The war was and still is controversial. The United States has engaged in many questionable wars and this was one. A memorial to the participants in that war recognizes the unique nature of their service:
“Not for fame or reward
Not for place or rank
Not lured by Ambition
Or goaded by Necessity
But in simple Obedience to duty
As they understood it
These men suffered all, sacrificed all
“Dared all, and died”
No, these words do not commemorate those who fell in the Viet Nam war or the many other questionable wars in which our country has engaged. These words recall the service of Confederates who are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Some 400 Confederates are buried at Arlington. How did Confederates come to be buried at this place of honor? Early in the 20th century, the United Confederate Veterans petitioned to move some 260 buried Confederates to Arlington. In a spirit of fraternity, as time passed the predecessor entity to the Veterans Administration allowed other Confederates to be buried there.
Bleached Bones from Shiloh to Corinth
Unlike Federal soldiers, very few Confederates who died during the war were buried in marked graves. Most of the Confederate KIA’s were buried in slit trenches on someone’s farm or were left to de-compose in the Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi soil. Several years after the war, one Confederate general started an effort to raise money to inter these thousands of remains. He said there were “bleached bones from Shiloh to Corinth.” In 1869, at a dedication of a Federal monument at Gettysburg, Gen. George Meade called for a respectful burial for the Confederate dead. He was reacting to the many news reports of dead Confederates lying openly in forests and hills from Corinth, Mississippi to Shiloh, Tennessee. This Arlington memorial is a reaction to the complete absence of a place where Southern families could recall their loved ones.
Now, the Naming Commission – which is addressing the re-naming of Army posts – is expanding its brief. It is recommending that the Confederate memorial at Arlington cemetery be removed. The memorial was erected in 1914. The Commission believes it espouses Lost Cause beliefs. But, the words recounted above make no reference to a Lost Cause – or to any cause. The memorial itself speaks of sacrifice as the soldiers saw it. The wording suggest the soldiers may have been wrong in their belief. That wording renders the memorial as much anti-Lost Cause as not.
For more about the Confederate memorial, see the Arlington National Cemetery website here. For more about the unburied Confederate soldiers, see the Irish Confederates blog post here.