By Lee Joyner
OAKLAND GA. - They perished over 150 years ago, many on battlefields stretching from the woods and fields of Chickamauga to the earthen defenses of Atlanta.
Some succumbed to wounds in numerous hospitals of the Gate City, others suffered and died, the victims of deadly diseases.
Roughly 7,000 of them are buried at Atlanta, Georgia’s Oakland Cemetery and nearly half sleep in unknown graves.
The Lion of Atlanta guards their final resting place, but like their fellow Confederate comrades in arms in distant places of rest, their battles are only just beginning.
Consider Confederate Rest, a small section of the city cemetery at Madison, Wisconsin where several hundred former Confederate prisoners who died of disease at nearby Camp Randall are buried.
The town mayor, a civil rights advocate and outspoken critic of the UDC and anything remotely associated with the Confederacy, recently convinced the city council members that a nondescript marker containing the names of the prisoners was in fact a monument to the Confederacy.
Running roughshod over the objections of the Landmarks Commission the mayor ordered a forklift to remove the marker from the cemetery.
Conjuring up images of mistreated slaves, Mayor Paul Soglin had an ax to grind with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, an organization he labeled as racist.
The women of the UDC had in fact solicited funds for the monument, albeit at the behest of local Union army veterans.
Recently, at a Screven County, Georgia cemetery near Augusta, vandals literally demolished the marble statue of a Confederate soldier, leaving pieces of it scattered on the ground.
Sledge hammers or similar tools were likely employed in the destruction of the effigy. A reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the culprits.
In Rome, Georgia, operating under the cover of darkness, vandals somehow reached the top of a tall Confederate monument in the city cemetery and sawed off the hands of the soldier standing atop the marble shaft.
The face of the Southern warrior was also defaced. Thankfully it has now been restored.
Only legal challenges have prevented the Dallas, Texas City Council from dismantling a sizeable Confederate monument in the cemetery there. An equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee has already been removed and sold at auction.
Thankfully the State of Georgia now has a law aimed at preventing the removal and or desecration of monuments to soldiers of any wars.
It has at least stopped Savannah, Georgia politicians from altering the Confederate monument at Forsyth Park and relocating busts of Confederate leaders to a nearby cemetery. A recent poll on the monuments indicates that most Savannah residents are in favor of leaving the monuments in place.
At least temporarily suspending efforts to remove Confederate monuments in Atlanta and Decatur, revisionist forces are on the march and are armed for battle.
With the blessings and support of the Historic Oakland Foundation, The Atlanta History Center, The Atlanta Mayor and City Council, the Smithsonian Institution, Georgia College, and of course, the Southern Poverty Law Center a new tactic is being employed. “Interpretive” markers are being installed at Oakland Cemetery, the Piedmont Park Peace Monument, the Peachtree Creek Battlefield stone marker, and eventually the Decatur Confederate monument.
The cemetery visitor standing before the wounded Lion of Atlanta monument is struck by the power and simplicity of the inscription beneath the lion, “Unknown Confederate Dead,” surrounded as it is by numerous stone grave markers of the fallen soldiers.
No further explanation is needed or desired and certainly not the fabricated historical mumblings of the Southern Poverty Law Center, claiming that Confederate Monuments were erected to enforce “white supremacy” and Jim Crow Laws.
Any article or organization that lends credence to any historically related comment attributed to the SPLC is inherently flawed itself. The Smithsonian and The Atlanta History Center should know better but as of late have become mouthpieces for revisionist history in their quest to remove as well as rewrite history.
In a recent speech on Confederate Monuments, historian Phil Leigh put the aims of the Southern Poverty Law Center into its proper perspective.
He writes, “The SPLC wants Confederate statues removed. Several years ago they published (a) chart depicting the dates when Confederate statues were erected. …they attempt to associate the construction of Confederate statues with three eras they claim correlate to white hostility toward blacks. The attempts are as phony as a football bat.”
“The SPLC portrays the first twenty-years from 1880 to 1900 as a time when Southern blacks lost voting rights and Jim Crow was enacted. Their case for this period is weak because comparatively few statues were assembled at that time. Similarly, Jim Crow and voting rights issues largely applied only to the second half of the period.”
“Many more statues were constructed during the second era from 1900 to 1920, which the SPLC correlates to racial lynchings and a resurgent KKK. In reality, lynchings were steadily declining during the entire period and the KKK was not resurgent until after 1920. At the start of the 1920’s, the KKK had only a few thousand members. Five years later, however, membership ranged from two to five million because it had become a national – not regional – organization.
“Indiana had more members than any state. Oregon, Kansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Ohio were other strongholds outside the South. Nonetheless by the start of the 1930’s the Klan’s numbers had dwindled to insignificance.”
“In truth four factors that the SPLC evades caused the building surge during the 1900-1920 interval. First, since the old soldiers were dying-off, family members wanted to honor them while they were still around. A twenty-one-year-old who went to war in 1861 was sixty years old in 1900 and seventy-five in 1915. Second, the Civil War’s semi-centennial commemoration was a major factor motivating statue construction. Nineteen-eleven marked the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the war and 1915 was the fiftieth anniversary of its end. Third, both of the preceding points contributed to a simultaneous surge in the number of statues erected to honor Union veterans. It is only natural that Confederate descendants wanted to follow suit at the same time. Fourth, post-war impoverished Southerners generally did not have enough money to pay for memorials until the turn of the century. Notwithstanding its population growth, the region did not recover to its pre-war economic activity level until after 1900.”
Cemeteries are supposed to be peaceful places of rest and reflection, not soapboxes where politicians, revisionist historians, and hate groups vow to indoctrinate visitors through slanted signage.
The long dead Confederate soldiers in Oakland cemetery have suffered enough. Many of their graves were exhumed by Sherman’s soldiers during the occupation of Atlanta, the bodies dumped on the ground.
Their frames were riven and torn apart by shot and shell, cries of pain echoing down the halls of Atlanta hospitals. Many died far from home leaving behind grieving parents, widows and orphans. And now, as if to add insult to injury, visitors to the site will read revisionist portrayals of them as unfeeling slave masters resting near monuments to white supremacy.
In effect they are portrayed as the bad guys in a bloody war. Whatever happened to rest in peace?
Maybe there should be an interpretive marker explaining that in the thousands of extant Confederate letters and diaries perused by renowned historian James McPherson in his book For Cause and Comrades, slavery is seldom mentioned. Victorian values of duty and honor compelled young men on both sides to join up and fight for their country.
He writes, “Victorians understood duty to be a binding moral obligation involving reciprocity: one had a duty to defend the flag under whose protection one had lived.”
Slavery was indeed a reprehensible practice, but blaming the institution on long dead soldiers, most of whom never owned slaves is not only ill advised but ludicrous. Simply put it is rewriting history. Maybe what one historian has called the shrill intemperate voices of revisionist rhetoric are in need of a large cork.
People don’t want or need to be preached to and harangued with hate laced revisionist rhetoric. We all get an ample dose of that every night on the evening news. Let visitors to cemeteries and battlefields think for themselves and make up their own minds. Americans recognize the truth when they see it and can appreciate the sacrifices made by their long dead American relatives, regardless of the color uniform they wore.