Let’s give a new meaning to ‘Confederate Memorial Day’

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Actors re-create the surrender negotiations on April 26, 1865 between Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston and Union Gen. William T. Sherman. Source: Bennett Place State Historic Site

Today, Georgia state employees are enjoying a holiday that for well over a century had been celebrated as Confederate Memorial Day, but has since been ripped from those historical moorings. Changing times and perspective have rendered the day an orphan holiday, without meaning or cause, to the extent that the date is now listed on the official calendar under the generic term “state holiday,” with no hint to its roots.

We can do better than this.

The tradition of Confederate Memorial Day began 150 years ago here in Georgia, thanks to the work of the Ladies Aid Society in Columbus.  In the spring of 1866, members of the society sent a letter to newspapers throughout the South, “from the Potomac to the Rio Grande,” proposing that April 26 be set aside “and be handed down through time as a religious custom of the South, to wreathe our martyred dead with flowers.” ¹

“Let every city, town and village join in the pleasant duty,” the letter from the ladies of Columbus read. “Let all alike be remembered, from the heroes of Manassas to those who expired in the death throes of our hallowed cause. We’ll crown alike the honored resting places of the immortal Jackson in Virginia, Johnson at Shiloh, Cleburne in Tennessee and the host of gallant privates who adorned our ranks.”

According to the letter, those who fell in the war “had rallied in defense of the holiest and noblest cause for which heroes fought, or trusting women prayed.” And that of course is our current problem. From the beginning, Confederate Memorial Day was an effort to honor not just the fallen but also their cause, and their cause was not “hallowed”. Contrary to the mythology that the white South quickly and consciously embraced after the war, the causes for which Confederate soldiers fought and died included the preservation of slavery, the permanent subjugation of black Americans and the dissolution of the United States of America.

Given that historical baggage, what do we now do with this holiday? Do we cancel it? Do we leave it on the calendar, its relevance whitewashed away in embarrassment? History gives us another option.

Why did members of the Ladies Memorial Society select April 26 as the day of commemoration? They did so because on that date in 1865, the 89,000 Confederate troops still fighting as the Army of Tennessee, under the command of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, finally laid down their arms and surrendered to Union Gen. William T. Sherman at the Bennett farmhouse near Durham, N.C.

The surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee on April 9 at Appomattox is today given more prominence in the history books, but here in Georgia at the time, Johnston’s surrender was at least as significant. In terms of troops, it was the largest single surrender of the war and more importantly, it officially ended the conflict in Georgia and the Carolinas. It is a day of genuine significance to the state’s history.

So let’s reframe the holiday a bit.

Let’s keep it on the calendar, but let’s repurpose it as something like “Reunion Day” or “Restoration Day,” a day in which the state of Georgia commemorates the end of its role in the Civil War and officially marks its re-entry and reintegration into the United States of America. That’s something worth celebrating, right?

It’s not something that a governor could do on his own, through executive action. Doing it right would require official action by the General Assembly, as elected representatives of the people of Georgia. However, state leaders ought to jump at the opportunity to sponsor legislation that could turn an awkward symbol of divisiveness into a confirmation of unity.

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At the Bennett family farmhouse outside Durham, N.C., where Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston surrendered to Union Gen. William Sherman, a monument erected in 1923 celebrates the cause of national unity.


¹ The official date remains April 26, but on the state calendar it is celebrated this year on Monday, April 25. It is also widely considered the inspiration to the national Memorial Day celebrated at the end of May.

Reader Comments 0

428 comments
Meb Akasheli
Meb Akasheli

Why does it matter? We have a lot of holidays. Move on.

Bob Hunt
Bob Hunt

AMERICAN BY BIRTH,,,,SOUTHERN BY THE GRACE OF GOD.

Bob Hunt
Bob Hunt

stupid is strong in this one

Bob Hunt
Bob Hunt

GRACE OF GOD......glad I'm not a closed minded bitter Yankee.....Most Northerners I know respect heritage, then there's your kind

Tommy Jones
Tommy Jones

If there was a god, you'd be less clueless.

Marsha New Manesh
Marsha New Manesh

I know, let's change it to Confederate History month. That way, for the whole month, we can flood the airways with tributes to all of the dead Confederate heroes whose memorials have been removed.

Antwan Anderson
Antwan Anderson

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Michael Dillinger
Michael Dillinger

Rednecks just can't handle the thought of losing their Confederate identity. Here they are over 150 years later and still defending the wealthy aristocrats that sent their ancestors off to die in order to protect their wealth.

