New Civil War marker unveiled in Macon’s Soldiers’ Square in Rose Hill Cemetery

lfabian@macon.comMay 15, 2013 

A Confederate flag flies over hundreds of graves at Rose Hill Cemetery on a slope rising from the Ocmulgee River.

People whizzing by on Interstate 16 might catch a glimpse of the identical tombstones marking remains of 884 Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War.

Those who seek out that Soldiers Square can now know the story of the sacrifices made to bring home the dead and honor the memory of other Confederates from across the South who died in Macon hospitals.

Wednesday morning, Macon’s Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee dedicated the ninth of a dozen markers it commissioned to tell the story of Macon’s impact on the War Between the States.

“War is never a thing to celebrate, but it is something definitely to commemorate because it has changed the lives of the people who were here then and it still effects our lives today,” said historian Jim Barfield.

The cemetery, founded in 1840, predates the war by 21 years and is the final resting place of 882 veterans who fought the battles during the war.

During the first year of the conflict, seven Macon soldiers were killed in Pensacola, Fla.

Thousands of people gathered as the bodies of four of the men came home.

Six horses with Confederate flags attached to their heads pulled the funeral wagon in the procession.

Their remains are in the first four graves on the hill.

Other fallen soldiers followed.

“In the first two years of the war, families that could afford it were bringing them back,” said Conie Mac Darnell, another historian and committee member.

Hundreds of other Southerners died here, as Macon was second only to Richmond, Va., in the number of soldiers treated in local hospitals.

In April 1866, the year after the war ended, the Macon Ladies Memorial Association reinterred hundreds of soldiers buried near the hospitals and at the Old City Cemetery.

In later years, the association traveled as far as Jonesboro to recover remains buried on battlefields.

“We mustn’t forget those valiant women, who ... at great personal sacrifice worked diligently to secure the bodies ... and bring them back and give them a sacred piece of ground in which to lie,” Barfield said during the dedication.

Winners write the history

In 30 years in the classroom, the retired history teacher said he has witnessed textbooks degrading from a balanced account of the conflict to a view heavily sympathetic to the North.

“The winners of the wars get to write the history, but let’s try to make it balanced,” he told those assembled for the dedication. “Of course slavery was wrong. I don’t know of anybody living today who would say that slavery was not a moral wrong.”

Barfield said the social, political and especially the economic factors involved are rarely mentioned these days.

He said the committee’s six markers and six others ordered through Civil War Heritage Trails can help people understand what really happened.

Barfield’s ancestors who fought and their descendants would never have referred to it as the Civil War, which he says denotes a struggle for power within a country.

Rather, Southerners were fighting the second war for independence as a separate nation fighting for sovereignty, he said.

That’s a lesson lost on schoolchildren of today, he said.

Early in his lifetime, Barfield remembers having a half-day of school each Confederate Memorial Day.

“It was a celebration of the valor, the dedication, the courage, the nobility of those people who fought and died for what they believed in,” he said.

Some octogenarians who gathered for the dedication remembered back to their childhood when they put flags on soldiers’ graves for Confederate Memorial Day.

“We walked from Alexander II,” one woman said.

Jones County’s M.L. Hawkins, now 86, said he traveled from Fort Hawkins School each year to do the same.

“I guess I came in an A-model Ford,” said 85-year-old Millie Stewart, whose great-grandfather is buried on the other side of the square that routinely hosts memorials each April 26.

In 1870, famed poet Sidney Lanier gave the address.

In commemorating the 150th anniversary of the war, the committee strives to tell the whole story.

On May 29, another marker dedication will focus on the role blacks played before, during and after the fighting.

By mid-summer, two other markers will go up. One will educate the public about Macon’s armory and arsenal, while the other will spotlight the railroad depot.

The other Civil War Heritage Trails markers that are still pending will be part of a statewide network along routes of historic significance.

The committee’s Civil War and Emancipation Walking Map of Macon is available at local museums and the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. It features more than 120 historic sites in Macon.

“I think it is very fitting that we contribute a small bit here to tell part of the story, as best we know how to tell it,” Barfield said before closing the ceremony with a quote from English poet Rudyard Kipling.

“Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget ­-- lest we forget!”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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