By J.L. MILLER
The News Journal
When Delaware’s Union veterans returned home from the Civil War they were welcomed as conquering heroes, their exploits celebrated and statues erected in their honor.
Returning Confederate veterans were looked upon with suspicion and their service went unheralded.
Now, 141 years after the last shot was fired in a war that divided Delaware and the nation, a group of Delawareans whose ancestors fought for the South is planning a monument to honor those who chose to don Confederate gray instead of Union blue.
Delaware Grays Camp 2068 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national organization founded in 1896 by veterans and their descendants, has reached an agreement with the Georgetown Historical Society to place the monument on the grounds of the Nutter D. Marvel Museum in Georgetown.
The Delaware Grays, a nonprofit organization, is raising money for the monument and hopes to unveil it next year.
Robert B. Eldreth Jr., an Ellendale resident and adjutant of the Delaware Grays, is well aware of the wounds that linger so many years later — and he said the group has no intent to offend.
"We’re not a hate organization. We’re not about spreading hate. We’re only about preserving history," Eldreth said.
Eldreth is aware that controversy could result, because the Confederate battle flag, with its familiar blue cross and white stars on a red field, will be depicted on the monument’s 9-foot-tall obelisk, along with the letters "CSA."
The obelisk will be flanked by smaller stones bearing the names of Delawareans who served the Confederacy in a military or civilian capacity.
No one is sure how many Delawareans fought for the Confederacy — estimates have ranged as low as 200 and as high as 2,000 — but they suffered and died along with 12,284 Delawareans who fought for the United States.
Symbols retain power
But Confederate symbols have been a sensitive and divisive issue in recent years, stirring painful reminders of slavery and more recent indignities by white racists who hijacked the Confederate battle flag for their own ends.
The battle flag is "an embattled historic symbol," Eldreth said. "Not only does it represent a heritage of a group of people, but it also represents a turn in American history that has been neglected or put aside. It has as valuable a role in history itself as Francis Scott Key sitting in a boat and writing about the bombs bursting in air."
Deborah Jones, a Civil War re-enactor whose husband, Wesley, is president of the Georgetown Historical Society, said the society understood the sensitive nature of the monument when it signed the agreement with the Delaware Grays.
"However, the thing is, the war was Americans. The war was Delawareans, regardless of North or South," Jones said.
"And, it’s the honoring of the people who were ancestors, and that is the most important thing, rather than past feelings," she said.
Delaware Grays officials would not provide a cost estimate, but monument committee member Gilbert C. Kandler of Bridgeville said the group has raised more than half the money needed.
Although plans for the monument have been in the works for a year, word of the project apparently has not yet spread through the community.
News met with mixed reactions
Jane Hovington, a former Georgetown Town Council member who has served as the president of the Lower Sussex Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was taken aback when a reporter told her about the monument.
"I’m shocked. You caught me off guard," Hovington said.
But after a moment’s reflection, Hovington said she is not opposed to the idea.
"We’re honoring war heroes no matter which side they took. They believed in their principles, and they fought the war based on their principles," Hovington said.
"Would people take offense to the Confederate flag, regardless of what size? It’s a possibility. Some people see it representing a stand for slavery," Hovington said. "I don’t take offense to it. If I see somebody riding with a Confederate flag [on their vehicle], that’s their prerogative."
Waynne Paskins, a retired Cape Henlopen School District teacher and a founder of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Organization of Sussex County, had mixed feelings about the monument.
"I don’t think that the Confederate stance is an indication of who the United States is, so therefore, with the Confederacy goes all the negative things that happened to black people during slavery," Paskins said. "That’s why when we see the Confederate flag we know that it doesn’t represent America, all of us."
However, she said she believes that history "does need to be reported as it was." She said she hoped that the monument would be placed in the proper context.
The Nutter D. Marvel Museum, a series of buildings on several acres, is on South Bedford Street. The museum hosts the eclectic collection of the late Nutter D. Marvel, who owned the farm where the museum stands.
Marvel collected everything from photos and Oriental rugs to old buildings, such as a church dating back to the 1890s, and old post offices. But he was best known for his collection of carriages used every other November in Georgetown’s Return Day Parade. It includes a carriage formerly owned by the queen of England.
Copyright © 2006, The News Journal.