Scott Reeder: Grave markers, statues and Civil War

Scott Reeder: Grave markers, statues and Civil War

SPRINGFIELD — When I was in high school, my Grandma Wanda fought a battle with the American Legion to have a veteran's marker placed on the grave of her husband's grandfather.

Eventually, the Legion post relented and put a veteran's stone over John Beckerdite's earthly remains.

What gave the veteran's organization pause is that John hadn't served in any branch of the United States Armed Forces. He fought for the Confederacy.

"Although he fought for the South, he fought for his country," Grandma wrote in a family history.

When she wrote that, I was about 14 years old. I thought it was nonsense then. And I think it even more so today.

My forbearer didn't fight for his country, he betrayed it. And, no, he didn't battle for freedom, he fought for slavery.

Oh, you'll hear some silly talk about the Civil War really being about states' rights. But it's just not true. All 11 Southern states said in their individual articles of succession that they were departing the Union over the issue of slavery.

One Southern friend concedes that the South may have left the Union over slavery. But he adds the North didn't fight the war to end slavery.

Well, I guess you can ignore the Emancipation Proclamation or Abraham Lincoln's moral opposition to slavery, but what about this line from the "Battle of the Republic" that Union soldiers sang marching into battle: "As Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free?"

Whose freedom do you think they were dying for?

No one wants to believe their ancestors died and sacrificed for something as reprehensible as the right to own another human being. But they did.

Grandma, on the other hand, didn't see things that way. She was proud of our ancestor's service to the Confederacy and pointed out that he was just a teenager when he wore the gray uniform and that life was so rough that he was reduced to eating "rat pie."

Well, I don't doubt that John Beckerdite was a young man caught up in a maelstrom of violence far bigger than himself. But that can be said of most any soldier in most any war.

With the violence in Charlottesville, Va., it seems the whole nation once again is contemplating the Civil War. And, yes, just like when I was a kid, it's about a monument.

Only now, the monument isn't about an individual soldier's grave. It's about large public memorials to generals and other leaders.

In Charlottesville, Nazis, Klansmen and other white supremacist punks were hot under the collar because that city is going to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee. By the time the day was through, an innocent young woman was dead and 19 other people were injured.

I can't help but wonder why more than 150 years after the war between the states, we are still arguing about it.

So, I called up Civil War historian Edward H. Bonekemper III, who wrote, "The Myth of the Lost Cause: Why the South Fought the Civil War and Why the North Won."

His answer was straightforward, "This country has a race problem. You don't see us this divided over the causes of the Revolutionary War or World War II. But the causes of the Civil War are all about slavery. And because this country has a race problem, it really hasn't come to terms with why the Civil War was fought, yet."

It's hard to argue with that logic.

After all, if it wasn't about race, why would neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other white supremacists care about a statue of Gen. Lee?

Scott Reeder is a freelance reporter in the Springfield area. His email is

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