Monday, April 19, 2010
Confederate History Month is a matter of personal honor.
In Virginia, for example, Governor Bob McDonnell ignited a firestorm of debate when he signed a proclamation declaring that Virginia would once again observe Confederate History Month. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour chimed in that the controversy was much ado about nothing, but it continues to rage just the same.
To many of us born and raised in the South, this is a tragedy. There is much that should be remembered about our Confederate ancestors and the struggles they faced during the most turbulent time in American history. Many were not firebrand secessionsits and the vast majority neither owned slaves nor aspired ever to do so. The causes of the War Between the States have been debated since the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter in 1861 and the discussion will not end with anything said here or anywhere else this year.
It seems to me, though, that we should all be able to find room in our hearts to remember the sacrifices made by tens of thousands of Southern soldiers and their families between 1861 and 1865. So many people today seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew, that regardless of the cause of the war, the vast majority of Confederate soldiers fought for reasons far removed from today's debates of political correctness.
Dozens of my own ancestors fought for the Confederacy (and a few for the Union). Only a few of them owned slaves. Most served because they felt it was the right thing to do. Their state was under attack and their families and homes were in danger. Loyalty in the Deep South in those days was much more focused on local communities and home states rather than a government far away in either Richmond or Washington, D.C. It was a time when kin mattered more that almost anything in the world except God.
My great-great grandfather Joseph B. Cox, for example, was a farmer. He supported ten children and a few other miscellaneous relatives through the labors of his own hands. He owned no slaves and there is no indication that he took much more than passing interest in the war at all before 1864. That was when he, like tens of thousands of other Southern men, was conscripted (drafted) into the army. Ordered to report to a conscription camp at Marianna, Florida, he received rudimentary training, a uniform and a musket. In May of 1864 he was mustered into the service as a private in Captain Wilson W. Poe's Battalion (Company C) of the First Florida Infantry Reserves. He went on to fight at the Battle of Marianna and was standing guard duty in 1865 when the war came to an end.
These men from my own family are good examples of the average men and boys who went to war in defense of the South. They cared little about slavery, states rights or any of the other great issues of the day. They wanted only to do their duty so they could return home to their farms. They fought when their home county was attacked, not only because it was the right thing to do, but because their neighbors and relatives also turned out to fight. The went to war knowing that their families at home would suffer because the men would not be there to tend the fields or care for the animals and buildings. Many families of Southern soldiers went hungry during the four long years that the war lasted.
To me, these have always been the people that Confederate History Month memorializes. The war to them was not about race, it was about home and family. They deserve to be remembered, just as do the men and boys in blue who turned out to fight for the cause in which they believed. They all risked their lives for reasons dear to them. They fought for family and home, for their states and for their country. They came from all races and all walks of life. And more than 600,000 of them died. Whether they wore gray or whether they wore blue, they should never be forgotten . Yet we as a nation seem determined to wipe their memories from the pages of history.
Perhaps Americans of all points of view should take a few minutes to remember that it is wrong to judge people of another generation by the standards and political correctness of our own. Perhaps we should remember that things are never as cut and dry as we might wish them to be. Perhaps we should realize the value of honoring all of our ancestors and celebrating their lives. Surely we can put aside political divisiveness to look back and realize that those who became before us were human beings who made their choices and did their best to do their duty to home, family, state, country and God as they saw it.
In honor of Confederate History Month, I will devote my postings for the rest of this month to historic sites dating from the War Between the States. Until my next post, you can earn more about many of these places by visiting the main site directory at http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/.