|With Malice Toward None On Memorial Day,
Blue and Gray Claim Honor Due
In Dixie land, we'll take our stand, to lib an' die in Dixie.
-1859. Daniel Decatur Emmett.
And thousands upon thousands, did die in Dixie, both Yankees and Rebels. For the entire war, the best battlefield estimate is 138,154 under the banner of the Stars and Stripes; 133,821 who fought beneath the Stars and Bars.
This weekend is Memorial Day, which started out as Decoration Day on May 30, 1868, a bit more than three years following Lee's surrender at Appomattox. It was on March 4, 1865, upon being sworn in for his second term, that Abraham Lincoln spoke "with malice toward none, with charity for all."
Thirty six days later, on April 9, the war was over. In six more days Lincoln would be dead. Now, 136 years later, there remains still more healing to come.
This Memorial Day - some still call it Decoration Day - the Stars and Stripes will be revered by all patriotic Americans. We are one nation, and there are many who insist that even on this day set aside for those who fought and died, there should be no Stars and Bars aloft. Nor should Dixie be sung.
Is this right? Even asking such a question in these times of political correctness raises the hackles of many Americans. Yet, in view of the ongoing controversy over the battle flag of the Confederacy, is it not a question that should be asked?
First allow me to make one thing perfectly clear. The right side won. The Yankees beat the Rebels, the union was preserved, slavery was abolished. Those who fought for Old Glory did not die in vain.
But what about the losers? Are they to be forgotten? Generations later, are Americans to forget family? Forget state? Forget heritage? Sweep it all under the rug?
I don't think so.
This Memorial Day I will especially thank two of my ancestors for their service in the Civil War - and I will be proud they fought in uniforms of blue. Meanwhile, I question if I have the right to deny those of Southern heritage the right to have pride in their forefathers.
My Forebearers Wore Blue
My great-grandfather on my mother's side died in battle in the Western Maryland town of Funkstown in one of the skirmishes following Lee's defeat at Gettysburg. His name was Francis Gabaree, and he was from Vermont.
Oddly enough, my great-great-grandfather on my father's side, Mervin P. Barber, was also in Funkstown at the time. He had been at Gettysburg, and later would be in Sherman's march to the sea.
He enrolled August 22, 1862, at Brockton, N.Y., as a private in Company E, 154th New York, and in due time made sergeant. As I learned from Presidents, Soldiers, Statesmen, written by H.H. Hardesty, Mervin Barber was at the front in Chancellorsville, Missionary Ridge, Rocky Face Ridge, Resaca, Pine Mountain, Lookout Valley, Culp's Farm, Peach Tree Creek and other battles.
He survived the war, but in not the best health having suffered a leg injury and temporary blindness, both maladies to reoccur throughout his life. Incidentally, his great-grandfather served in the Revolution. Two of his brothers, Ira of the 14th Pennsylvania and Edwin of the 72d New York, fought with the Union - as did three of his wife's brothers, Capt. George L. Stone of the 151st Pennsylvania Infantry, Private Charles Stone of the same regiment and Stanley Stone of the 17th Pennsylvania Volunteers.
As yet, we know little else about Francis Gabaree, but we hope to uncover more as my brother John, of Salt Lake City, continues his probe into the family history. We can assume Great-Grandfather Gabaree was killed by a Johnny Reb - and that he never met Sgt. Mervin P. Barber, though less than 60 years later the two families would merge as my father married my mother.
On this Memorial Day, I will honor them all - and possibly others of the family tree that I don't know of who served in our wars dating back to Bunker Hill, where two forefathers stood and one fell for good. Another served in the French and Indian Wars, still another in the War of 1812. They're all family, though generations past, and they deserve remembrance.
What's Good for the Blue Is Good for the Gray
Though one Burton forebearer lost his life, at least one other endured lifelong disability and at least five served in the Civil War - undoubtedly bent on thrashing, if not killing, their adversaries in gray - who am I to deny others with Southern heritage the right to honor their forebearers?
Lincoln, who freed the slaves, saved the union, even lost his own life because of the issues that led to the great conflict, said malice toward none, charity for all. And I agree.
From what my family has learned thus far in genealogical research, there is no evidence why those family members of long ago served. Maybe it was out of patriotism; I would prefer to think it was because they abhorred slavery. Indeed, at least two family members were involved in the underground railroad.
Conversely, I don't know why most of the Johnny Rebs served. Like me, there are many descendants of Confederate soldiers who don't know why their kin of yore chose to serve under Robert E. Lee. Surely many signed on out of loyalty to their states or to states' rights. Of course, there were some whose views of slavery were abhorrent to me.
To many, the flag the southerners fought for is a symbol of slavery, of hatred, of rebellion, and it should be banished now and forever. So should the catchy song "Dixie." But to ban them deprives Confederate descendants of part of their heritage.
I Don't Get It
Yet as we say 'you cannot fly that battle flag,' we live by laws that allow our citizenry to burn and otherwise desecrate our flag, the Stars and Stripes. We're told to do so is freedom of expression, the basic tenant of a democracy. If so, might I ask, why is it acceptable to burn our flag, but wrong for descendants of the Confederacy to respect and display theirs? Do they not also have the right to freedom of expression?
I am fortunate. The soldiers of my family of nearly 140 years ago served not only on the winning side but on the right side.
This Memorial Day, the Stars and Stripes will fly high from my porch - and I bear no ill will against those who will fly that other flag.
Enough said ...