Dressed in period costume, Sons of Confederate Veterans spent part of Sunday afternoon recognizing a Civil War general and looking ahead to the 150th anniversary of the nation’s divide.
About 50 people gathered for the 12th annual observance of Gen. James Longstreet’s life at the Alta Vista Cemetery in Gainesville Sunday.
Tim Ragland, commander of the Dahlonega-based Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1860, Blue Ridge Rifles, said Sunday’s gathering also was meant “to inaugurate our observances of the sesquicentennial of the War Between the States.”
The first shots were fired on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina.
Ragland presided over the ceremony, which took place at Longstreet’s gravesite.
He talked for about 15 minutes, describing Longstreet’s life, military career and final years as owner of the Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville.
Ragland also talked about the sesquicentennial, saying he believes that, unlike the centennial in 1961, “few people are even aware of this event in our nation’s history.”
Today, “most would prefer to ignore our ancestors’ past,” he said.
Ragland said he is concerned that versions of the war and that era in history will further stereotype and demean
Southerners, who have been depicted on TV and movies as “ignorant, backwoods morons with barely enough brain cells to breathe.
“We know there are false perceptions, and we are people who can laugh at ourselves. But this was not their purpose ... Southern-accented characters are shown as disloyal, conniving, backstabbing and untrustworthy.”
The annual Longstreet ceremony was started by Ragland, who was commander of Camp 1418 in Cleveland at the time, and Mike Freeman, who was then the adjutant for the Cleveland and Dahlonega camps .
“Mike and I both had an interest in Gen. Longstreet,” Ragland said in an earlier interview, explaining how the event began. “We have one of the top, key people for the Confederacy ... who resided and was buried in Gainesville. That is just extremely unique.”
The service is held each year “in the hope that ... some may come to understand not only Gen. Longstreet but the cause for which he fought,” he told the crowd Sunday.
“Three things made our Revolutionary War and Confederate heroes similar — all were from the South, all felt their obligations lay with their states and all knew they could likely be executed for taking a stand to fight for their beliefs if their cause was lost,” Ragland said.
The ceremony also featured an honor guard, prayers, a rifle salute and laying of a cigar (a Longstreet favorite) and wreath at the general’s grave.
An open house with refreshments was held afterward at the Piedmont Hotel on Maple Street. The one portion of the original building that remains was later restored and serves as headquarters for the Longstreet Society, a group that seeks to preserve Longstreet’s legacy.
Longstreet, who died on Jan. 2, 1904, was known as Gen. Robert E. Lee’s “Old War Horse.” He lost popularity in the South after the war, as he became a Republican and advocated civil rights for blacks.