WYSIWYG Confederates?

Posted on March 20, 2011 by


Pardon the silence for the last week. A few unavoidable matters over the past week set posting back a bit, but let me see if I can get things moving once again…

What are WYSIWYG Confederates?

Well, in Web development, WYSIWYG is an acronym for “What you see is what you get”, and, in some ways, I believe that the acronym could apply to those who lay-on praise based on a very simple assessment of what they see on the surface. When a man, who wore a gray coat, is presented, I see far too many jump quickly in making the judgment, “my, what a gallant and brave Confederate he was.” A Confederate flag is placed on the gravesite, and justice is served… or so they think. I think I addressed my concerns about this sort of thing, to some degree, with my post about Samuel Jacob Forrer.

The same applies to what we see online. On Find-a-Grave, for example, how quickly are folks praised for their service as Confederates?

For well over a year, I’ve been compiling data for the headstones of Confederates from my home county, but, I take care in not being too hasty in making judgments in the biographical sketches. Yes, they did, in fact, wear gray, but what did that mean? Were they fighting for “the cause”, “states’ rights”, because of social/peer pressure, because they were conscripts, or… what?

I have to say, I’ve made a couple errors in my data collection. At times, it appears that a man may have served as a Confederate soldier, based on 2 or 3-part name match with someone else in the military records, but… at times, not all those name matches are true idents. When we’re talking about some 2,000 men from a single county, errors are certainly possible.

Take the case of John W. Lillard. I’ve forgotten which unit I had originally identified him with, but I believe I had him as serving in a Virginia cavalry unit. I loaded his data (just the basics… name, date of birth, date of death, headstone info, and company and number of regiment in the bio field) in February 2010, and, by December 2010, as a “memorial”/tribute, someone had posted an image of a Confederate soldier on horseback, holding a Confederate flag. The person, by placing the image as a memorial, had gone beyond the basics, and made so much more of his “service” as a Confederate soldier… without question, or without feeling a need for further inquiry, before placing emphasis with a memorial/tribute.

In January of this year, however, I received an email from a Lillard descendant who had done further investigation. In fact, John W. Lillard never wore gray, but had served in Co. G, 62nd Ohio Infantry. That’s correct… another Virginian in blue… and from an Ohio unit. Not only that, but he had applied for a pension in years after the war, after having returned to Page County, Virginia.

You can see his Find-a-Grave page, here.

It’s not at all my intent to make fun of the person who placed the tribute, but rather to show how easily some make more out of something without scrutinizing what they see.

Still, is this something that is particular to Confederate soldiers? No, not at all.

Take for example, the case of Francis Perry Cave, yet another Virginian who enlisted in an Ohio unit. Some praise him for his service to the United States, with either an American flag, or an American and Confederate flag combo, thanking him for “service to his country”. His records put into question the merit of such things because, well… his service in the 66th Ohio was extremely short-lived. Not long after enlisting (or… was he a conscript?), he deserted… yes, deserted. They tracked him down in Ohio, but he was not returned to his unit. Rather, he served the balance of the war in hospital service in Ohio. So, are those who place the memorial tributes honoring him for his service after his desertion? I mean, after all, he did provide a service to the Union… but was it reluctant? Was it something that he felt proud to do? Was it something he reflected on, in years after the war, with fondness? Frankly, I think he deserted after having learned that the 66th happened to be operating in the Shenandoah Valley… his home… and he couldn’t bear the thought of returning home to fight his kin. Pure conjecture on my part, and I understand it as such, but I keep it in my back pocket as a possibility, nonetheless. Interestingly, I have it on good authority that one descendant of his thinks Cave fought for the Confederacy, and has a cavalry saber that he believes is the one he used during the war. So, the assumptions and misjudgments don’t end with a Find-a-Grave memorial. F.P. Cave’s Find-a-Grave page can be seen, here.

But, while we’re on a role, why stop now?

Let’s take F.P. Cave’s brother, Washington J.I. Cave, as yet another example. Despite what the service records say about him (and what we can clearly read between the lines), he received a Confederate veteran’s headstone (probably attributable to some descendants who may have not known better… or who just wanted a headstone to mark his grave). Wash Cave’s service in the 33rd Virginia was extremely short-lived, and once he was exempted, he skeedaddled to Ohio to take refuge until the close of the war. Yet, he’s got a couple of praisers who seem to feel that his “sacrifice” was worth mentioning, and noting with a Confederate flag… from which (reality tells us) he seems to have been trying his hardest to stay away. You can see his Find-a-Grave page, here.

We also have Southern Unionists, who, because they were identified to pre-war militia units that were activated when the war began, seem to automatically merit praise as good Confederates. Yet, I know for a fact that they were also identified by Southern Unionists Claims applicants as fellow Unionists. The first thing I would ask, when seeing someone who served in the militia, would be… “the militia was disbanded in the Spring of 1862, so, if so devoted to the Confederate “cause”, why didn’t he join another unit, and continue his service? Instead, we see various memorials associated with these people (because of service in the militia) that proclaim things like, “Son of the South, Your fight is over, Its time to rest, You did your duty, You gave your best. We Will Never Forget You,” and “Remembering and Honoring a True Southern Hero, A Confederate Soldier. Deo Vindice.”

I’ve got more on weeding-out the truth with Southern Unionists Claims applicants coming up in another post, as well as those who are identified with reserve units which were not organized until the third Confederate Conscription Act, in 1864.

In the meantime, watch those memorial tributes to Civil War soldiers in Find-a-Grave.

*It wouldn’t surprise me if, sooner or later, these memorial tributes that I mentioned above, may disappear over time… especially if those who made them see this post, and realize the error of their ways.