Monday, April 19, 2010

Confederate History Month is a matter of personal honor.

April is traditionally observed as Confederate History Month across the South. This year, as has become the trend over the last few years, the generally quiet observance has sparked controversy.

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.

His son, William Henry Cox, was a 15-year-old student at the old academy or school in Greenwood, Florida, when he became a Confederate soldier. Governor John Milton of Florida issued an executive order during the summer of 1864 requiring all male citizens of Florida over the age of 15 to enroll themselves into militia or "home guard" companies for the purpose of defending the state against expected Union invasion. The boys of the academy were formed into a mounted unit by their teacher and captain, Henry J. Robinson. Bearing the name of the Greenwood Club Cavalry, they added training in cavalry tactics to their other studies and fought against overwhelming forces at the Battle of Marianna on September 27, 1864. When the war ended, they went home. William Henry Cox went on to marry the daughter of another Confederate veteran. He farmed, dug wells, floated  rafts of timber down the Apalachicola River to the shipyards on the Gulf of Mexico and raised a family of 10 children in a double-pen "dogtrot" style house. He hosted a well-attended Fourth of July celebration each year until he died. The tradition continues today with the annual Cox Family Reunion on the first Saturday after the Fourth of July.  Confederate and U.S. flags fly over his grave.

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/.

8 comments:

Diane Fishburne said...

As long as you raise the Rebel flag, you celebrate the cause. It is today a symbol of dehumanization in this country as the Third Reich flag is in Germany. If you want to humanize your ancestors, act in a humane way toward your black fellow citizens...and, frankly, a whole bunch of us white folks, too.

Dale Cox said...

Diane, As long as people like you don't take away my first amendment rights, I will continue to honor of my ancestors. "The Cause" for most Southern soldiers was the defense of their homes and states. Even President Lincoln said at the beginning of the war that he had no plan to free the slaves. Was slavery wrong? Yes it was. Did liberal Northeasterners make the biggest profits from it? Yes they did. Perhaps you should complain about those companies that were built on the backs of slave-cultivated cotton instead of a dwindling few of us who remember our ancestors with pride and respect.

My best to you in hopes that you will better educate yourself.

Dale

Unknown said...

Stay strong, they are all about to wake up! I enjoy your books, keep writing!

JB in Spring, TX said...

Once again, Dale, your writing is both educational as well as enlightening. Keep up the great work! I will be sure pass this on to my hubby. I'm sure he will appreciate the mention of one of his ancestors, Captain Henry J. Robinson.

Best regards and much thanks,
JB Robinson

Dale Cox said...

Thank you both so much for the nice comments. If he doesn't have the Battle of Marianna book let me know and I'll sign one just for him. It includes a lot on Captain Robinson. I stop over on Old US Road from time to time and visit his grave.

Dale

JB in Spring, TX said...

Thanks, Dale. I know he would love the book. Major William J. (Robinson's Big Spring) was my husband's great-great(?) grandfather. Not sure of the relationship with Captain Robinson. I'm sure you can tell us. :-)

Dale Cox said...

I will have to look and see. You can still see traces of William Robinson's house on the hill there above Blue Springs (formerly Robinson's Big Spring). I have a great journal written by a guy who visited him in 1827 who described him as "a rather foul man and an unsatisfactory host." LOL

Callie Johnson said...

Great article. You always include interesting personal details in your writing, making history more relatable to many people who may not be inclined to read about "history". Thanks! I am slowly working on reading your blogs and books. Blessings to you!