Sunday, June 20, 2010

Confederate Memorial Service---Pewee Valley, KY

I’ve recently returned from a 17-day trip through Kentucky and the Southeast promoting “My Old Confederate Home: A Respectable Place for Civil War Veterans”. Out of all the bookstore visits, speeches, signings and interviews, the most touching event for me was the Confederate Memorial Day celebration at the Confederate Cemetery in Pewee Valley. Several hundred spectators attended the event in a beautiful little cemetery where more than 300 former residents of the Kentucky Confederate Home found their final resting place.
For more than five years I’ve read and written about the Lost Cause cemetery ceremonies and memorial services from a century ago. The rural setting, the quiet cemetery, the men and women in period costume, the floral wreaths, the slow march of the reenactors---all combined to give life to what I’d read and written.

Traditionally, these ceremonies surrounded a lengthy Lost Cause oration, a passionate and animated stem-winder that spoke of the valor of the Confederate soldiers, the constancy of their devotion to the Lost Cause, their patriotism, and their desire for reconciliation. A first-rate orator had lungs like saddlebags, a diaphragm as solid as a manhole cover, and vocal cords more resilient than piano wire. When he chose to turn on the charm, it flowed in irresistible waves; when he intended pathos, women sobbed and men reached for handkerchiefs.

Instead, all they got was me.

I was the keynote speaker for the memorial ceremony, and there was a noticeable lack of oratorical flourish or expertise. (About the only audience response was when a lady keeled over from heatstroke and had to be carried away by paramedics. My father-in-law said he wished he’d thought of it first.)
My twenty minutes in front of the crowd focused on the lives of some of the men in the cemetery, men I’d “met” while researching “My Old Confederate Home”. Unlike the old-style orators, I wasn’t trying to glorify the military careers of the men buried there. Instead, I described men of long lives who had a need for care in their later years. They were men who had taken up arms in their nation’s behalf and, whatever we think of their cause, were entitled to a respectable place in their countrymen’s hearts.

It was a sweet and touching affair.


Andy Hall said...

Does anyone else have a problem putting the Confederate flag senior to the current U.S. flag in the color guard? Whether intentional or careless, it doesn't speak well for the reenactors.

Rusty Williams said...

The U. S. Flag code says:

"When flown with flags of states, communities or societies on separate flag poles which are of the same height and in a straight line, the flag of the United States is always placed in the position of honor—to its own right. The other flags may be the same size but none may be larger."

Roberta said...

It was a hot, hot day, but I'm glad I was there to hear you. Like your book, everything you said from behind the speaker's podium reminded me that the soldiers who were laid to rest in this cemetery were, first and foremost, "men". Each one was someone's son, someone's brother, someone's uncle. Thank you for contributing so much to the Memorial Day service.