I have a guest writer today and I want to thank him for giving me persmission to use the speech he wrote for Memorial Day. Ken Cook is the historian and newsletter editor for Camp McIntosh in Tulsa. Camp McIntosh "is a non-profit, tax exempt organization dedicated to preserving the memory and heritage of the Southern culture and our Confederate ancestors through genealogical, historical and educational activities. The Camp has been active and has completed several projects, including the placement of military markers on the graves of both Confederate and Union veterans; the donation of books and microfilm records to local libraries." A friend sent me their newsletter, that included the following:
Remembering the Fallen
by Ken Cook
By the summer of 1865, our long and terrible war among ourselves was over. Almost 650,000 American soldiers died during its course. Although the guns were now silent, large parts of the Southern landscape were still literally littered with the war dead. The bones of thousands of fallen soldiers lay unburied on old battlefields. Other thousands were interred in makeshift, often, unmarked graves. Some having been hastily buried by their comrades, while others had been dumped into mass graves in hurried efforts to get them underground before the corpses began to decompose. Most of them were unidentifiable, their fate never to be known by their families.
With the War over, the Federal government rather quickly began efforts to locate Union dead in the South, but had no interest in making the same effort to locate and identify Southern dead. Southern soldiers were treated as a foreign enemy, and their graves in the North were often desecrated and their families impeded from visiting them or recovering the bodies for reburial near their homes. It must be said that Southerners behaved just as shamefully towards Union soldiers buried in the South. During the five years after Appomattox, Congress appropriated $4 million to locate and properly re-inter Union soldiers’ bodies, but not one cent for Confederates. In April 1866, Congress passed a joint resolution to create a national cemetery system for Union soldiers, what they called the “Nation’s Dead”. Confederates would be excluded, not considered part of the nation’s dead. A thick cloud of bitterness and even hatred hung low over the country after the War. A great many people of the North considered Southerners to be traitors and unworthy of any consideration, particularly the war dead. Southerners regarded Northerners, particularly the soldiers, as invaders and despoilers of their country and their war dead equally unworthy of consideration.
The editor of the Richmond Examiner was outraged at the idea that the government of a nation that had been forcibly reunited would define Southerners, including dead Confederate soldiers as outside that nation. He proclaimed in one of his blistering editorials that if the Confederate soldier “does not fall into the category of the ‘Nation’s dead’ he is ours – and shame be to us if we do not care for his ashes.” With that challenge ringing in their ears, in May 1866, a group of Richmond women met to organize the Hollywood Cemetery Association. Mrs. William McFarland who was installed as president of the association proclaimed “in their dying” Confederate soldiers “left us with the guardianship of their graves.” With that mandate they got to work. First they began the repair of the eleven thousand soldiers’ graves that had been hastily dug in Hollywood Cemetery during the War. They then began collecting thousands of bodies from nearby battlefields.
Across town, the Ladies Memorial Association for the Confederate Dead of Oakwood undertook similar work for sixteen thousand Confederate graves in Oakwood Cemetery and the Hebrew Ladies Memorial Association dedicated themselves to caring for the graves of thirty Jewish soldiers buried in Hebrew Cemetery. The custom of decorating graves and holding an annual commemoration, which evolved into Memorial Day, began to occur. One of the first was at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. Different dates for this commemorative day were established in different states in the South: May 10th the anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death, April 26th the date Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army, considered by many to be the actual end of the War, May 30th or 31st, because fresh flowers would be abundant, and on June 3rd, the birthday of Jefferson Davis.
Associations similar to the Richmond groups were organized all over the South. The Stonewall Jackson Cemetery was created at Winchester, VA where almost twenty-five hundred dead were collected within a fifteen-mile radius of the town and re-interred. Women of Nashville purchased land in an existing cemetery to establish what they called a Confederate Circle for re-burial of Confederate dead in their area. The Ladies Confederate Cemetery Association of Vicksburg oversaw the re-interment of sixteen hundred soldiers. Women of the Confederate Memorial Association of Chattanooga did the same in their area as did similar associations in Atlanta, Marietta, Petersburg, Fredericksburg and many other places all across the South. Between 1871 and 1873 the Hollywood Cemetery Association oversaw the re-interment of 2,935 Confederates from the Gettysburg battlefield. Most of the bodies collected by the various associations were unknown and from all areas of the South. The Hollywood Cemetery Association early on set the proper tone by declaring that regardless of where a soldier was from he “belonged to us”. In addition to the work of the various cemetery associations, individual families removed the thousands of many Confederate soldiers from northern graves and southern battlefields to be re-interred in private cemeteries near their homes. Over 30,000 Confederate dead, mostly prisoners of war, are now respectfully interred in national cemeteries all across the North.
We are not only the sons and daughters of Confederate veterans, but we are the spiritual, if not literal, descendants of Mrs. William McFarland and the hundreds of other Southern women who took up the task of locating fallen Confederate soldiers and giving them honorable burials. It is our duty to carry on their work, not of locating bodies of our Confederate soldiers and honorably re-burying them. That work has been done. It is our duty to remember. We all have Confederate ancestors lying far from us, maybe in locations that we don’t even know, or among the thousands of the unknown dead. We would all be gratified to know that groups such as ourselves take a little time one day in the springtime of each year to gather to remember them, plant a small Confederate battle flag on their graves for a day, and speak a few meaningful words in recognition of their service.
The nineteen Confederate soldiers lying in Oaklawn Cemetery are not our ancestors. They were not born in this area nor did they fight their battles here. They came here after the War from places far away, far from their birthplaces and far from their families so they might renew their lives. Other than what’s carved on their gravestones, we know nothing of them, yet “they are ours – and shame be to us if we do not care for their ashes”. We are the guardians of their graves.