Civil War dead commemorated

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 23, 2011

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury post
Tuesday is Confederate Memorial Day.
By the end of the Civil War, 2,834 soldiers from Rowan County had served the Confederacy, more than any other county in the state.
Likewise, North Carolina provided more soldiers than any other state.
It’s not surprising that Confederate war dead are still honored locally, a recognition with special significance during the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.
The Rowan Rifles, Camp No. 405, of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, hosted a local memorial service Saturday morning to mark Confederate Memorial Day, which occurs each year on the date of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s death. The commemoration is older than the national Memorial Day now celebrated later in May.
Members of the Rowan Rifles began the morning by reading the names of Rowan citizens who served between 1861 and 1865. The old Rowan County Courthouse at 202 N. Main Street was the backdrop.
Union Gen. George Stoneman spared the 1854 Courthouse on his raid through Salisbury in April 1865.
There were 77 regiments in North Carolina, but one of the first came from Salisbury. The 6th Regiment, Company G, was formed and paid for by Charles Fisher.
The regiment trained in Charlotte, then in Burlington, and was later sent to the epic battle of First Manassas in Virginia.
Fisher was killed in that battle. Most of the rest of the regiment was captured at Remington, Va., on Nov. 7, 1863, and spent the rest of the war in prisoner of war camps.
The 49th and 57th Regiments trained at Camp Fisher, just east of Salisbury, near Crane Creek and Stokes Ferry Road.
After the memorial reading, period re-enactors and many others gathered again at the Old Lutheran Cemetery on Lee Street to honor the veterans with a service of music, prayer and speeches. About 200 graves of Civil War veterans were adorned with Confederate flags. Seats were arranged around a podium under a large tree, providing a somber setting in the old cemetery.
Steve Poteat, commander of the Rowan Rifles, and Tom Kesler, 1st lieutenant commander, welcomed the crowd and spoke of honoring ancestors and the supreme sacrifices of many.
Kesler told of the hard life of the Civil War soldier, often serving without shelter or shoes. Many suffered from exposure and disease.
Sarah Miller and Jim Shoemaker entertained with period music, including selections “Going Home” and “Dixie.”
The Rev. Perry Miller offered the invocation and the benediction.
Ronnie Roach of the Charles Fisher SCV Camp gave the keynote speech, providing insight into North Carolina’s involvement in the war.
“Why do we still honor them?” Roach asked, and then he sought to answer his question.
He told of a North Carolinian, Henry Wyatt, who was the first soldier killed in action. Wyatt had just turned 19.
In all, 700,000 troops served the South. Of that total, North Carolina provided 125,000 men and boys, more than twice as many as any other state. More than 40,000 of those died and 13,000 remain unaccounted for. Roach spoke of the ideals that made soldiering honorable. Those ideals were honor, courage and commitment.
Roach closed with a tombstone inscription about those soldiers: “Fate denied him victory, but blessed him with a glorious immortality.”
Following a rendition of Taps, the company of re-enactors offered a 21-gun volley to honor the fallen soldiers interred in the cemetery and throughout the South. The company then marched from the cemetery to close the service.
Raymond Hawkins and Benita Smit were on hand for the ceremony. Hawkins had six ancestors in the war.
“My family served in the war, and we thought this would be a good way to honor them. We enjoyed the service,” he said.
John Goodson of Woodleaf also had ancestors in the Civil War.
“I wanted to come out to honor those who fought, and I am going to start going to more of these. Salisbury is so rich with history. I want to learn a lot because we need to know our own history, and today’s memorial helped me to do that,” Goodson said.
“One hundred and fifty years ago, these men of Rowan County answered the call to arms. We met here today to honor them,” Poteat said.