Some people need to get out more

Posted on July 21, 2013 by


This morning, my attention was directed (thanks to a post at Kevin’s blog) to a recent article in The Atlantic.

I’m not sure whether it was The Atlantic’s doing (for the sake of “stirring the pot”), or it was Steven I. Weiss’ projection… but, the article doesn’t beat around the bush. First, with the title…

You Won’t Believe What the Government Spends on Confederate Graves.

Followed by the lead sentence in the article…

Taxpayers now pay more to maintain rebel graves and monuments than those honoring Union soldiers.

I have one word for it… “Hogwash”… and yes, with a capital “H”.

The problem with the piece is smack in front of you… at the lead-in. Once you get down to the dirt, you see, Weiss is talking strictly about headstone orders. Yet, for one, I don’t think he is clear. Is he talking strictly about privately ordered stones? If so, so what that 60% of the orders have come to replace missing, destroyed or damaged stones for Confederate solders. Of course, he muddies the issue by throwing-in things about “neo-Confederates”, and uses punch terms like “Ku Klux Klan”.

It’s a stunt, people. He’s (and/or the Atlantic) trying to get readers… and readers who get stirred-up by what he says. If he was sincere about concern over the graves of Civil War soldiers, he wouldn’t have left out key information. No, instead he directs the attention of the readers in the lead-in, and doesn’t fully support that lead-in in the body of his article. Again, when we get down to the content, he’s only talking about headstones (and I believe, only those which are privately ordered).

Guess what… I’ve ordered stones for Confederate veterans. One example is the stone that I ordered for my great-great grandfather, who is buried, unmarked, in a family cemetery, back in the bosom of the west face of the Blue Ridge, in my home county. I did it because 1) he didn’t have a stone, 2) the Veterans Administration made it possible to correct that issue, and 3) why not note his service as a Confederate soldier? He served through the war, has no negative marks on his service record, married during the war, came home after the war… and lived his life… a rather modest one, I might add.

Guess what else… I’ve had headstones ordered for Union dead as well. In the late 1990s, for example, I was able to order a replacement stone for a cousin, James D. Moore, who died at Andersonville. His headstone identified him incorrectly, both by state and name. It took about a year, but I was able to get it replaced. I would like to do the same today, for other Union kin buried there, and elsewhere, but the restrictions are now quite tough. In fact, I can’t do it for anyone in Andersonville, anymore. The current restrictions are such that one can’t have an existing stone replaced because it is considered a historic piece in itself. The database, inside the facilities, provides the correct information. I disagree… but that’s another matter, altogether.

But Weiss’ focus is on Confederate “heritage groups” alone, as if the 60% has been ordered strictly by them.

More hogwash.

Stones have also been ordered by private individuals. In fact, I challenge Weiss to go through each and every one of those applications to see which ones have been ordered by descendants and which ones have been ordered by “heritage groups.” Let’s be honest to both the readers and self… of course, you have to get out from behind stats and your laptop to know these types of things… stones were also ordered by private individuals.

My only beef with the headstone project is that the Veterans Administration wasn’t more careful in issuing stones where there were relevant questions that couldn’t be answered. Would I, for example, order a headstone for my ancestors who were in the Virginia militia, but were either never or rarely present, and after the disbanding of the units (spring of 1862), didn’t serve a single day in the service of the Confederate forces? Probably not, as I see it as an indicator of 1) conscription before there was a Confederate conscription act, and 2) reluctance after having been forced into the column of “Confederate” for the fact that the militia unit was activated. Then too, we have the issue of “Black Confederates”… a totally different ballgame altogether. That’s where my problem lays with the headstone process. It clearly needed to be more discriminating in validity, asking first if the person could truly be counted as a “veteran”, which necessarily begs a review of a service record to see if they truly committed themselves as soldiers or sailors.

As for spending more on Confederate graves… once again, Weiss needs to get out more. While he focuses heavily on the headstones, he misses the fact that Union veterans are in many a Veterans Administration and/or National Park maintained cemetery. Headstones is just part of the cost. There is also grounds maintenance, and even headstone replacements made by the maintaining authority. An excellent example of that is both the Staunton and Winchester national cemeteries (which I visit quite regularly), here in the Shenandoah Valley. Within the last three years, both were totally stripped and re-sodded. Then you have watering, mowing, and all else that comes with constant upkeep. So, don’t even go there and say that Confederate graves take the bulk of the taxpayer money.

Winchester National Cemetery... with new sod (after about a year), and flags out for Memorial Day.

Winchester National Cemetery… with new sod (after about a year), and flags out for Memorial Day.

Weiss apparently needs to get out more, and visit these cemeteries and come to the realization of all the costs involved.

To me, what I’m seeing is an article that is designed to do nothing more than stir the pot. You wanna talk about controversy? This is the worst sort. As if we weren’t already divided enough.

Poorly done, Weiss and The Atlantic