Bob Hunt
Bob Hunt

hard to believe ut you really are that stupid.

Michael Dillinger
Michael Dillinger

Please enlighten the world on what is so stupid oh wise one.

Tommy Jones
Tommy Jones

Poor little Bob. He's still mad about his side losing both the US Civil War and WWII.

Ronnie George III
Ronnie George III

It doesn't matter what we want the government will continue to take our rights away because the libs trade Em away for free stuff

Ed Hallman
Ed Hallman

What a stupid question to ask. Did you think it would go unnoticed? You idiot, destroy history and you are bound to repeat it.

Allen Gregory
Allen Gregory

Why celebrate traitors who tried to destroy the United States then? If they had their way and had broken our country in half, right now there would be a German or Japanese flag flying on our flag poles. No.. no one needs to celebrate that.

Shawna Woods
Shawna Woods

So call it the memorial of the Civil War.

EliasDenny
EliasDenny

Isn't it amazing that we, in the south, produce a high percentage of the military with a very strong feeling for the U.S. and what it means to be a citizen. 

meblackwood
meblackwood

Mr. Bookman's idea has merit. However, no one outside of the South would know what it would mean. You still hear the anguish in people's voices today as if they, themselves, were the ones to suffer under Reconstruction. Leave it on the State calendar another decade and then quietly drop it. Better yet, mandate it across the state as Everybody Needs a Day Off for No Good Reason Day.

Gofaster
Gofaster

One glaring problem with Bookman's idea is that neither Georgia nor any of the other Confederate States were allowed to rejoin the Union upon Johnston's surrender on April 26, 1865.  On the contrary, though the north claimed to fight to keep the South in the Union, the Southern States were forced to endure seven years of "Reconstruction" during which time they were occupied, disenfranchised, and robbed by northern politicians and carpetbaggers.  Having no standing under the Constitution with which to bring any legal proceedings, the north instead attempted to destroy the South economically.  

NWGAL
NWGAL

That was better than the usual penalty for treason. But this all happened many many years ago. Let the scab finally heal.

Corey
Corey

@Gofaster Myth parading as fact. A new look at Reconstruction was ushered in during the sixties and several new book with concrete findings expose the "woe is us under federal tyranny" as a myth. Please see the "Black Codes" created by former confederates and what that meant to newly freed slaves.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Maybe we should just call it Civil War Memorial Day to highlight the losses on both sides and the stronger Union that came from it. That is until recent years where politics has gone bat-shi! crazy!

Shortridge
Shortridge

@RoadScholar Excellent idea! The country does not need to be divided again I am a descendant of many Confederate soldiers but I support the USA and its government. I was not fooled by Reagan preaching anti-government blather which was fed to him by Charles Koch and other fascists.


xxxzzz
xxxzzz

@RoadScholar I like that one.  A few Georgians fought for the north, including some former slaves.

Pablo Pablo
Pablo Pablo

Never even knew this holiday existed much less celebrated it lol

NWGAL
NWGAL

Seriously, nothing of note has happened in the South since then? That's all we've got?

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

My great grandfather

was a confederate

soldier but no one in

my family ever paid

attention to

Confederate

Memorial Day but

they did decorate

graves on

Memorial Day.

Probably best to

just let it go.

RantNRave
RantNRave

"And you've deduced that how, Sparky?"


@Penses


If you  find a turtle on a fence post.....


it did not get there by ACCIDENT.


It had PLENTY OF HELP !


K


TomMiddleton
TomMiddleton

DDR

Left you a note downstairs, my friend, in reply to your reply. Enjoy...

tireOfIt
tireOfIt

I just came back from a week in Denver and for some reason it seems unimportant

stogiefogey
stogiefogey

"...now listed on the official calendar under the generic term “state holiday,”

Probably just a matter of time until Christmas is rechristened "religious holiday". Gotta love political correctness.

td1234
td1234

@Brosephus @stogiefogey It is not endorsing any Religion. The first Amendment bars the government from establishing a national religion. 

Brosephus
Brosephus

@stogiefogey 

Seeing that the First Amendment prohibits government from endorsing any one specific religion, I'm sure you've already signed petitions to add Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, Hanukkah, and Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe among other religious celebrations to December's calendar, right?

gotalife
gotalife

McDonnell case at Supreme Court could redefine corruption

As the justices are set to review the former Virginia governor's conviction this week, other politicians will be watching for a decision on when a favor crosses the line into an “official act," an area that has become increasingly blurry in the world of campaign contributions. 

4-4.

Penses
Penses

@PaulinNH

LOL. The only surprise in this story is that people actually surprised by it.