The Memorial Day procession to the cemetery here gets smaller every year. But in Gray there’s a special meaning to the day and a special feeling, a feeling that began in the early days of the Civil War in a little white farmhouse on Colley Hill overlooking this little village.
Amos and Sarah Colley lived there, as they had since their marriage. And when the telegram was delivered, that day in September, 1862, they were grief-stricken. Their son, Lt. Charles H. Colley, had been killed. On receipt of sufficient funds for preparation of the body, for a plain pine coffin and for shipping costs, the message read, the corpse would be returned to Gray. The money was sent.
Some 3,500 men had been killed or wounded at Cedar Mountain during the Shanadoah Valley campaign. Eight thousand Union troops, including Company B, 10th Maine Volunteers, attacked 20,000 Confederates. Many, like Lt. Colley, were rushed to Alexandria Hospital. There, on Sept. 20, 1862, Colley died. In due course a coffin arrived at the railhead and began it tortuous trip by horse-cart up Colley Hill to the home of Amos and Sarah Colley. But when the coffin was opened, the body was not that of Charles Coley, but of a completely uniformed Confederate soldier.
The stalwart Colleys and their friends and neighbors quickly agreed that this young man, enemy soldier though he was, would be buried in the Gray cemetery with full honors. So moved were the members of the Ladies Relief Corps of the G. A. R. that they promised to maintain the grave, including annual decoration with flag and flowers. The Stranger was buried and eventually a white stone erected reading thusly:
A Soldier of the late war
Erected by the Ladies of Gray
For more than a century, every Memorial Day, the grave of The Stranger in Gray has born a flag and flowers. Some times it was difficult to find a Confederate flag, so the Stars and Stripes was substitued; often people from the village came to place a geranium, or some wild flowers, by the stone. A few weeks after The Stranger had been buried, another coffin arrived for the Colleys. There was no mistake this time. Sarah and Amos followed their son’s coffin to the cemetery and buried him about 30 paces from The Stranger.
And so on this Memorial Day, as during the past 113 years, people will come and visit, leaving mementos and remembering. Ladies of the American Legion Auxiliary, who some years ago replaced the diminishing ranks of the aging members of the Relief Corps, will take charge of the flags; other will bring flowers. Some will merely come to watch the small ceremony directly across from the exit of the Maine Turnpike, with its speeding thousands passing by each day. There’s be an easy way to find the grave of The Stranger in Gray. For flying proudly above his grave will be a flag of the Confederate States of America and as long as the elements allow it to retain its colors, this Battle Flag will wave in this Maine graveyard as a tribute to The Stranger.