With the anniversery of Antietam just past and the premier of The Civil War and Death on PBS tonight it is fitting to also mention a post made by Richard Williams over on the Old Virginia Blog dealing with the ongoing struggle of the Oakwook Cemetery Restoration Committe and the Federal Government. All three items bring death to the forefront of our thoughts of the war and the past. Antietam was the bloodiest day in our collective history…more men fell during the twenty-four hours of September 17th than on anyother day. PBS will air starting tonight a new documentary based on Drew Gilpen Faust’s new book, The Republic of Suffering on how Americans dealt with the enourmous death toll of the war.
Richard Williams in his post on the fight between the Oakwood Cemetery Restoration Committee and the Veterans Administration brings the debate about the Civil War dead into the 21st Century. It appears that the VA has changed the process it has for replacing missing and damaged stones for veterans. According to Civil War News article:
“A Confederate soldier’s grave, if it has no grave marker, is considered unmarked and is eligible for a VA headstone, Erbe said, provided the NOK or descendant signs the application.
If the Confederate grave already has a marker, even an illegible or broken one, it is considered marked, and is not eligible for a VA replacement unless it was originally provided by the federal government.
A Union soldier’s grave with a government headstone is marked, but is eligible for replacement if damaged or illegible because it was originally provided by the federal government, he said.
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the federal government buried Union soldiers in national cemeteries but left the burial of Confederate soldiers to the states and private groups like the Ladies’ Memorial Associations which sprang up across the South.
Since virtually all grave markers in Confederate cemeteries were provided by non-U.S. government sources, this excludes broken or illegible ones being replaced by the VA.”
This has angered those trying to restore Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond. But it appears that the struggle with the VA is not the only struggle they have dealt with on the long road to restoring Oakwood. The city of Richmond and the State of Virginia have also declined to spend the money to erect permanent headstones for the some nearly 17,000 Confederates in the cemetery.
Richard Williams made this commet about the situation:
I have an ancestor buried there whose grave is marked only by a number. It is a national disgrace. But, since these men are Confederate soldiers, they have few supporters.
Here is the question I have…Should the Federal Government, despite its past practices dating as far back as 1906, continue to pay for and maintain the graves of those men who fought against the government? From the short history of the cemetery given on the Restore Oakwood page the state of affairs in Oakwood is anything but the fault of the Federal Government. The situation at Oakwood is a direct result of the tremendous number of dead from the war, the decentralized nature of the Southern Confederacy and theh failure of Richmond citizens to keep the Confederate graves in proper condition. From the short history:
“Despite the claims of beauty in 1862, Oakwood bore a seedy and disheveled appearance by war’s end. Visitors “found the plots most unsightly. Many of the graves had settled badly; handmade, wooden headboards were missing or damaged [and] names obliterated…”
The history contiues:
“By 1877 the wooden headboards erected in 1866 and 1867 had rotted to such an extent that the “City Council Committee on Cemeteries” asked permission to remove all the headboards. The Oakwood Association resisted that suggestion fro a few months, but finally consented in the autumn of 1887, “as there was no means of having them renewed and it was an inevitable fact that they could not remain in their decayed condition.” The city promised to replace the wooden headboards with more permanent markers, but apparently did not do so. For approximately 15 years the Confederate graves at Oakwood remained unmarked.”
Richard Williams ends his post with this question…a good question, but one I suspect he would like to blame Obama for or any academic for that matter:
My question: Is this “new interpretation” simply due to budget constraints or an attitude of disrespect for America’s soldiers?
What is the answer to this question and the question I pose earlier? In my opinion the Federal Government should have never agreed to treat Confederate Soldiers/Veterans as equal to Union Veterans. They were never equal in the first place. One fought to preserve the Union, the other to rip it apart…to refuse the Constitutional election of Lincoln to the Presidency and to expand and support slavery.
However not all is lost. If the policy of the Federal Government will not allow for the marking of Confederate graves in Oakwood then the SCV’s and SHPG have a once in a lifetime opportunity falling right in their hands. What better way to express the “State’s Rights” mentality than paying for those stones out of the pockets of those who support Southern Heritage? Susan Hathaway, Tripp Lewis, David Tatum and their friends could be freed from the twice weekly trips to the VMFA to flag the museums decision not to fly Confederate flags on the Pelham Chapel to using their considerable social networks to garner the money needed for the 17,200 dead Confederates in Oakwood.
Heck, this is even a cause I would back…preserving the memory of the men who actually fought the war not some preceived wrong committed against a flag or someones “heritage”. The men in Oakwood should be remembered for the sacrifices they gave in the line of duty…however don’t burden the pockets of all Americans…just Southerners. That is how they wanted it…now they can have it.
Susan F. Hathaway doing what she does best!