Winston-Salem man observes Confederate memorial day

By Scott Sexton
Winston-Salem Journal
May 11, 2010

A handful of people looked at him funny, and it was chillier yesterday morning than he would have liked, but Jamie Funkhouser wasn’t about to let anything deter him from completing his self-appointed mission of honoring Confederate soldiers killed during the Civil War.

Yesterday was Confederate Memorial Day, and Funkhouser wasn’t about to let it slip by unnoticed.

So it was that Funkhouser stood guard in front of the Confederate War Monument next to the old Forsyth County Courthouse for the better part of the morning. He wore a gray Johnny Reb hat and he carried a full-size replica of the first Confederate national flag.

It would have been easy to dismiss him as a kook or a hatemonger – Lord knows we have plenty of both these days – but something about his earnest demeanor said to take a few minutes finding out why a 22-year-old would spend his morning in front of a monument that almost no one notices anymore.

Different memorial days.

Yes, Virginia, Confederate Memorial Day is a state holiday as decreed by the General Assembly. But before anybody gets too worked up, Greek Independence Day (March 25) and the anniversary of the signing of Halifax Resolves (April 12) are state holidays, too.

Most Southern states recognize a Confederate Memorial Day, though they can’t seem to agree on a date.

North Carolina and South Carolina designate May 10, as it is the day Gen. Andrew “Stonewall” Jackson died in 1863 and the Confederate President Jefferson Davis was captured. Some states (Tennessee, Louisiana) mark it on June 3, the birthday of Jefferson Davis, and others (Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi) use the last Monday in April – the day Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman.

Funkhouser knows all that, and a lot more history, too. He volunteered information and answered questions with liberal use of “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs.“

For example, he noted that although North Carolina was the last state to secede, it contributed more material and more of its sons died in its service than any other. (According to the Encyclopedia of North Carolina, about 134,000 Tarheels fought for the South and 19,600 died in battle. South Carolina is second, with 13,000 combat dead.).

Funkhouser also knows that a large majority of Confederate soldiers were ill-equipped, dirt-poor farmers, and he believes that most of them felt they were defending themselves from northern aggression.

“There are a lot of people who don’t know or don’t want to know that (Confederate) soldiers fought for the same freedom as those who fought in the Revolutionary War,“ he said. “It wasn’t to destroy the Union. They just wanted their independence.“

Whether you agree with Funkhouser’s interpretation of history – the stares directed his way by a couple of passersby underscore the deep wounds left by slavery – know that he’s aware that others disagree, and he’s OK with that.

“Everybody has a right to their opinions and to say what they want to say,“ he said. “If they knew what happened and all of the history, maybe they’d know that (Confederate) soldiers fought for a cause they believed in, one they thought was right, and it wasn’t about preserving slaves.“

Put simply, Funkhouser wanted people to remember the massive loss of life. According to the Department of Defense, at least 500,000 soldiers from both sides died in the Civil War, and at least 160,000 of them were Southerners. Like soldiers of every generation, men from the North and the South went to war because their countries asked them to. And a lot of them didn’t come home.

Funkhouser struck me as a history buff and an avid reader who hopes to go to college one day to earn a degree in history – no more and no less.

Besides, if he really wanted to cause trouble, he could have carried the more familiar – and far more inflammatory – Confederate battle flag favored by white supremacists, troublemakers and pinheads everywhere.

He didn’t.

“I’m here to honor our ancestors,“ he said. “It’s really as simple as that.“

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