I had passed the little cemetery thousands of times. Each time I had told myself that one day I would take time to go in and take a look, to find out who the people were that were buried there and what era they were from and how they came to be buried together -- no more than a dozen stones marking their grave.
Wednesday I finally took time to stop, although I did so at my own peril. I had to pull off on the side of the road and take my life into my own hands crossing the busy thoroughfare that was undoubtedly a dirt road when those poor souls who were buried in the tiny cemetery had gone on to their final rewards.
It was worth the effort.
I discovered that the place in question was a family cemetery which was the final resting place for two generations of the Veal family. I know some Veals but have no idea if there is any connection. Most of the folks buried there were born between the early 1800s and the 1880s and were remembered not by their names but by their initials -- and their relationship to the patriarch of the Veal family.
There were several small gravestones bearing the names of infants who were born and died in the same calendar year, some after mere days of life. There were also some graves marked only by natural stone, not engraved markers -- and if a name had ever been scratched on those rocks, it had long since been erased by a century-and-a-half of rain and erosion.
One grave held the remains of A. V. Veal, born on April 25, 1924, and married to a woman 20 years his junior, according to the headstone beside his. I noticed his grave because a neatly folded Confederate flag lay next to his marker, which told me that in 1862, most likely, at the age of 38, this particular member of the Veal clan left his home in the North Georgia Piedmont and went off to fight for the South in what he perceived to be an invasion by a foreign army and an all-out assault on his liberty and his way-of-life.
To speak of such values as valor and freedom and independence and courage and bravery in conjunction with the recent unpleasantness between the North and South is politically incorrect these days. Anyone who does so must assuredly be a racist and an ignorant redneck who is still trying to fight the war and would return the American South to the days of cotton fields and chattel slavery if given half-a-chance, because everybody knows that slavery was the only issue involved in the war.
Except it wasn't.
Now I won't pretend that any other issues between the two sections of the nation could not have been settled without bloodshed. And I will not pretend that slavery wasn't the key political issue that drove the nation to such a deadly division. But I also won't pretend that the great majority of those who fought for the South were not, in their minds, following the advice of Thomas Jefferson, as laid out in the Declaration of Independence:
"That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it."
I am certain that Mr. Veal was like the old private in the Confederate Army that was captured at the Battle of Resaca. When a Union officer asked him why he was fighting against the United States Army, the old fellow was said to have scratched his head before replying, "Well, I reckon because y'all are down here."
This weekend many Georgians will be remembering Confederate Memorial Day. They won't be attempting to repeal civil rights laws or reinstate slavery. They will be paying homage to ancestors who were brave enough to stand up against authority and fight for their right to choose their own form of government. Yes, that form of government condoned the enslaving of an entire class of people, but so did the United States government for four score and nine years of its existence. We still celebrate the Fourth of July.
The next time you are lucky enough to be passing by the UGA arch on Broad Street in Athens, take a look at the historical marker behind it. It states that "During the War for Southern Independence, most UGA students left school to join the Confederate Army."
That's why A. V. Veal left home in 1862 and that's what is being honored this weekend, no matter how badly some revisionists wish it weren't.Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.