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Confederate Memorial Day ceremony honors veterans
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, 2nd Brigade, fire a 21-gun salute during the Confederate Memorial Day commemoration Sunday at Redwine United Methodist Church. - photo by Tom Reed

A crowd packed Redwine United Methodist Church in South Hall on Sunday for a ceremony remembering Confederate veterans and honoring their descendants.

The Gen. James Longstreet Chapter 46 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the annual event, held for the 85th year at the church where at least eight Civil War veterans are buried and where Confederates gathered before going off for training.

Music was a big part of the program, as the audience, led by re-enactor Ralph Mills, sang patriotic songs and watched as others performed.

The UDC also presented a military service award to J.C. Turk, a World War II veteran whose ancestor served in the 27th Georgia Infantry during the Civil War. His sister, Virginia Looper, accepted the award on his behalf.

The group also recognized Mary “Mamie” Atkinson with a 50-year membership pin.

Richard Pilcher, president of The Longstreet Society, was the featured speaker, talking mainly about the Piedmont Hotel, which was run by Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet.

After the war, Longstreet settled and lived out his life in Gainesville.

Pilcher talked about the guests who visited the hotel, including Woodrow Wilson, whose wife gave birth to a daughter there, before he became U.S. president.

Only the ground floor of the hotel remains, and it has been restored. The Longstreet Society now maintains and operates the building, which is open to visitors.

“When I walk in there, I can feel (the history),” Pilcher said. “I can feel those people walking down the halls. I can almost hear their voices.”

After the ceremony inside the church, the audience went outside to the cemetery.

Confederate re-enactors with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, 2nd Brigade, called the roll of the soldiers, with men standing in the cemetery to represent the veterans. One by one, women dressed in long gowns of the era, escorted by a re-enactor, laid red roses on the graves.

The soldiers then took up arms and fired a 21-gun salute.

Kimberly Wright, the UDC chapter president, said the group has been holding Confederate Memorial Day ceremonies since its founding in 1896.

Redwine is “very, very gracious to us and are appreciate of the heritage of the church,” she said of the group’s longtime host.

“The (soldiers) who left from Hall County mustered here and left from here, and so, this was like a recruiting station, as we have today.”

She said more Confederate veterans could be buried in the church cemetery.

“We are in the process of researching the service (of others),” Wright said.

The UDC considers Confederate Memorial Day a high point of its year, with regard given to veterans who fought nobly for the South and in later wars as part of the restored union.

“(We’re) taking a day to honor them publicly in a time when it’s not exactly viewed as the right thing to do,” Wright said.