April is Confederate History and Heritage Month as proclaimed by the Governor. The War Between the States, known by many as the Civil War and sometimes called the Great Unpleasantness by my relatives, began on April 12, 1861 when shots were fired on Ft. Sumter, South Carolina. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Because the war started and ended in April, this month holds a special significance. Confederate Decoration Day, which would later be called Confederate Memorial Day, was started by Lizzie Rutherford in Columbus, Georgia. She would decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers with flowers. A year after her death, the Georgia General Assembly designated April 26 Confederate Memorial Day which continues to be a holiday in Georgia.
All this month there will be observances by groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Proclamations will be made, speeches will be given, and flags will be placed on graves. We are in the sesquicentennial of the war that pitted north against the south. You may ask why bother to remember something that happened 150 years ago. We remember this struggle because it is a pivotal time in America’s history. It defined this nation as what we are today, and it is impossible to understand who we are as a people without some understanding of the war. Shelby Foote once said in an interview that prior to the war it was common to see it said, “The United States are…” because we were a collection of independent states. Following the war, it was changed to “The United States is.” In that interview, Foote went on to say, “…that sums up what the war accomplished. It made us an ‘is’.”
I recently accompanied my son’s class to the site of the Andersonville Prison Camp. We talked about the horrors that the Union soldiers faced in the camp and the struggles of the Confederates to feed and care for the prisoners when there was little food and provisions available to the people of the south. The attempts to dig tunnels out of the camp were still visible. One girl said that seeing the graves of the soldiers that died at the camp was the part of the trip that made her the most sad. One of the students said that I seemed to know a lot about the war and went on to ask if I was alive during the Civil War. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they?
When my mother was in grade school, her class went out to the cemetery in town to decorate the graves of the soldiers. While flags are still often placed on the graves, I doubt it is being done by school children today. The teacher asked my son’s class if anybody knew the words to “Dixie.” In a third grade class of 18 students, only two raised their hands. We are quickly losing our southern heritage.
This Saturday, the local Sons of Confederate Veterans will host a Confederate Memorial Service from 9am until noon at the Confederate Memorial Park on Philema Road across from the Parks at Chehaw. It is free to attend and the public is invited. You might want to attend before observations like this become a thing of the past.
Written by Bill Waller. Mr. Waller is a author and contributor local blog, Southwest Georgia Politics. He enjoys writing, traveling, and researching history. He currently resides in Albany, Georgia.