Why a Confederate soldier deserves a grave marker
I am writing because I must take exception to Jim McClure’s comments about the effort to re-mark the grave of the unknown Confederate soldier along the Susquehanna River near Wrightsville.
This soldier was probably like most men that served in the Confederate army –from a rural or farming background, with a modest family income, and not a slave owner, who was defending his country’s right to exist as he saw that right. As a soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia, he was simply an instrument of his government’s policy, and since you know nothing of his personal background you have no right to judge him or belittle his service to his government. You cannot judge him using today’s politically correct ideas in the context of the social and political world that existed 150 years ago.
I don’t think that anyone in today’s world can morally defend the inhumanity, injustice and cruelty of slavery. Nor can anyone condone the horrors that occur during war. But I would remind you that what the Army of Northern Virginia did on Pennsylvania soil to gather supplies and provisions was absolutely no different than what Gen. Hunter and his Union army did in the Shenandoah Valley or what General W.T. Sherman’s army did on their march from Atlanta to Savannah. As a matter of fact, in accordance with General Lee’s Order #73, the Army of Northern Virginia was not nearly as destructive as Hunter or Sherman. Before starting his march to the sea, Sherman requisitioned copies of the 1860 census for Georgia to see where the richest path for his armies lay so that they could "live off the land" without having to depend on a long supply line.
If you wish to condemn an individual for the actions of their government, and consider that their military service for that government should be forgotten along with the memory of that individual, what would you do about the members of the U.S. 7th Cavalry under the command of Ltc. George Armstrong Custer at the battle of Little Big Horn? The 7th Cavalry was being used as an instrument of U.S. Government oppression to drive the Native American population from their ancestral lands because of the white man’s greed for buffalo hides and Black Hills gold. Ltc. Custer’s job was to round up the Native American population, remove them from lands on which they had been living before a white man ever set foot on the North American continent, and confine them to a reservation on which they could no longer live their way of life, but was convenient for the white man who wanted their land and resources.
I don’t know if you are a military veteran, but if you are you should be ashamed of yourself and your remarks about another veteran like this. Allow me to suggest that you get Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s book titled "The Passing of the Armies." Read the part about where Gen. Chamberlain is again placed in command of his old brigade, and is designated as the officer to officially receive the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia. And continue reading about Gen. Chamberlain’s thoughts about his former foes on the battlefield, and his actions that he took in receiving the surrender as the Confederates marched forward to stack arms and give up their flags. Remember, Gen. Chamberlain was severely wounded by his enemy and carried the scars and difficulties caused by those wounds for the rest of his long and distinguished life.
I am also reminded of a story about the commander of the Massachusetts Department of the Grand Army of the Republic. The Massachusetts Department placed a monument on the battlefield at Petersburg, Va., after the Civil War. While dedicating the monument they were hosted by Confederate veterans from the area, with which they shared some good hospitality. The next year for their annual convention the G.A.R. veterans invited their Confederate hosts to Massachusetts to return the hospitality, with all of the men marching together in a parade, with the event being covered well by the press. A woman wrote the Massachusetts Department Commander to express her dismay and outrage about this show of hospitality, explaining that she had lost two sons in the late rebellion and she could not understand how the G.A.R. veterans could march down the same street with the Confederate veterans. She said she would not be caught dead on the same street with a Confederate veteran.
The Massachusetts Department Commander responded that although he did not agree with the reasons why the Confederacy went to war, the Confederate veterans were really no different than him in that they were serving in the army for a cause in which they believed. They had suffered the same cruelties and hardships together during the war. He said that when he would eventually die, he expected to see Confederate veterans on the streets of heaven, and if she could not be found dead on the same street as a Confederate veterans then she could go to Hell.
I have two great-great-grandfathers who served in Pennsylvania regiments during the Civil War. They both survived the war, and have received honored burials in their home communities. This unknown Confederate was not so fortunate, but he certainly had a mother, maybe a wife and children, and certainly other family members who knew the pain and loss of never knowing where he died, or if he received a decent burial. His death, and his service, do not deserve to be forgotten if for the sake of respecting his family that never knew his fate.
As a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, I am proud to take part in helping to remember the service and sacrifice of this veteran, just as Gen. Chamberlain was willing to respect and honor his defeated foes. As a fellow human being, we can do no less.