North Carolina has two memorial days in May. One is coming up next Monday — this year on May 29. Everyone knows about this Memorial Day.
The other passed without notice in most places. That day is May 10, the date set in North Carolina law as “Confederate Memorial Day.”
Both memorial days have a common bond. Their observances sprang from the same war — the bloody cataclysm that took place from 1861 to 1865 when the Confederate States of America struggled desperately to maintain its status as an independent nation.
I am a true son of the South, born in Roanoke, Virginia, and making North Carolina my home since August 1971. At least three of my great-great grandfathers fought to defend the South. Not a single one owned slaves or fought to defend slavery.
These men were typical of 70 percent or more of Confederate soldiers — subsistence farmers, not plantation owners — hard workers, not slave drivers.
Yet their memory is constantly besmirched by those who define the war exclusively as over slavery. Slavery certainly had its place in the struggle, and the war’s final outcome was to end slavery in the South.
Sadly, most Americans either don’t know, or conveniently forget, that even as the war raged, slavery existed in both the North and the South. Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky never left the Union — and all were slave states. Nothing was done during the war to end slavery in these U.S. states.
I get tired of dealing with the twisted notion that somehow everyone who takes pride in Confederate heritage is a latent racist who wants to reinstitute slavery. Slavery is a blight on our national history — a disgrace that, if you examine the facts, condemns the North as well as the South.
During “Confederate History and Heritage Month,” I remember the bravery and the sufferings of the Southern people during the war.
One of my great-great grandfathers lost an arm to a cannon ball.
He enlisted in July 1861, and he chewed dirt on multiplied battlefields as an infantry private until May 12, 1864, at Spotsylvania Courthouse, he was wounded so severely he could no longer fight.
On the battlefield where he was wounded stands a tree stump nearly two feet in diameter. The tree was cut down by bullets.
What kind of people stand in the breach under such withering fire?
The brave. The committed. The determined.
These men continued to fight when hope of victory had long vanished.
My great-great grandfather fought in Company D of the 58th Virginia Infantry. When that company was first formed, it had 770 men. Through the four years of war, the company was reinforced as more and more of its men were wounded, taken prisoner, or killed.
When Company D stacked rifles at Appomattox, only 77 were left.
The Confederate soldier set the standard for courage, perseverance and duty.
That example is my heritage. That example is my history