Thursday, April 30, 2009

23rd Annual Confederate Memorial Service, April 26, 2009, Hernando Memorial Cemetery, Hernando, MS

Because I am newly Southern, I am constantly learning about Southern ways. One such Southern tradition is the homage of Confederate veterans. To some, this ritual might seem outdated, but to the people who acknowledge it, Southern pride is alive and well.

Confederate Memorial Day was first observed after the Civil War ended. In 1866, a women's group in Alexandria, Virginia honored “Stonewall” Jackson by decorating his grave. Since then, cemeteries across the South are decorated during the month of April, which has been designated “Confederate Remembrance Month.” Fallen Confederate veterans’ graves are marked with small Confederate flags, and a formal service is performed. Each Southern state commemorates on a different designated day, but this may soon change, as a unified day will soon be chosen.

Nearly forty people attended the ceremony in Hernando, a small town that has seen its share of Civil War activity, and was Nathan Bedford Forrest’s stomping grounds. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who appeared in costume, were represented. During the service, flags from every Southern state were displayed. Various speakers were on hand to tell of the soldiers’ sufferings, and a trumpeter accompanied the presentation of wreaths with “Bonnie Blue Flag.” Men in gray gave the salute before the crowd sang “Dixie” in unison.

For some, this act of recognition would be fodder for jokes, and I recall the late George Carlin joking about how re-enactors should stop playing “Civil War.” “The war is over people!” he quipped. However, in my opinion, he seemed to be missing the point. In honor of their great-great grandfathers, men and women dress up in costume to keep the “War Between the States” alive, and enjoy teaching living history to school-age children. Their soldiers’ valor should never be forgotten. If it is, history could very well repeat itself.

I for one am impressed by the way Southerners display their pride. It isn’t something you’d see up North or in the West either, for that matter. After living in Colorado for twenty years, I never heard about a Confederate memorial service. Could be people are just too afraid of not being politically correct in these regions. It’s a shame, because all veterans are therefore lumped together, honored only on Memorial and Veterans Day holidays. This could be because the majority of Civil War battles took place in the South. I’m curious as to whether people in Pennsylvania and Maryland honor Southern heritage as well.

While standing under the flowering trees on Sunday, amidst azaleas and old faded marble headstones, I was moved by the ceremony. To me it was a poignant reminder, and a loving reverence to those men who served so long ago. May we never forget, and always honor them, for what they fought for was politically correct at the time.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Holly Springs Pilgrimage

Last Saturday, my husband and I visited the small town of Holly Springs, Mississippi during their annual pilgrimage. The town boasts many historic buildings, including three churches dating between 1849 and 1860. The landscape was awash with vibrant colors displayed by blooming dogwoods, azaleas, and magnolia trees. Even though rain threatened to end the festivities, vendors’ tents decorated Courthouse Square. United Daughters of the Confederacy members, dressed in black mourning gowns, attended a reenactment put on by local Sons of Confederate Veterans members, which took place at Hillcrest Cemetery, and included an artillery display. The cavalry was represented as well. A section of the cemetery holds unknown Confederate soldiers who were moved from Shiloh.

Antebellum homes built between 1837 and 1858 line the streets of Holly Springs. Most have been restored to perfection. We toured one beautiful Greek Revival home called “Montrose.” Down the street is another enormous house named “Airliewood,” where General U. S. Grant took up residence during the Union’s occupation. Fortunately for Holly Springs, Grant thought the little town was so lovely that he decided to spare it from being burned to the ground. These are just two of the houses that were included in the tour of homes. While taking the driving tour to view them, it was no wonder to me why Grant spared Holly Springs. Its beauty and historical significance are astounding.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Beauvior is a Beautiful View

When Hurricane Katrina hit Biloxi, Mississippi in 2005, it managed to destroy a good portion of coastline. However, one national treasure was spared, although it was nearly ruined. Beauvoir (pronounced Bov-wah, which means “beautiful view” in French) was the last residence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Katrina took out five of the seven buildings on the premises, and severely damaged the house. Since that time, restoration has been non-stop. The house was opened for tours last year on Jeff Davis’ birthday. Two of the outbuildings have been duplicated, and the grounds have been cleaned up. Now progress is under way to replace Varina Howell Davis’ rose garden, the vineyard, the presidential library, and a new museum. The interior of the house has been painted by hand (18 months in the process) to replicate its original condition and color. Window panes that were broken in the hurricane have been replaced with historical accuracy as well.

The home was originally built between 1848 and 1852 by James Brown, a wealthy Mississippi planter. With the onslaught of the Civil War, Mr. Brown was forced to evacuate. Frank Johnson bought the property in 1873, but kept it less than two months before selling it to Sarah Dorsey, a wealthy intellectual. When Jefferson Davis visited the estate in the mid-1870’s, he was so impressed that he accepted Sarah’s offer to write his memoirs there. In the late 1800’s following the president’s death, Varina and daughter Winnie moved to New York City, accepting positions to write for Joseph Pulitzer. In 1903, the estate was sold to the Mississippi Division, United Sons of Confederate Veterans, and The Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home opened at Beauvior that year, which provided a residence for Confederate veterans, their wives, widows, servants, and orphans. In 1941, the main house was opened to the public, and in 1956, due to lack of state funding, the Soldiers Home was closed.

The current site encompasses 51 acres of the original estate, and includes the magnificent house, a veteran’s cemetery, and the Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Soldier. Beauvior lives up to its name, with spectacular views of the gulf coast, where progress is currently under way to restore the beach. The estate also brags Oyster Bayou waterfalls, nature trails, and historic gardens.

While visiting Biloxi recently, I made a point to visit Beauvoir, and now I’m glad I did. The tranquility and stunning scenery are awe-inspiring. I can see how President Davis was so inspired by the estate’s beauty that he decided to write his memoirs there.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Book signing a success!

My signing at the Borders store in Germantown, Tennessee was great fun! Thanks to everyone who came out. If you missed the opportunity to purchase my novel, it is available on my website as well as on amazon.