by Steve Lancaster 6/2/18
On the first Saturday in June, in some places the second Saturday of June, descendants of veterans of The War Between the States, or The War of Northern Invasion, gather to pay respects to the fallen. This tradition began shortly after the war. At first in Georgia, by the early 1870s it had spread through the South. In Fayetteville the ladies of the Southern Memorial Association acquired property for a cemetery on a hill above Fayetteville. The first memorial was attended by over 3,000 people, most of the population of Washington County. Over the last 145 years attendance has declined, but today there were over 100 people to pay respects to these, mostly unnamed, soldiers.
In the 19th century few people expected to travel far from the places they were born. They expected to be buried in family plots surrounded by friends and family. Their families also expected that family would know where to find them. The war changed that in dramatic fashion. The size of the armies engaged, and the massive size of the fields of battle guaranteed large numbers of unidentified dead, both north and south. The dead were interred where they fell and were often reburied later, in some cases several times. Identifying and shipping dead was difficult in the north and almost impossible in the south.
During reconstruction the federal government established national cemeteries for federal war dead, and spent millions of dollars to find, identify, and rebury federal war dead. The most famous is Arlington National, but hundreds of these cemeteries were built, mostly in the eastern theater, however, today they are nationwide. Congress promised money to southern states for similar facilities, it never happened. It would have been a great opportunity to heal wounds and confirm to the south that a nation could grow out of the conflict.
Into the void left by congress stepped the women of SMA and other memorial associations. They purchased land for cemeteries, built memorials and administered the recovery of dead from battlefields and reburied them in cemeteries like Fayetteville. In Fayetteville lay soldiers from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana from the battles of Pea Ridge, Fayetteville, Prairie Grove and Cain Hill. Most, perhaps all, had never owned slaves, found the practice abhorrent and were not fighting for some plantation owner in South East Arkansas to keep slaves.
Some were there due to peer pressure, friends and family signed up, they followed suit. More fought and died for their state and the concept of federalism and states’ rights. Best summed up “My home is in ——-, the government of my home is in ——, not in some far-off Washington DC.”
Or, “Billy Yank to Johnny Reb, why are you fighting us we have more in common than differences to fight over? Johnny, because you’re here, we did not invade your country.”
The issues of the war are not forgotten, some consider slavery America’s original sin. If so, it is the sin of the entire human race, not just white American southerners. It is over, every American who was ever enslaved has died, as has every slave owner. Today we recognize the fallen and pray to whichever G-d you acknowledge we never have to repeat a tragedy of this kind. • (93 views)