Florida Statutes designate April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day, set aside
to remember the sacrifices made by Southern soldiers and the tragic events
that tore our nation apart 140 years ago.|
As we recall what took place during the War Between the States, we should do so in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the conflicting ideals and passions that pitted brother against brother and tore a nation apart.
The common soldiers and sailors of both sides should be respected for their courage and sacrifices, because they were all Americans.
After four years of conflict, Union Gen. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was charged with receiving Gen. Robert E. Lee's army when it came to lay down arms at Appomattox Court House in Virginia in April 1865.
As the Confederate soldiers approached, Gen. Chamberlain ordered the Federal army to "Present Arms" in honor of their foe, for whom they had gained much respect on many fields of battle.
Upon hearing the clamor of arms, Gen. John B. Gordon, riding at the head of Gen. Lee's army, whirled his horse around as he dropped the point of his sword to his boot toe, and ordered the Army of Northern Virginia to return the salute - honor answering honor!
Gen. Chamberlain stated of that moment, "On our part, not a sound of trumpet more, not a cheer, nor word, nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order; but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!"
Chamberlain went on to give special and respectful tribute to each unit of the Southern army, commenting on their dedication and bravery against overwhelming odds. These comments were not spoken by a Southerner, but by a Union general and college professor from Maine.
For the most part, soldiers on both sides of that terrible conflict, including thousands of African-Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics in the Southern armies, served for the same reason Americans have served in all our country's wars - their country was at war, and it was their duty to serve.
We can all learn an important lesson from Gen. Chamberlain. Confederate Memorial Day can help remind us of where we were 140 years ago, and where we are today.
We should continue to move forward in our efforts to respect everyone's heritage, values, and beliefs regardless of their race, ethnic background or whatever area of our nation they come from. We can use the experience of our past to build a better future for our country.
Confederate Memorial Day 2000