Mass funeral recognizes 21 fallen Confederates
Soldiers, sailors laid to rest at Magnolia Cemetery
Published on 03/06/05
BY DENESHIA GRAHAM
Of The Post and Courier Staff
The slow and solemn beating of a drum is heard amid a rustling of oak leaves. A black hearse rolls into view.
Spectators scurry around tombstones with cameras in hand and black strips of cloth tied around their upper left arms.
They aim at those dressed in the blues, beiges and grays of the 19th-century Confederate soldiers. Two by two, these soldiers carry Confederate flag-draped boxes to black-covered stands before the audience.
Dead, brown leaves crunch underfoot. The white-gloved soldiers file into rows of white folding chairs, preferred seating for those who would help bury the dead.
Saturday’s mass funeral at Magnolia Cemetery in North Charleston laid to rest 21 Confederate soldiers and sailors who were recovered from the soil under The Citadel’s football stadium.
These are the last of 62 Confederate remains discovered between 1993 and 2004. Among them are five members from the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley’s first journey.
Randy Burbage, president of The Confederate Heritage Trust, approaches the microphone and asks that all cell phones be turned off. Choked with emotion, he says it is “a day to honor 21 souls who gave their lives for the Confederacy.”
Dr. Jonathan Leader, director of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, approaches next. Leader oversaw the excavation effort with numerous volunteers who climbed around open graves at the football stadium and gently cleared earth from around the skeletons.
“I see people who’ve made a journey,” Leader says of the volunteers. “When you do something on behalf of the dead … you’re doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”Chip Brown, 18, of Summerville is among the volunteers. The high school senior with dreams of an archaeology career spent three days last summer helping excavate bodies.
“This is the greatest experience of my life,” says Brown, who donned a gray Confederate uniform and served as a pallbearer.
The Rev. Dr. Vance E. Polley of Sunrise Presbyterian Church on Sullivan’s Island offers Bible verses for comfort.
Mourners include a row of black-veiled women sitting at the front. They represent the widows, whose black hoop gowns resemble inverted teacups. Their black-laced hands gingerly grip the green stems of white roses.
In the audience, an onlooker smokes a cigarette behind the last row of seats. A mother rocks a screaming child. A father helps his young son tighten the black strip on his arm.
Polley preaches briefly about the importance of history, which he says “defines the present and shapes the future.” He talks about a nation divided over the Civil War and about the stronger, more unified nation that emerges thereafter.
At ceremony’s end, soldiers untie the Confederate flags from atop the unpolished wooden squares carrying the remains. They fold the flags and present them to the widows. Another soldier comes later, tips his hat to each widow and receives the flags again.
The ceremony soon moves to the burial site across the cemetery, behind several mounds of brown dirt. Widows approach and stoop by the graves, lingering for a moment after they toss their flowers in.
Lynda Perrin, one of the widows, says later that these fallen soldiers deserve this fitting burial for fighting for what they believed in. “They gave their lives,” she says.