CIVIL WAR OP-ED: Confederate Memorial Day in Dixie

Tuesday, April 17, 2012
By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.

Did you know that the first Memorial Day in America was held in the South in honor of both the soldiers of Union Blue and Confederate Gray?

Some folks call the War Between the States, 1861-1865, a lost cause but stories of the heroic- brave men and women who stood for Southern Independence are still cherished in the hearts and souls of many people throughout the South.

Why do people remember?

Tennessee Senator Edward Ward Carmack may have said it best in 1903; quote “The Confederate Soldiers were our kinfolk and our heroes. We testify to the country our enduring fidelity to their memory. We commemorate their valor and devotion. There were some things that were not surrendered at Appomattox. We did not surrender our rights and history; nor was it one of the conditions of surrender that unfriendly lips should be suffered to tell the story of that war or that unfriendly hands should write the epitaphs of the Confederate dead. We have the right to teach our children the true history of the war, the causes that led up to it and the principles involved.” unquote

That may be why….

The South still remembers the men and women of the Confederate States of America who came from all races and religions that include: Cuban born Confederate Colonel Ambrosio Jose Gonzales, Irish-born General Patrick R. Cleburne, Black Confederate drummer Bill Yopp, Mexican born Colonel Santos Benavides, Cherokee Born General Stand Watie and Jewish born Confederate Nurse Phoebe Pember who was the first female administrator of Chimboraza Hospital in Richmond, Virginia where she served until the end of the war.

In Richmond, Virginia there is a final resting place for Southern war dead. It is called the only Jewish military cemetery in the world outside the State of Israel. Here are the remains of Jewish soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.

A plaque was erected here by the Hebrew Ladies Memorial Association, organized in 1866, and lists the names of the soldiers buried here. The inscription reads:

"To the glory of God and in memory of The Hebrew Confederate Soldiers resting in this hallowed spot."

The State of Georgia has officially recognized April 26th as Confederate Memorial Day since 1874….And proclamations have been signed by Southern governors, commemorating April as Confederate History and Heritage Month since 1995.

Efforts to mark Confederate graves, erect monuments and hold memorial services were the idea of Mrs. Charles J. Williams. She was an educated and kind lady. Her husband served as Colonel of the 1st Georgia Regiment during the War Between the States. He died of disease in 1862, and was buried in his home town of Columbus, Georgia.

Mrs. Williams and her daughter visited his grave often and cleared the weeds, leaves and twigs from it, then placed flowers on it. Her daughter also pulled the weeds from other Confederate graves near her Father.

It saddened the little girl that their graves were unmarked. With tears of pride she said to her Mother, "These are my soldiers’ graves." The daughter soon became ill and passed away in her childhood.

On a visit to the graves of her husband and daughter, Mrs. Williams looked at the unkept soldiers’ graves and remembered her daughter as she cleaned the graves and what the little girl had said. She knew what she had to do.

Mrs. Williams wrote a letter that was published in Southern newspapers asking the women of the South for their help. She asked that memorial organizations be established to take care of the thousands of Confederate graves from the Potomac River to the Rio Grande. She also asked the state legislatures to set aside a day in April to remember the men who wore the gray. With her leadership April 26 was officially adopted in many states. She died in 1874, but not before her native state of Georgia adopted it as a legal holiday.

Johnson is a speaker, writer  of American Historical articles, the author of  “When America Stood for God, Family and Country” and Chairman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Confederate History and Heritage Month Committee,

The Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans joins the nation in commemorating the Sesquicentennial–150th Anniversary of the War Between the States now through 2015. Read more at:

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