Over in the Valley and down I 81 lies the hamlet of Mt. Jackson. All of us have seen the exit. My dear friends Jane and Bob live there. They returned home after many years out of the area to settle into retirement with family and friends. Bob served in the Coast Guard and Jane served in the school systems in Tidewater and Prince William County. It is difficult to catch up with either of them because they are so busy. But I digress….
I recently spoke with Bob about his membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I wanted to know more. Many people think of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as a bunch of moonshine drinking, beer bellied, hell raising, flag waving bearded old grizzlies who continually shout “Forgit? Hell no!” every other word while they pet their 10 coon hounds yapping at their heels. Not Bob and not many others.
Bob is one of the most genteel, educated, Virginia gentlemen I know. He does not fit the image painted above. In speaking to Bob, I almost got a mystical sense of a desire to stay connected to his past and his roots–not just stay connected but to honor that past and those roots. He and Jane both have a strong sense of history. There was an unmistakable message that we do not allow our collective regional heritage to be distorted and conveniently swept under the rug in favor of a more politically correct image of what we were not.
I share much of Bob and Jane’s heritage and I think it is important for all sons and daughters of the South to admit, like all Americans, those chapters of our history that are ugly and we certainly have some. But all of our heritage is not ugly. Much of it is good, gracious, and a great source of pride. Don’t ever let anyone tell you differently. Honoring this past honors your family; those people who, in most cases, were just ordinary people trying to go about their everyday lives doing what they had to do to get along in the world they knew.
One of the first Decoration Days was held in Mt. Jackson at their local Confederate Cemetery. Soldiers from 11 different Confederate states are buried there. Very few families could travel to honor their dead. Many wars later, as we commemorate Memorial Day 2010, let’s go back some 144 years ago to a little place in the Valley:
Our Soldiers Cemetery was established in 1861 on land obtained from Col. Levi Rinker. The cemetery, containing about 400 graves, was first dedicated on 10 May 1866 by a memorial association. The entire community, including the nearby town of New Market and Edinburg, participated in the dedication of the cemetery. A wreath of flowers was placed on each of the graves. The ceremonies included addresses in the church by Maj. H.K. Douglas (an aide of gen. Stonewall Jackson) and others.
Because of the efforts of Raymond Watkins of Falls Church, VA, and others, the list of Confederate soldiers buried here is complete and there are no longer any unknowns. There are soldiers from eleven southern states buried here: AL, FL, GA, LA, MD, MS, NC, SC, TN, TX, and VA.
“The Mount Jackson Confederate Hospital’s Cemetery, now called Our Soldiers Cemetery, was dedicated on May 10, 1866 the third anniversary of Stonewall Jackson’s death. The “Memorial and Decoration Day” organized by the local ladies was one of the first such observances in the South. The service began with an address in the church by Major Henry Kyd Douglas, the youngest of Jackson’s staff officers. Afterward, a participant wrote that “ladies, gentlemen and children as well as many ex-Confederates, all carrying wreaths prepared the day before, marched to the cemetery ¾ of a mile north of town to place those wreaths on each of the 400 graves.”
Much honor and thanks to my mother, Betty, who taught her kids to have pride in their heritage during times when frankly, it wasn’t the easiest thing to do.
Resource: The Historical Marker Database