Why Some Young Southerners Still Learn of Their Heritage
Some Memorial Day thoughts . . . While the practical aspects of moving on and recovering after the South’s defeat occupied most of the energies of southerners in the decades following the War Between the States, remembrance was also a very important aspect of that recovery. There was a sense of duty and obligation to remember the sacrifices of the sons, fathers and brothers who had marched so optimistically off to war in the spring of 1861, only to return to find, in the words of veteran H.H. Kerr, “the home he left so beautiful in blackened ruins…his stock killed…his money of no value, and a system of reconstruction which made the horrors of war pale into insignificance.”
That sense of duty often manifested itself in the erecting of monuments, statues, highway markers, plaques and other memorials that dot the South’s landscape to this day. One such monument was the one erected in honor of Colonel William Harman. It was placed to remind us of his sacrifice and as a testament to his bravery and commitment in defending his native sod—the very town in which he was born, Waynesboro, Virginia. In 1926, this monument was erected by the Jeb Stuart Chapter (Staunton) of the United Daughters of the Confederacy near the very place of his death. Since that time, this monument has been moved several times and now rests in Waynesboro’s Constitution Park, about 550 yards southeast from where he fell. The inscription on the monument reads:
William H. Harman
Born Feb. 17, 1828
Killed in action at
Waynesboro Mar 2, 1865.
He was a lieutenant of a company
from Augusta County
in the Mexican War; afterwards
Brig. General in the
Virginia Militia; appointed
Lieut Col. 5th Virginia Inft.
C.S.A. May 7, 1861; Col. and
A.D.C. on staff of Maj. General
May 17, 1862.
A Gallant Soldier.
The fact that Harman’s monument has been moved several times and now rests in a rather obscure and hard-to-see location is, in many ways, illustrative of the fading memory and focus regarding the commemoration and memory of the Civil War. I doubt that many local residents even know it exists or are aware of the struggle that took place on the ground that today hosts the stately homes of the now quiet and quaint "Tree Streets." In some ways, I believe that those old veterans might be pleased with that. While I do not believe they would want us to forget their sacrifice for duty’s sake in the defense of their homes, the fading memory of succeeding generations is a natural outcome of their successful efforts to rebuild the South and unite the country after the war’s devastation. I believe many rank and file veterans simply wanted—for themselves and their posterity—a return to some semblance of normalcy. That would not be truly possible without the fading of memory. They wanted the death and destruction to cease. They wanted once again to till their land, sleep under their own roofs, support their families, educate their sons and daughters and worship their God. They wanted to rebuild, reconcile and reunite. And they did. Although that process was halting and imperfect—especially for those new citizens who were no longer slaves—we can remember and honor the men on both sides of that epic conflict for what they did after the war as much as for what they did during the war.
Yet while memories will fade, we should never let them die completely. I believe we should—and will—continue to teach our children and grandchildren what our fathers and mothers and grandparents have taught us and passed down for generations. We will continue to share our family history around the supper table as we eat harvest that was grown and nourished from the very soil that contains the blood of our kin—blood that was shed while defending their homes. We will continue to share our family history on the front porches of our homes in the fading light of summer evenings surrounded by great trees that were present when our ancestors lived. We will continue to share our family history before a crackling fire in our homes on cold winter nights with our children and grandchildren gathered close around us. We will continue to share the stories, the sadness, the injustices, the glory, the bravery, the love, the patriotism, the loyalty and the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. We do this, in part, so that we might “honor our fathers,” as the scriptures command us. And we pray that our children and our grandchildren will do the same when their turn comes. Note: The photograph above dates to circa 1905 and was taken in front of the McGann homeplace in Nelson County, Virginia. The frame structure still stands and is used today as a hunting camp. Descendants (my cousins) still own the property; which has remained intact. It lies about eight miles (as the crow flies) southeast of my home in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The individuals pictured here are buried on the property. All the graves are marked with simple field stones without any inscriptions. Family oral history claims that after the WBTS, John McGann also allowed local blacks to bury their dead on this property as they had not, at that time, established their own cemeteries and graveyards. I have not yet been able to confirm this nor identify the specific location. I hope to do so in the near future.