Tears and Laughter: Confederate soldier seeks peace

By Amanda Walker
October 19, 2013

Alright, that’s it, I’m offended. In an interview on CNN, Representative Charlie Rangel, a Democrat — and evidently, a Yankee — from the great state of New York compared tea party Republicans to "Confederates" fighting in the Civil War.

I’m mostly indifferent on the tea party Republicans, but I do have a heart for Confederate soldiers. I feel as if I have met many of them researching ancestry.

Confederate soldiers didn’t start the Civil War. The government started the war and the Confederate soldiers had no choice but to fight. If they refused, the same government would then hang them, or stand them in front of a firing squad and have them shot dead.

Since I don’t think we will have too many Confederate soldiers coming forward to discuss the matter, I would like to introduce William Gayle McClure. His story is just one story in the book of history that touched practically every family in the South.

William Gayle is a bit of a ghost – in that I know he was here, and I know he disappeared. There is no documented closure, which allows him to roam still, and keeps me searching for him.

I can find him the 1850 Clayhill, Alabama census in the household with his mother and brothers. His father Benjamin had been killed years earlier by a Native American, shortly after the family had arrived from South Carolina to claim a land grant awarded to Benjamin’s father, Samuel, for his service in the War of 1812.

William Gayle is still in Clayhill in the 1860 census. He and his brothers are married. They are neighbors, with households of their own. William married a local girl, Jane Turner, and they had a daughter.

The Civil War started in 1861. His brothers joined the 43rd Alabama Infantry Volunteers, they were a part of Gracie’s Pride, and were mustered into the Confederated States Army in the spring of 1862. They both made it back to Clayhill. Jesse B. McClure was honorably discharged with a debilitating illness and Ivey McClure was at the Appomattox Court House when Lee surrendered in April of 1865.

William Gayle wouldn’t volunteer.

And 150 years out from it, that still haunts me. Why didn’t he go with his brothers? Was he stubborn like most McClure’s? Did he not want to leave his young wife and baby daughter? Was he scared? Did he disagree with the war? I will never know…but for whatever reason he did not willingly join the CSA.

By the end of 1862, he was "conscripted." He was drafted, and became part of the First Alabama Infantry Regiment. No records remain for this group of men.

If he had volunteered, maybe he would have come back too. The flip side is if he had volunteered in the spring of 1862, then William Gayle Jr. would not have been born in the summer of 1863. And if he had never been born, then I would have never been born either.

Confederate soldiers were sons and brothers and fathers of the South. They were no different than the sons and brothers and fathers of the North. They did what they were charged to do, they were soldiers. Maybe Mr. Rangel should let them rest in peace…lest they haunt him too.

© 2013 Alabama Media Group

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