"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Symbols, and stories, of sacrifice, today

When I prowl old cemeteries, I'm always surprised by the untold stories I find there, especially at the veterans' graves,  here in Edmond, and elsewhere. On this Memorial Day, think about the flags decorating their graves of American veterans throughout this country.  
So it was this year two weeks ago when I drove up to my Dad's grave in the oldest part of Fairlawn Cemetery at Comanche, Oklahoma, and saw something I'd never seen before, though I make the trip every year to plant flowers.
Several graves were decorated with small Confederate flags, but not the polluted one waved by the redneck racists of today.
It was the final national flag of the Confederacy, the "blood stained banner," featuring the square battle flag in the canton corner, white, and a red stripe at end. This was the flag adopted during the last two years of the Civil War. 
Union vet's grave in Oakwood, Edmond
If it hadn't been for the flag, I would never have discovered this grave. Unlike most Union veterans graves  which are easy to spot with their uniform shape, Confederate graves are random, and rarely decorated.
I've written before about the Union graves at Oakwood Cemetery in Edmond at the end of 15th Street just before Lake Arcadia, where many veterans are buried, including Civil War vets who came to Indian Territory to settle: Memorial Day flags at Oakwood
I walked over to the one nearest my dad's grave. There was a simple gravestone, with a single phrase under the person's name and dates: "Confederate soldier." He died in 1903. I've often wondered about those Southerners who survived the war, what they felt having been defeated, how they adapted, what stories they told. 
Someone had done a lot of genealogy research. As I walked around the cemetery to each of the flags I saw, most of them did not mention them as veterans. Two more did however, and these listed their Army units, which made it easier to find information on their service, thanks to the Internet.
Such it is with Union veterans, if their graves list their state and military units.
Memorial Day, first called Decoration Day, was founded in 1868 by General James Garfield to honor the Union soldiers who died in the war. After WWI, the name became Memorial Day to honor American veterans of all wars.
Although Southerners tried to establish a similar day, the dates vary from state to state, and decorating those graves is haphazard, which made my visit to Comanche more interesting.
The two other Confederate graves with identification were a solder from Tennessee and one from Texas. I looked up their combat records. More stories.
Jesse K. McMasters, Pvt., Tennessee Infantry. He was fortunate to survive the brutal war. Out of 850 men enlisted in 1861, he was probably captured at Fort Donaldson with 528. Later exchanged, he fought at Chickamauga where the regiment lost 46 percent of 361 soldiers in 1863. In December, 1864 he must have been one of only 12 mustering. Final surrender was April 26, 1865. When did he come to Indian Territory, and how? 
George W. Lewis, Capt. 20th Texas infantry. He lived to almost 100, and his volunteer unit saw little action except in the battle of Galveston in 1863, and  one of the last to surrender, May 26, 1865 at New Orleans. 
It was composed mainly of middle-aged men, and charged with protecting Galveston and the Sabine River. 
Again, I don't know when he came to Indian Territory, but like my grandparents and great grandparents buried nearby, he probably forded the Red River in a wagon into what was commonly referred to as "The Nation." (Indian Nation). Here is the flag his unit carried, an adaptation of the original national flag, the real "Stars and Bars."
The Oakwood Cemetery is a well cared for territorial cemetery with active participants, of several families. I drove out there this weekend and they had a Memorial Day service. 
Earlier I'd taken a photo of this veterans grave, and there's a story there too, with descendants, I'm assuming, replacing the original gravestone.
J.J. Henager, 39th Iowa Infantry. No dates, but obviously family cares. His unit had 1064 men at one time or another, with six officers and 58 enlisted men killed, and two officers and 134 men dying from disease. The unit was part of Sherman's march to the sea, and after the war, took part in the Grand Review march in Washington. How did he get here? 
Remember these Americans today, and the terrible cost of war. Two more photos to make that point, and the reason for today. One of unknown Union soldiers' graves at the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, and another of the Soldiers Rest, Confederate cemetery at Vicksburg, where many are also unknown.

Postscript 1. If the Civil War veteran's grave lists Tennessee, Missouri or Arkansas as home, you have to double check, because solders from these states fought on both sides.
Postscript 2. The reason the Confederate battle flag was adopted was because the Stars and Bars was so similar to the Stars and Stripes, confusion resulted in battle at a distance. Many Southerners didn't like the Stars and Bars anyway because it hinted at strong central government which they opposed. After the war the battle flag became a symbol of racism, thanks to the Klu Klux Klan, which continues, justifiable so, to this day.

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