Monday, April 27, 2009


I’ve been more perturbed over the events last week at the Pine Hill Cemetery in Auburn, Alabama, than I care to even admit. If you are not aware of the events, here is a summary. Last Thursday, Auburn City Councilman Arthur L. Dowdell “was picking up his daughter from Auburn Junior High School near the cemetery when several people told him they ‘had a problem’ with the flags.” The “flags” were Confederate flags placed on the graves of Confederate soldiers in the Pine Hill Cemetery in Auburn. Yesterday, April 26, was the annual celebration of Confederate Memorial Day in Alabama. When Dowdell arrived at the historic cemetery, he found it decorated "like a Klan rally or a skinhead rally." Dowdell then took several flags from different graves, broke them, and placed them in his car. “It might have snapped itself,” Dowdell said. “If it did, so what? If I had my way, I would have broke them all up and stomped on them and burned them. That flag represents another country, another nation.” “I’m going on the record that this will never happen again,” Dowdell said. “This will never happen again as long as I’m on the city council.”

Interesting enough, the City of Auburn, via the mayor, soon thereafter released this statement:
The views and actions by participants in that incident in no way reflect the views or policies of the City of Auburn. The flags were placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy on private graves to commemorate fallen Confederate soldiers for Confederate Memorial Day, which is an official state holiday. Their removal was not an action taken by the City of Auburn. I cannot condone the removal of private property from a privately owned grave site. The sanctity of the final resting place of one’s family or forefathers is certainly one of the most intensely private and sacred of things in our society.

It is easy to see that the mayor is trying to put as much distance between himself and Dowdell.

Interesting enough, Dowdell has served on the Auburn City Council since 1995. The placement of flags on the graves of Confederates has gone on for decades. I wonder (actually, I don’t) why Dowdell did not have a problem with the flags in the previous thirteen years he was on the city council. Why does he feel emboldened this year?

Regardless of Dowdell’s actions, the planned Confederate Memorial Day services in Auburn went on as scheduled yesterday. You can check out an article and a video clip here.

Had I not been off to Roanoke for a book signing in Roanoke this afternoon, then I probably would have driven to Auburn yesterday to attend the memorial day service. Why? And what does this have to do with North Carolina and the Civil War? Not only are there numerous Alabama Confederate soldiers buried in the Pine Hill Cemetery, including Col. James F. Dowdell (hmmm, I wonder…) commander of the 37th Alabama Infantry, US Congressman, and one –time president of what is today Auburn University (had two ancestors to fight under him), but also one that we here in North Carolina hold dear: Brig. Gen. James H. Lane.

Lane was a Virginian by birth and educated at VMI. Right before the war began, Lane was teaching at the North Carolina Military Institute in Charlotte. Lane was major and lieutenant colonel of the 1st North Carolina Volunteers, and then colonel of the 28th North Carolina Troops. He succeeded Branch as commander of the Second North Carolina Brigade after Branch was killed at the battle of Sharpsburg. The Second North Carolina Brigade was composed of the 7th NCST, 18th NCST, 28th NCT, 33rd NCT, and 37th NCT. Lane successfully commanded the brigade until the end of the war, and even taught for while in the Old North State before moving to Auburn where he also taught. The school still owns his house.

That is why I care.

I do find the actions of Councilman Dowdell disturbing. One reason why Southerners were allowed to erect monuments and place flags on graves after the war was to help heal our divided land. The monuments and markers and flags (North and South) were an effort to help remind us of where our inability to work out our problems could lead us: 625,000 dead. And it was people with an attitude just like Dowdell that fanned the flames that led to 625,000 dead Americans. Obviously, here is an individual who wants to make trouble (and unfortunately, there are far too many people willing to rise to his baiting). We can only hope that more reasonable heads will prevail and that Dowdell will be properly shamed for his grave descrecration rather than becoming the target of threats or other responses that only give him what he wants: angry people who fit the stereotype he wants to enforce.

1 comment:

Dan Morrow said...

Seems to me that the UDC . . . and the rest of us . . . in the spirit of Mr. Lee, and Lane, and all those who honorably took the oath of allegiance . . . might well mark the graves of Confederate soldiers with small American flags . . . rather than the battleflag. My ggf served under Lane in the 28th . . . his sons and grandsons served under the stars and stripes. I think he . . . and they . . . and nearly everyone else . . . would be pleased.