Organizers say Civil War event in Hanover went fine, despite Northern aggression
BY BILL MCKELWAY
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Southern blood won a victory this weekend in Hanover County, briefly beating back the tide of politically correct influences in a world gone crazy.
At least, that’s the way organizers were talking yesterday when the dust settled at Pole Green Park from the departing RVs, SUVs and battle-flag-adorned pickup trucks.
"I think you could say it went just fine," said Grayson Jennings, one of the organizers of Dixie Days, a low-budget, officially snubbed celebration of one Southern perspective.
Jennings and other Sons of Confederate Veterans said three days of Civil War re-en- actments, speeches, history lessons and campfire politicking drew as many as 10,000 spectators and hundreds of dressed-for-battle re-enactors, some from as far away as Florida.
That was despite Hanover’s decision to drop endorsement of the event after a firestorm of negative publicity last year. That came about when "people from the North," as Jennings described them, questioned the connotations of the word "Dixie" and quashed officially sanctioned visits by schoolchildren.
This year’s 10,000 visitors roughly equaled attendance levels last year — despite the county’s decision to withdraw support, require organizers to pay a fee to use the park and, most bothersome of all, "not to provide a Dumpster," said Darryl F. Starnes.
Jennings, who can count nearly a dozen ancestors of his and his wife’s who fought in the Civil War, said he is stunned by the similarities today between conflicts over the meaning of the Iraqi war and misrepresentations about this country’s bloodiest period of armed conflict.
"Back then, it was just like today about Iraq," said Jennings, noting that he was born "not far from the White House of the Confederacy, at MCV Hospital," now known as VCU Medical Center.
Hanover considered continuing its sanction of the event if organizers would call it something else. Starnes and Jennings said Dixie Days will never change its moniker.
"Next thing, they’ll ban the gray un- iforms and then the flag. That’s what they want, the flag," Jennings said, referring to the Confederate battle flag that has fallen into disfavor in many quarters.
This year, re-enactors portrayed the Battle of Shady Grove Road because of its local ties and landmarks.
"You look at a map of this area back then where they list the families that lived there, and many, many of them are the same today," Jennings said.
"I’ve tried to tell the county that if they’d let us, I could draw 10,000 re-enactors and 50,000 spectators for an anniversary re-enactment of Cold Harbor. You’d have these people come in and spend their money, but after the weekend they’d leave and go back north and take their kids with them.
"You wouldn’t have our taxes increasing and having to build new schools like it is now. But what do I know? I’m just a ditch-digger," said Jennings, who is a private contractor.
Starnes, who heads the Heritage Defense division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said things already are changing quickly in the county. Cemetery preservation and memorials to fallen heroes are vanishing as quickly as subdivisions are springing up, he said.
In just a few miles along Pole Green Road, a country lane once dotted by small farmsteads, travelers to Dixie Days encounter communities such as Spice Tree, Fieldshire, Sherrington, Hanover Grove and Legacy Park.
Not even black Southern-heritage hero H.K. Edgerton, a guest of honor during the weekend, can stop that message with his own verbal assault on the ruination of the South by unprincipled Northern politicians and manufacturing interests.
"Since the end of slavery, the plight of the black man has grown worse and worse," he told a reporter yesterday as re-enactors broke camp. Kepi-wearing kibitzers nodded in agreement.
In 1924, long before anyone thought up Dixie Days, Charles A. Storke helped create an immovable Northern presence in Hanover history: a thick granite monument to the soldiers of Wisconsin volunteer units who were killed, wounded or captured near Shady Grove in 1864.
Storke was just a 16-year-old kid when he was captured there.
The monument sits across from the subdivisions near Pole Green Park on a small piece of land, a tract Storke deeded over to the county.
"Oh, that Yankee thing," Jennings said, when asked about the monument.
Yesterday, the checkerboard-sized American flag in front made the monument hard to miss.
© 2006, Media General