By Steve Huffman
Steve Poteat said there was a time when thousands of people would turn out to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, with schools even closed for the grand event.
But that was decades ago, and Saturday’s Memorial Service, held at the Old Lutheran Cemetery on North Lee Street, was more indicative of the type celebration that’s been staged in recent years.
About 50 people gathered in the cemetery to honor their ancestors who fought – and often died – for the Confederacy. Reproductions of the various flags that Southern troops fought under fluttered in a gentle breeze on an afternoon that couldn’t have been more ideal.
Re-enactors from the 63rd N.C. Troops, reactivated, came dressed in their parade best, marching in formation into the cemetery and ending the celebration with a firing of volleys.
Poteat, commander of the Rowan Rifles Camp 405 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the group that sponsored Saturday’s service, reminded those in attendance that Rowan County supplied more than 2,000 troops to the Southern cause. That’s more, he said, than any other county in North Carolina.
In addition, Poteat said, more Southern troops hailed from North Carolina than any other state in the Confederacy.
"You and I carry the same blood," Poteat said of the bond between those at Saturday’s service and their Confederate kin.
He said many Confederate soldiers were little more than boys engaged in a bitter struggle to protect their homeland from an invading army than out-numbered them several times over.
"Many died of disease in camps far from home," Poteat said of the soldiers of the Confederacy.
He said the causes of the Civil War were complex, but the general population has been led to believe that the ordeal centered around nothing more than a fight over slavery, a myth that is anything but true, Poteat said.
He asked those at Saturday’s service to do all they can to correct such fallacies.
"These men have been transformed into racists," Poteat said, motioning to the graves of the Confederate dead. "I say to heck with their lies. Be firm, be true, never compromise the truth."
Poteat said the greatest threat to the heritage of the Confederacy is ignorance, and reminded listeners of the words of the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin who said, "He who controls history controls the present."
"As you leave, go by the graves of your ancestors and place a flag," Poteat suggested.
Rock Edmiston, first lieutenant commander of the Rowan Rifles, reminded attendees of the misery endured by Confederate troops.
Edmiston said that by the fall of 1862, when Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee led his troops into Maryland, they were so dirty and their odor so foul that they could be smelled from miles away. The soldiers were gaunt and ragged, and Maryland residents were amazed that the ragtag bunch – against overwhelming odds – was regularly whipping their Northern foes.
"Was this the army that beat the best the Union could bring against them?" Edmiston said more than one Maryland resident asked.
Though the North eventually wore the Confederacy down through an advantage in numbers and supplies, the South continued to hold its own against the Union until the very end.
Edmiston said that late in the war, at the siege of Petersburg, Va., where the South was dug in to protect Richmond against the invading Yankees, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was asked what he needed to break the stalemate. After all, Edmiston noted, the North already outnumbered the South by at least three soldiers to one at the battle.
"I need a regiment of Confederate soldiers," Grant is said to have replied.