By Alvin Benn
One by one, descendants of soldiers who served in the bloodiest war in American history stood to recite the names, ranks and unit designations of their ancestors.
Hosted by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Alabama Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the annual Confederate Memorial Day ceremony Monday reflected a solid commitment to remember the past, as painful as it turned out to be. Some had tears in their eyes by the time the last descendant sat down on the steps of the Confederate Monument on the state Capitol grounds.
The observance drew more than 200 participants, including a woman who didn’t try to hide her anger at tactics used by Union troops during the Civil War.
Connie Ansley, state president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, said the South found itself having to cope with "an invading army of terrorists."
"Look around at what they did to us," said Ansley. "They destroyed our homes, libraries, factories, crops, animals and anything they could get their hands on."
Alabama Department of Labor Commissioner Jim Bennett, who represented Gov. Bob Riley at the event, said his grandfather, Pvt. Ezekial Bennett of Missouri, was one of the lucky ones. He survived the war and lived until 1919.
Many others were not as fortunate.
Bennett said Alabama provided 81,000 soldiers and sailors to the Confederate war effort. He said thousands of those died on the battlefields, of war wounds or from illnesses related to their service.
Bennett praised the patriotism that has led thousands of Alabamians to serve "in all our country’s wars." From 1861 to 1865, he added, Alabama troops responded because "their country was at war and it was their duty to serve."
"Confederate Memorial Day can help us remember where we were as a people 145 years ago, where we are today, and to use that experience to build a better future," Bennett said.