By KELLY DONALDSON
The News Herald
Saturday, July 10, 2004
MORGANTON – Anyone who walked by the old Burke County Courthouse on Saturday morning probably thought they had woke up back in the rugged days of the Civil War.
However, it was indeed July 10, 2004, only members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans were paying tribute in full force to the Southern soldiers of the war who greatly shaped the south as we currently know it.
With men proudly dressed in authentic soldier uniforms and women donning beautiful dresses in tune with the times, the courthouse lawn was surrounded with horses, tents, flags, and memorabilia similar to those used during the Civil War.
Gail Shuffler, of China Grove, was dressed up as Rose O’Neal Greenhowell, a confederate spy. She said she looks forward to attending ceremonies like the one held in downtown Morganton on Saturday.
“I can’t wait for the weekends,” said Shuffler. “I look forward to every weekend. We can’t wait. We try to find ones near to us and we prepare. When I step on this ground, or wherever we’re at, it’s like I’ve stepped back in time. Everything else fades out. It’s really cool when they do the battles and reenactments.”
Shuffler, posing as a confederate spy, said she enjoys fraternizing with participants, trying to learn secrets from the union for the confederate soldiers. Dressed to kill, literally, Shuffler also keeps an authentic pistol tucked away in her dress in case of danger, making the reenactments even more believable.
“We go to at least 30 a year,” added Shuffler.
Rebecca Howard, also of Concord, was elaborately dressed as an Angel of Mercy. Explaining her role during the times of the Civil War, Howard said, “An angel of mercy takes care of the ones that are sick, perhaps in their dying moments. Like if their family lived in Charleston, then I would write it down and get it to their family. They would take care of soldiers’ final requests.”
“You meet a lot of new people,” added Shuffler about the special hobby. “It’s so interesting and I love it with all my heart.”
Shuffler said the overwhelming amount of confederate flags shouldn’t offend anyone passing by ceremonies like the one on Saturday.
“When you start learning about the confederacy, it’s not what you think it is. People think it’s the clan, but it’s really the Christian cross. It’s these other people who are ignorant that cause a lot of trouble. There were actually a lot of black soldiers,” she said.
Bruce Fleming, commander of the Morganton chapter of the Sons of Confederate Soldiers, said he expected about 100 people to attend Saturday’s event.
“Usually, we run about 60 people, so this is a little large,” he said. “This is only the second time that we’ve held an officers’ meeting here.”
Echoing Shuffler’s sentiments about the sometimes controversial flying of the confederate flag, Fleming said, “The black soldier did fight a lot with us, along with the Indians and a lot of other races and creeds, which people don’t ever talk about. That’s one reason why we assemble and do these things.
“Our ancestors were southern, we’re southern and this is southern land,” proudly stated Fleming. “We want to keep our history and our heritage alive.”
Vernon Brewer of Concord, dressed in full confederate soldier attire, participated in the musket shooting that took place between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. He said he began getting involved in events like these after researching his own genealogy.
“I kept finding more and more confederate ancestors,” said Brewer. “All eight of my great, great-grandfathers served in the confederacy. I realized that I needed to learn more about confederate history. What little bit I had heard was mostly negative and I didn’t feel like every single one of my ancestors was wrong. I became respectful of what they were all about.”
Brewer said his regiment’s motto is “honorable impression of our confederate ancestors.”
“We try to present an impression of those honorable men as it was in the years 1861 to 1865,” added Brewer.
Passing the history along to younger generations is also important to current participants like Brewer, who said he attends about 40 to 45 confederate events each year.
“Once I became interested, I tried to pass this information along to younger generations,” he said. “We generally have kids dress out with us. We are a family-oriented organization. That’s no different than our ancestors.”