Thursday, May 7, 2015

The 10th of May

Confederate Monument, Cedar Grove Cemetery, New Bern, N.C.
By John B. Green III

In October 1866 a number of New Bern women came together to form the Ladies Memorial Association.  They were the near relatives of deceased Confederate soldiers and their aim was to see to the proper burial of their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers.  These men lay in hastily dug graves scattered across the city and the countryside.  Some lay abandoned in distant fields and woods hundreds of miles from where they had been born and raised.  By November the ladies had secured a large lot in Cedar Grove Cemetery on which to construct a tomb.  The cornerstone of the structure was laid May 2, 1867.  When completed at the cost of $3,000 this remarkable subterranean brick vault measured approximately sixty feet in length by ten feet in width with the floor of the tomb being approximately twelve feet beneath the surface.  The remains of seventy-one Confederate soldiers were then placed in the tomb.  In subsequent years the Ladies Memorial Association sought to erect a suitable marker above the tomb.  Constructed in stages over ten years the large marble monument topped by a life-sized Confederate soldier was dedicated on May 11, 1885.

Poem composed by Mary Bayard Clarke for Confederate Memorial Day, 1878.
Through the years the Ladies Memorial Association (later the New Bern Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy) made annual pilgrimages to decorate the monument and the graves of Confederate veterans buried in private plots across the cemetery.  The commemorations usually fell on or about May 10th, the anniversary of the death in 1863 of Confederate General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and the date chosen by North Carolina and South Carolina as Confederate Memorial Day.  These events consisted of speeches and floral presentations and the reading and singing of poems and songs extolling the "Lost Cause" of the late Confederacy and the bravery and sacrifice of the Southern soldiers and those they left behind.  Attendance sometimes numbered in the hundreds and included veterans, school children, ministers, and public officials.

Confederate Memorial Day remained popular in New Bern and throughout the South well into the 20th century although attendance declined as the veterans and those closest to them passed away.  The last addition to the memorial in Cedar Grove Cemetery occurred on  May 10, 1955 when a large granite and bronze marker was dedicated.  Supplied by the Department of the Army, through the auspices of Congressman Graham A. Barden, the marker listed the Confederate soldiers interred in the tomb beneath the monument.

Dedication of bronze memorial tablet, Cedar Grove Cemetery, 10 May 1955.
Today the public celebration of Confederate Memorial Day is a fading memory in New Bern and elsewhere.  The New Bern Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy ceased to exist more than thirty years ago.  Yet the 10th of May in Cedar Grove Cemetery usually finds a small flag or flower or card placed by some person or persons unknown.  Someone still remembers.

Anonymous tribute left May 10, 1994 following the vandalism of the Confederate tomb.