Confederate Memorial Service Held at Oak Grove Cemetery

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, May 15, 2024

More than two dozen attended the Confederate Memorial Service held in Oak Grove Cemetery by Camp 78 on April 27 th . Steve Barbaree, commander of the Georgia Division of the Military Order of Stars and Bars was recognized.

Daniel Bellware, co-author of Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America addressed those gathered, stating his interest in the holiday had been sparked after seeing a historical marker claiming Columbus Georgia was its origin: “Using primary sources from the 1860s, I determined that Columbus was in fact where it originated. My research showed that it was also the ultimate source of the National Holiday on May 30 th . I presented my findings to the Chattahoochee Valley Civil War Round Table in 2005 and I was invited to speak at the Columbus Confederate Memorial Day Exercises in 2008 and again in 2016 for its 150 th anniversary.”

Bellware stated the many locations making similar claims had scant evidence: “I shared my research with Dr. Rick Gardiner in 2011 and after he was unable to refute it, we decided to work together to get the word out to a larger audience. This led to an interview with the New York Times in 2012 and our book The Genesis of the Memorial Day Holiday in America in 2014.”

Bellware traced the origin. “In March of 1866, the Ladies’ Aid Society in Columbus decided to refocus its’ efforts toward memorializing their war dead instead of disbanding after the War.

They reorganized as the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus and elected officers. The secretary of that new group, Mrs. Charles J. Williams, a war widow herself, composed a letter to the local papers asking for the help of the press and the public in setting aside a day each year to honor their war dead.”

Bellware mentioned that the letter was widely republished, noting original services involved placing flowers on graves. He cited Columbus Mississippi, Macon Georgia, and Petersburg Virginia as a few examples where Union graves were also decorated: “Some Northerners saw these as acts of reconciliation and expressed their appreciation, however, one place, Augusta Georgia, local authorities did not allow the decoration of Union graves.”

Bellware stated that many Northerners, including former Union General John A. Logan, were outraged. “He recognized the observances occurring throughout the South when he spoke to a gathering of Union Veterans in Salem Illinois on the 4 th of July that year, saying ‘Traitors in the South have their gatherings day after day to strew garlands of flowers upon the graves of rebel soldiers.’ He favored the rights of the ex-slaves to decorate the Union graves although there was no day set aside to do it. But two years later after the third Southern decoration Logan, now commander and Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, instituted or some people saw stole the idea of a similar observance, with his general order number 11 designating May 30 as the day in the North to decorate Union graves.”

He noted an 1868 incident where a 10-year-old girl sent a wreathe to be placed on a rebel soldier’s grave in her hometown of Layfette, Indiana, expressing hope that someone would
similarly honor her father who was buried in Andersonville, inspiring many. He also mentioned efforts by veterans: “Reconciliation events blossomed in the years that followed. Vicksburg hosted one of the first blue and grey reunions in 1874 after the formation of the Order of Blue and Grey in that City.”

Afterward Jesse Wilson, of Ellaville Georgia, was honored with The Georgia Division Guardian Award. Wilson gave an interview, talking about the guardian program. “You adopt a Confederate soldier’s grave, you promise to take care of it, keep it clean, keep it trimmed. In April you put up the Confederate flags to recognize their service and dedication to their Country the way they saw it. The grave I have chosen is my third great-grandfather on my mother’s side in Taylor County Georgia, fourth Corporal James Jasper Theus.”
He talked about his motivation: “I’m the direct descendant of several Confederate Veterans. Most my ancestors were killed and are interred on far away battlefields. The ancestor I joined the Son’s of the Confederate Veterans here in Americus under is interred in Arlington. So I can’t make a trip to take care of their graves. With my great-grandfather James Jasper Theus being in Butler, in Taylor County, that’s tangible history. I can touch that. I can go there and I feel a connection to what he did and why he served.”

Wilson talked about his ancestors’ motivation to enlist. “I’ve looked at the 1850 census and the majority of my ancestors didn’t own slaves at all. They were farmers and they lived on about 35 or 40 acres of land. So I don’t know why they enlisted, and all of them enlisted, none were drafted, none were conscripted. For people to take a broad brush and to paint and say the Confederate soldier was propping up an institution of chattel property and enslaving one man as property of another, I don’t think that’s exactly fair, I don’t think that’s the whole story.”

When asked why States like Mississippi would identify slavery as a reason for secession, he replied: “So it is a fact that slavery was a major cause of the war. It was a root cause for
secession. That’s not disputable nor debatable. It was a multifaceted secession, and it involved many complex issues, slavery being only a portion of it.” Wilson cited representative
government and taxes on Southern imports and exports as concerns.

James Gaston, first lieutenant commander, also gave an interview, talking about the ceremony. “We celebrate our heritage, as you saw with the opening ceremony. We are patriotic, we pledge allegiance to the American flag, and we’re a historical group.”

Gaston talked about his views on the causes of the Civil War. “I think so many people try to make it a slavery issue, when that was not the case, it was States rights and financial.”
When asked why Mississippi would mention it as cause to secede, he replied: “Well that was, as I say, one of the minor issues. And I think at least half of the Southern States that seceded never mentioned anything about slavery.”