Friday, May 13, 2011

Decoration Day Celebrated in Victoria, Texas

Victorians gather to honor soldiers on both sides of Civil War
April 17, 2011

The crowd flinched as the sound of cannon fire smashed through the air in Evergreen Cemetery.

Men dressed in the gray flannel of Confederate uniforms moved with brisk authority to reload the cannon.

Alex Blomberg, 11, covered his ears with his fingers, waited for the next blast and clapped enthusiastically when it was over.

On April 12, the nation marked the 150th anniversary of firing on Fort Sumter, the start of the Civil War. It was the bloodiest war in the history of the United States.

Michael Hurley, commander of the George Overton Stoner Camp, a branch of the Sons of Confederate Veterans based in Victoria, said he felt it was important to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and to honor the soldiers who fought and died in the conflict.

To do this, Hurley decided to bring the tradition of Confederate Decoration Day to Victoria.

Confederate Decoration Day is a precursor to Memorial Day that some date to the bleak days after the battle of Shiloh, one of the bloodiest of the war, when townspeople went out to put flowers on the fresh graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers, Hurley said.

There are 132 known Confederate veterans buried in Victoria. Most are buried in Evergreen Cemetery, so Hurley chose to have the ceremony for Confederate Decoration Day there on Saturday afternoon.

Re-enactors from the area turned out to help with the ceremony. About 30 people gathered to sit in lawn chairs and listen to speakers talk about the "war between the states" and how men from Victoria went to fight and be a part of it.

A small Confederate flag was placed on the grave of each Confederate veteran.

Ron Sandidge, of Victoria, took part in the ceremony. Sandidge had five ancestors who fought in the Civil War. He said he thought it was important to honor those who fought in the war who changed the course of American history.

"It's a part of Southern history, and we need to take pride in that and respect our roots," Ron Sandidge said.

While Hurley touched on the issue of slavery during his speech, he noted they were focused on honoring the service of the soldiers.

"We're not here to celebrate the hostilities or the bitterness caused by the war between the states ... but it has to be acknowledged that this struggle occurred," Michael Hurley told the audience.

Many of the men who served did so to protect their families and their homes, Hurley said, and it was that sacrifice they wanted to acknowledge.

In the midst of the ceremony to honor Confederate veterans, the group took a moment to honor George Otto Von Roeder, a Union soldier buried alongside Confederate veterans in the cemetery.

Von Roeder saw action at Shiloh and Vicksburg, and the audience clapped as a volley was fired over his grave.

Scott Blomberg, of Victoria, brought his 11-year-old son Alex to the event to help him understand history.

"It's just important. We have to recognize our history," Blomberg said. "I told him to listen to this, that this was important to understand."

Alex said he liked the cannons best.

Kathy Sandidge of Victoria said she thought it was important to remember what the Civil War was about and to honor those who served on both sides of the conflict.

"It's important to know our history. If we don't, we'll be doomed to repeat it," she said.