Our History & Our Heritage By Bill Kiefer

My children are grown. But I remember in 1999 travelling to and from a soccer tournament at Miami University of Ohio with my middle son, Stephen. On Sunday afternoon we stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Zanesville for a late lunch. Where we parked I noticed a car next to us loaded with camping gear and it had a window sticker for an organization affiliated with Civil War reenactment. We got a table not far from two young men who were somewhat shaggy in appearance, with long hair and beards. They had on clothing that was not modern, but certainly not military. The pants had obvious patches over tears, and when I say obvious I mean red and yellow patches on brown pants. Their shirts were ill-fitting with ballooning sleeves. Stephen seemed fascinated with the men. I finally asked him what he thought of them and he said he thought that they might be “Bums.” I laughed at his fourteen year old innocence and explained that they were Civil War Reenactors and it being Memorial Day weekend they had probably been at an event. A few years later he went off to one of our local Colleges, W&J. One of his areas of study was History. In his senior year he spent his Spring Break visiting Civil War Battlefields. He introduced me to the book “Confederates in the Attic” by Tony Horwitz which explores ways in which the Civil War was still being remembered if not still being “fought” in Southern States.
Last week I touched upon the fact that there are, located in West Virginia, monuments to commemorate Confederate Soldiers. I am not talking about the memorial or monument at the Hancock County Courthouse, which is a monument dedicated to Hancock County residents who fought to preserve the Union. Monuments to the Confederacy or its Leaders have become a touchy subject in recent years. Some want to destroy them as symbols of oppression. Others claim that they are historic in nature, commemorating brave men who were heroes of the “Lost Cause.” As an attorney who has spent some amount of time studying and teaching History and Constitutional Law, I understand diverging views on this issue. In fact, this week I have to drive from New Manchester to Bethany and back. I won’t count them, but I know that I will see some Confederate Battle flags flying from the front porches of a few of the houses that I will pass on my trip. I will also see a few American Flags flying. I am not sure anymore that the sentiments of the flag flyers are, or are not, the same. We, like much of the US, seem to be a little schizophrenic on the issue of Patriotism these days.
Some of this goes back to our state’s unique history. We were part of Virginia. At the time of the Civil War, the sentiment of citizens to secede and join the Confederacy were much stronger in the Eastern part of Virginia than in the Western part. That led to the formation of West Virginia from the counties where the voters were less inclined to secede. Still it was far from unanimous. When the popular vote on seceding from the United States occurred 53,798 voters went to the polls in the Western Counties. The votes were 34,667 against and 19,121 in favor in those counties which became West Virginia. That is about a 64% to 36% split. Yet, in a number of the Western counties the secession resolution was approved. These were mostly the counties along the border between the two states today. Later, when it came to a vote between remaining part of Virginia and breaking away, in those Counties quite a bit of voter manipulation and frankly fraud and voter oppression occurred. Still it took two years before West Virginia was officially recognized as a state, and admitted to the Union in 1863. The status of Berkeley and Jefferson County as being part of West Virginia, was only finally determined by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1871.
Historians estimate that approximately the same number of soldiers from West Virginia served on each side during the war, about 20,000 to 25,000. One of the first monuments to the Confederate dead was erected in Indian Mound Cemetery in Romney, Hampshire County, in 1867. Not surprising at the time, since during the War Romney itself and Hampshire County were “fiercely Confederate” according to the town’s website. Although the website claims that 125 of the town’s young men were killed in the Civil War this is likely a figure that includes soldiers from nearby as the town’s population, as of the 1860 census, was only 569. The town was a crossroads in that era and changed hands fifty-six times, just a few times fewer than Winchester, Virginia.
The Romney Monument is not a statue topped by a soldier, but rather a twelve foot high column topped by an urn with an inscription below. “The Daughters of Old Hampshire Erect This Tribute of Affection to Her Heroic Sons Who Fell in Defense of Southern Rights.”
What is more unique is that every year since 1866 the town has had a ceremony to honor its Confederate dead. Today the ceremony occurs in early June on what is known as “Hampshire County Confederate Memorial Day.” On that day Civil War re-enactors carrying Confederate Flags march through the town to the cemetery, they wrap the Memorial with a thirty foot garland and encircle the monument with Confederate flags. Such flags and flowers are placed on the graves of Confederate soldiers and there are speeches and a musket volley from the re-enactors.
In the Fall of 2017, in even such a seemingly out of the way place as Romney, the monument was vandalized. So maybe Tony Horwitz was right, in some ways the Civil War is still continuing. West Virginia does have other monuments worth noting, and perhaps debating.