Rites of Military Service Denied Confederate soldiers in Virginia
It is with deep regret and sadness, that I must announce the decision of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, located at 1214 Wilmer Avenue in Richmond, Virginia 23227, has ruled that the rites of military honors may not be rendered at the grave site of two Confederate Soldiers who are buried in the church cemetery. The planned grave marker dedication and memorial service, which was to include a chaplain, uniformed color guard, and uniformed honor guard. The Rector of the Emmanuel Church has decided that no Confederate Flags, Confederate uniforms, or military honors by a uniformed rifle squad, will be allowed at the grave marking dedication of Pvts. George Fitzhugh Vass and Townshend Dade Vass. These soldiers were two of three brothers who served in Company H 4th Virginia Cavalry, the famous "Black Horse Troop", and were both killed in action on the same day two years apart. They were buried, one atop the other, by their surviving older brother, Pvt. James Vass.
Up to now, the Emmanuel Episcopal Church had enjoyed a rich Confederate History. During the War Between the States, the church acted as a Confederate Hospital, and provided grave plots and funeral services for the Confederate dead who were brought to the church. The Confederate section of the church cemetery has always been maintained in a loving and caring manner. The Rector of the church in those days was the Reverend Richard Hooker Wilmer, who was the only bishop to be consecrated by the Protestant Episcopal Church of the Confederate States of America.
The Rector of the present day church, Reverend John R. West Jr., is supported in his decision by the elected vestry of the church and by the Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. When asked if the policy of denial of the rites of military honors was uniform and evenly applied to soldiers of the Confederate States of America and Soldiers of the Armed Forces of the United States, Rev. West replied that he would make those decisions on a case by case basis.
To my knowledge, this will be the first time in the history of the United States that a church has denied the universal rites of military honors to be rendered at the grave of an American Soldier.
It is hoped that respectful letters of protest regarding this decision, which is supported by the Bishop of Virginia, may influence future decisions of this kind.
The addresses of the gentlemen who have made this decision are:
Rev. John Richard West Jr.
Rector of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church
1214 Wilmer Avenue
Richmond, Virginia 23227
Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee
Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia
110 West Franklin Street
Richmond, Virginia 23220
Ironically, President Jefferson Davis, Gen. Robert E. Lee, and most of the Virginia Soldiers who came to the defense of their country during the War of Northern Aggression, were Episcopalians by faith.
John Henry Taylor
Gen. Robert E. Lee Camp # 1589
Sons of Confederate Veterans