“Our most sacred duty”

  • Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dear Editor,

One hundred and fifty years ago, when our Confederate ancestors joined the Army or Navy and departed to the front, they took their honor with them. They pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to one another and many paid the ultimate sacrifice, never to see the south again.

When they finally returned at the wars end, many found their lives forever changed; families were scattered; farms and homes had been destroyed, friends and family members had been lost. In all this despair, the indomitable spirit of the Confederate soldiers prevailed and they set out to rebuild the south.

This was not going to be an easy task, because there was no money, few jobs and many farms had nothing to produce. On top of that, the so-called “Reconstruction” was essentially an occupying Federal Army that was involved in every aspect of daily life. Soldiers holding the rank of colonel or higher or who had held a position in the Confederate government could not run for or hold any public office. This essentially eliminated over 40 percent of the men who could read and write from helping rebuild their states. Carpetbaggers and numerous unsavory characters took over the operation of local, county and state governments and their administrations were often unfair, inept and corrupt.

If anything good can be claimed to have come from this time, it was the fact that the people, no matter how harshly they were treated, never gave up. During reconstruction the soldiers were not allowed to wear any part of a Confederate uniform that had insignias, military names or emblems on it. They could not display the CS National flag, CS battle flags or organize into “veterans groups.” In wanting to honor their departed comrades, they did the next best thing.

Contrary to popular belief, they worked steadfastly to create “Decoration Day” to honor the war dead; this day was not federal invention. The early records clearly show:

The first Confederate soldier’s grave decorated was in Warrenton, VA, on June 3, 1861.

The Ladies Relief Society of Savannah, GA decorated Confederate soldiers graves on May 2, 1862. A “Decoration Day” like service was held in Charleston on May 1, 1865, and the local ladies, helped by ex-Confederate soldiers, assisted the federal authorities to honor 257 soldiers buried there.

These efforts caught on fast and in the months that followed, towns all over the south were holding these “Decoration Day” programs and by early 1866, they had spread to most parts of the country.

In March 1866, the Ladies Memorial Association in Columbus, GA drafted a letter to the mayors of all the major cities in the south, encouraging them to celebrate “Decoration Day” on April 26, to remember Gen. Johnston’s surrender to Gen. Sherman at Durham Station, NC. Thousands turned out, but in some places the flowers were not yet in bloom, so they picked other dates.

Later that year, northern cities began to celebrate “Decoration Day.” Today, the towns of Boalsburg, PA and Ironton, Ohio both claim to have the oldest continuous observances in the nation. Neither has ever missed a year for their parades and patriotic programs, for 148 years, even during World War II.

South Carolina is unique, in that we have the oldest Confederate Soldiers Monument in the south, which was erected in 1866, in Cheraw. Originally located in the town square, the federal authorities made them move it to St. David’s Cemetery where it stands today. Erecting permanent monuments became popular throughout the south and many were officially dedicated as part of the designated “Decoration Day” programs, found in that state.

In 1868, Major Gen. John Logan was the Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and he wrote a letter to President Andrew Johnson, urging him to formally adopt a national day of remembrance, emulating “Confederate Memorial Day” and honoring all Union and Confederate war dead. He recommended May 30, because neither side had fought a battle on that day and flowers were in full bloom all over the north and south.

Later that year, Gen. Logan commented at the GAR Convention: “It was not too late for the Union men of the nation to follow the honorable example set by the people of the south in perpetuating the memory of their friends, who had died for the cause they thought just and right.”

By 1869, many states had taken his words to heart and while it would be several more years before the dates would become law, the observances and programs continued. The state of Michigan was the first to make “Decoration Day” law and declare it a statewide holiday, in 1871.

When reconstruction finally ended in early 1877, it was the result of the efforts of Wade Hampton going to see the Rutherford B. Hayes, when he was a candidate for President and pledging his support in the south, to help get Hayes elected. Once in office, Hayes removed the occupying Troops and the southland began to grow and prosper.

Later that year, Confederate veterans organizations began to emerge and the following states formally adopted “Decoration Day”, but they did not all hold their observances on the same day.

Consider these dates and the reasons for their selection:

ALABAMA

Uses the 4th Monday in April, to remember the surrender of Gen. Johnston to Gen. Sherman.

ARKANSAS

Uses the 3rd Monday in January, to remember Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson’s birthdays.

FLORIDA

Uses the 4th. Monday in April, to rememer the surrender of Gen. Johnston to Gen. Sherman.

GEORGIA

Uses the 4th Monday in April, to remember the surrender of Gen. Johnston to Gen. Sherman.

ILLINOIS

Uses the 5th of July, to remember the release of all prisoners from the Federal prison at Chicago known as Camp Douglas, in 1865. Requested by the Illinois Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, in 1889.

KENTUCKY

Uses June 3, to remember Jefferson Davis birthday.

LOUISIANA

Uses June 3, to remember Jefferson Davis birthday; (LA was the first southern state to establish this as state law, in 1878).

