Next Monday is the first Memorial Day of this 150th anniversary of the outbreak of the Civil War.
With America now in the 10th year of the War with Jihad, it’s hard to get past the fact that U.S. soldiers are being wounded or killed in combat every day. Nevertheless, the Sesquicentennial observance is a good time to recall that Memorial Day itself originated as the day to commemorate the nation’s 618,000 Civil War casualties. As it happens, two of our active local national cemeteries – Florence and Beaufort (as well as Salisbury, N.C.) – also contain Union Civil War dead. Numerous Horry County cemeteries contain graves of Civil War veterans as well.
Beginning in the North as Decoration Day, Memorial Day (first so named in 1882) evolved into an important step towards national reconciliation. Union veterans’ organizations, principally the Grand Army of the Republic, promulgated the idea of a nationwide holiday on May 30. In 1968, Congress moved it to the last Monday in May.
Confederate veterans had their own observances. This was continued by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Daughters of the Confederacy and other organizations. Today, eight states still observe a Confederate Memorial Day, including South Carolina.
Ninety-eight of those Confederate dead were from Horry County.
Other than heroism, there is little to celebrate about a war in which American killed American.
Therefore, this Memorial Day, I have a suggestion. If it’s your custom to visit veterans graves on that day, why not this year consider also visiting the grave of a soldier who fought on the other side of America’s most terrible war?
It’s not as hard as you might think. As noted, Union dead are buried in the Florence, Beaufort and Salisbury National Cemeteries. The largest is Salisbury, which contains at least 11,600 Union graves, principally from the Confederate prisoner of war camp which was located there.
Here in Horry County, the graves of Confederate veterans are maintained by Litchfield Camp 132 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Its website, scv132.org, has a list of their locations, together with the names and units of the men buried there.
A moving alternative, if you wish to visit the Union dead, is to visit the nameless graves of the 2,800 Yankees who died during the five-month life of the Florence Stockade. The POW graves form the heart of the old part of Florence’s National Cemetery.
Locally, Franklin G. Burroughs, a founder of Burroughs & Chapin, suffered in a federal POW camp in Illinois.
Andersonville – located in southwestern Georgia – was the most notorious of the Confederacy’s POW camps. Nearly 45,000 Yankees were held there, of whom 12,920 died. Eye witnesses described some survivors as “walking skeletons.” Its commandant became the only Civil War officer to be executed for war crimes.
Andersonville and Salisbury, however, were not the only death traps. Yankee camps were similar in kind, if not in degree: bad and insufficient food and clothing, exposure to the elements, terrible sanitation, no medical care. At the North’s deadly POW camp, in Elmira, N.Y., some 2,900 Rebels died.
Florence’s POW camp was a direct result of Andersonville. After the fall of Atlanta in mid-1864, Andersonville’s able-bodied prisoners were transferred to a newly-built camp outside Florence. Prisoners soon began dying the rate of more than 100 a week. They were buried in trenches.
When I visited Andersonville last month, a group of warrant officer candidates from Fort Rocker, Ala., were receiving a guided tour. Andersonville’s Chief of Interpretation and Education, Eric Leonard, told me the U.S. military regularly runs tours to Andersonville.
So far, Andersonville’s National Cemetery contains five KIA’s from the present war. One veteran who was instrumental in raising the money for the National POW Museum located at Andersonville – and himself a former Vietnam POW – is now interred there with his wife.
“The continuation of the story,” Leonard said, “is very moving.”
The writer lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C.