Remembering those on the losing side of history

Remembering those on the losing side of history

A group of about 40 people converged not far from the gaze of the Appomattox statue Tuesday, some dressed in Confederate uniforms, to remember the citys Civil War dead 150 years after the federal invasion. 
Alexandria bore witness to a single day of bloodshed, to be followed by four years of occupation a busy port city once home to a bustling slave trade turned overnight into a Union military town. The citys soldiers, allowed to evacuate before the Union invasion, spent those years unable to come home, and 99 of them never did. 
Their names and that of James Jackson, proprietor of the Marshall House, who was killed after shooting Union Col. Elmer Ellsworth dead, are engraved on the Washington Street statue.
Some of these brave men from Alexandria lost their lives, author and historian Don Hakenson told those assembled. There are 100 names on the monument. They gave their lives for a cause that some people dont understand.
As the nation commemorates the wars sesquicentennial, old wounds threaten to reopen, including the longstanding debate over the conflicts causes and the discomfort for some to see the Confederacy honored.  
A secessionist ball held in Charleston, S.C., in December, on the anniversary of the states break with the United States, drew protest and headlines. A push for specialty license plates bearing the Confederate flag in Florida and Kentucky have drawn similar ire from critics who argue the symbol represents slavery. 
After the small and short R.E. Lee Camp 726 ceremony, commander Jim Becker was quick to point out theyre remembering their ancestors and not the institution of slavery. The Klu Klux Klan has done the Confederate flag a disservice, he said. 
Its important we remember our history and honor the Americans who died, Becker said. They were all good Americans.
Becker attributes the conflict to Union taxation rather than slavery, but he concedes its difficult to say for sure what started the war. He compared it to a divorce; there are two sides and a plethora of reasons, and in the end its still a tragedy. 
Its like going to Israel and figuring out where Jesus walked. History has a marvelous way of wiping its own tracks, Becker said. Were not bigots. We dont have an axe to grind. Were out trying to get at good history.
Speaking for himself and not his organization, John Chapman, head of Alexandrias NAACP chapter, said commemorating the Confederacy becomes controversial if and when the issue of slavery is glossed over. 
Everybody is welcome to celebrate their family history and everybody is going to have a different one, he said. This is Virginia, this is what it is known for. Its part of the history. Its not like theyre celebrating this every year. Its been 150 years and its once in our lifetime.
Donned in a Confederate uniform, Robert Lee Hodges of Arlington rested outside the Christ Church while the R.E. Lee Camp held the annual Confederate Memorial Day service following their commemoration which is separate from the citys official remembrance events. The nation hasnt fully healed, the Ohio native said. 
Reconciliation is not complete, Hodges said. Even though African-Americans were emancipated in [1863] it took 100 years to bring them more into the fold. When I hear people talk about the civil rights movement, I tend to think it started a lot longer ago.
The fact theyre allowed to commemorate their rebellious ancestors does make Hodges, who traced his lineage back to Confederate soldiers, marvel. Theres no other country he can think of that lets the defeated honor their dead. 
Becker, the descendent of one of John Mosbys Rangers, believes theres no harm in putting on the gray uniform and remembering his forefathers. Its not very serious, he said, and theyre not about to pick up the gun and go refight the war. 
It was horrific, he said. It was a lesson learned.