MARYLAND

Uses the 1st Saturday in June, because nobody else had chosen this day.

MISSISSIPPI

Uses the 4th Monday in April, to remember the surrender of Gen. Johnston to Gen. Sherman.

NORTH CAROLINA

Uses May 10, to remember the death of Stonewall Jackson in 1863 and the capture of Jefferson Davis in 1865.

PENNSYLVANIA

Uses the 2nd Saturday in May. Requested by the Pennsylvania Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, in 1899.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Uses May 10, to remember the death of Stonewall Jackson in 1863 and the capture of Jefferson Davis in 1865.

TENNESSEE

Uses June 3rd, to remember Jefferson Davis birthday.

TEXAS

This state is unique, in that it celebrates on two (2) different days. January 19 is to remember Robert E. Lee’s birthday and it is also called “Confederate Heroes Day.” Many Texas towns, cities and organizations use the 4th Monday in April, to remember Gen. Johnston’s surrender to Gen. Sherman.

VIRGINIA

Uses the 4th Monday in May (same as the Federal holiday), to remember unity between “Brothers In Arms”, signifying the honors shown by the Federal soldiers to the Confederate soldiers, when they surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.

The two largest observances are at Gettysburg, PA (known as Remembrance Day) held on Nov. 19, and at Arlington National Cemetery held on the 4th Monday of May. It is estimated that over 15,000 people attend each of these gatherings.

In 1882, the name “Decoration Day” was dropped in favor of “Memorial Day” and even with repeated calls to make this a national holiday, Congress failed to act.

The Confederate soldiers were calling for a single veterans organization, fashioned after the GAR and designed to represent their interests on national basis. When this finally took place in 1889, the United Confederate Veterans (UCV) immediately took up the call for formal recognition of “Memorial Day” in every southern state.

When the Sons of Confederate Veterans was organized in 1896, the recognition of “Memorial Day” was still an open issue in many states and even joint efforts with the GAR, UCV and SCV could not force formal action by the US Congress. In disgust, Confederate soldiers turned to their state governments to recognize the date and many of them passed laws making Confederate Memorial Day a state wide holiday. It was not until 1968, that the United States Congress finally passed the law formally adopting “Memorial Day” as a national holiday and officially setting the date as the 4th Monday in May.

On May 26, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the 7BHG will participate with elements of the Palmetto Battalion of SC Volunteers and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, in the “Memorial Day” program, at the Florence National Cemetery. This joint effort is to honor our veterans, but also serves to help improve future cooperative actions between these organizations.

Today, we have come together to honor our war dead and all Confederate soldiers who served, but have you ever asked yourself; “Why do I do this?” Most will answer, to remember their Confederate ancestor and that is a reasonable reply. I submit there are a number of other reasons, that are not normally considered, but they are just as important. They include:

Our Confederate ancestor gave us an indelible place on his family tree.

Our Confederate ancestor gave us a rich heritage, which is steeped in honor and strong family values.

Our Confederate ancestor gave us a noble birthright, that only his ancestors can possess.

Our Confederate ancestor let us inherit his honor, perseverance and loyalty to the cause for Southern Independence, for which he so nobly fought.

These traits cannot be bought like titles of nobility; they cannot be bestowed by any government and they cannot be sold. They are representative of his life and determination, that you should remember his time on this earth.

This legacy is yours to do with as you please; you can honor him and those brave men who fought for the Confederate states or “you can do nothing.”

If you do not recognize his connection to you or know about his life and accomplishments, you cannot understand the family connection that helped to put you on this earth. If you choose not honor him and his family, then you shut the door on history and we will all lose a valuable link to the past.

In this age of instant electronic communications and journalists who embrace political correctness rather than truth, we have plenty of foes with a basic dislike for all things Confederate. There are those in the country who would gladly erase this chapter in our nation’s history, if they could.

Preventing misinformation and attacks are the keys to future generations being able to understand exactly what Confederate heritage is. These negative efforts can be minimized by our knowledge of the facts, our determination to protect honor and by keeping vigilant, so we can make the right decisions.

Knowledge means, that we will always come together to honor and protect these men who fought for the Confederate cause, because we understand why they made their initial decision to fight and that decision is not something that we question.

Determination means, that we will never let our Confederate ancestor and his heritage, become just another picture in a book or an artifact resting on some dusty shelf at a museum. We will embrace the education of every new generation, so that others can hear the facts that we call “The True History of the South.”

Vigilance means, that we will forever stand and protect his memory from those who mean to do it harm and we will always be ready to say NO to these efforts, effectively blocking their way, when those negative actions occur.

In closing, our challenge is a simple, yet monumental task and our call for your help has never been more important, than it is today.

Therefore, I ask you this question: “Will you continue to serve as a dedicated family member, working to set the stage for the next 150 years, to guard this important historic legacy and assure that the sacred memory of our Confederate ancestors, will never be forgotten?”

H.G. Clapper

Marion

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