slightly wounded men, hundreds of others, utterly demoralized, all pressing to the rear in hopeless confusion, telling only too plainly that a disaster had occurred at the front.”
He then rode the length of the battle line exhorting his men. Later, an unidentified Union soldier wrote of the incident: “The men sprang to their feet as only men under such circumstances can. Hope and confidence returned at the bound. No longer did we merely hope. The worst was over. Now we all burned to attack the enemy, to drive him back, to retrieve our honor. And every man knew that Sheridan would do it.”
The Battle of Cedar Creek, which is also known as the Battle of Belle Grove, engaged some 47,210 soldiers. There were an estimated 7,682 casualties. Twenty-one Union soldiers received the Medal of Honor. Sheridan’s horse was renamed Winchester and its body preserved and displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
According to Perrone, near the Baldwin monument is another Civil War casualty: William Pierson, 20, who was killed at the Battle of Bull Run.
Perrone’s work in Bloomfield is not done. He is scheduled to begin cleaning the World War I and World War II plaques in the Bloomfield Town Hall lobby this week.
“The WWI plaque is 2 feet by 3 feet and has the names of 36 men killed in action,” he said. “The WWII plaque is a massive 4 feet by 5 feet. I believe 165 young men are listed. This will take time. The plaque is made of bronze and cleaning the large eagle will be very tedious as we get into the feathers. We never know how long a project takes until it is completed. Hopefully, we’ll be done by Thanksgiving.”
Perrone, who does not work alone on these projects, said he recently cleaned the Korean and Vietnam war monument located near the Bloomfield Public Library and the Thomas and Armando Veneziano WWII monument on Newark Avenue.
Most of Perrone’s monument work are projects of the Belleville Historical Society and done free-of-charge. However, Perrone Mason Contractors applied a new 23 karat gold leaf to the names on the Glen Ridge 9-11 granite monument outside the police station.