Saturday, May. 08, 2010
Confederate Memorial Day steeped in tradition
June Murray Wells still remembers the Confederate Memorial Days of her childhood: the ladies in their black dresses, the wreaths, the little flags on the graves — and the last two living Confederate veterans in Charleston.
The two men showed up at the annual Magnolia Cemetery event back then, and were still able to squeeze into those old gray uniforms. “When I was a tiny little girl, I remember them coming to the ceremony,” Wells said. “Their jackets wouldn’t button in the middle.”
Even then, in the first half of the 20th century, Confederate Memorial Day was an old tradition.
The two ceremonies at Magnolia Cemetery this year — one today, another Monday — date to 1894, when the United Daughters of the Confederacy began honoring the war dead on May 10, the anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death.
Wells, president of the Charleston chapter of the UDC (and former national president of the organization), said the tradition actually has its roots in those dark days of the Civil War, when the ladies of the community would go out at night and help bury fallen soldiers by candlelight.
When they finished, the women put small Confederate flags — the First National flag of the Confederacy, not a battle flag — on the graves. They continued to take flowers on the same day every year after the war, but “during Reconstruction, they couldn’t put the flags on the grave,” she said.
But all that resumed after Reconstruction, and is now in its 116th year.
Confederate Memorial Day became an official state holiday in 2000 as part of a deal that established Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the state. In the 10 years since, little has changed — the ceremonies have continued, but groups still center some of the events around the weekend for those who don’t get the day off.
In Charleston, many of those commemorations are still held at Magnolia Cemetery.
Beverly Donald, superintendent of the cemetery, said it is the final resting place of some 2,200 Confederate veterans, including five generals, as well as 14 signers of the Ordinance of Secession. It is, without a doubt, some of the most hallowed ground of the Lost Cause.
Today’s event is sponsored by the Confederate Heritage Trust, which is a group of 10 local organizations, including several Sons of Confederate Veterans camps and the Order of Confederate Rose. David Rentz, president of the group, said the mission of the ceremony has remained unchanged over the years.
“We are simply having a remembrance of the men, honoring their deeds and actions as patriots,” Rentz said.
The event today will be held in the Confederate soldier section of the cemetery, just inside the front gate, where more than 800 of the cemetery’s soldiers are buried. And then, on Monday, Wells and the United Daughters of Confederacy will host their own traditional ceremony at 2 p.m. The ceremony hasn’t changed much since 1894, and, Wells said it won’t.
It is, she said, a tradition.Read more: