Memorial Day services at Shiloh share fields where Confederate, Union troops fought to death

By Cindy Wolff
May 31, 2011

It was easy to forget they were Americans when for so long they were considered the enemy.

Two memorial services were held Monday at Shiloh National Military Park: the first, in the national cemetery built for the Union dead, followed by a smaller one at one of the trenches where Confederate soldiers were buried en masse on the battlefield.

Across the country, American veterans were honored at national cemeteries, including the West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery at 4000 Forest Hill-Irene.

The national cemetery at Shiloh was created in 1866 as a place of honor for the Union soldiers who died in the two-day battle on April 6-7, 1862.

Union soldiers were initially buried in mass trenches, but three years after the battle, their 2,200 bodies were exhumed and interred under separate stones in the national cemetery. Most are identified as numbers because the remains were impossible to identify.

Collierville resident Lee Millar started organizing the Memorial Day tribute to Confederate soldiers 25 years ago.

"I realized that they weren’t being recognized on Memorial Day here at Shiloh," Millar said. "They are Americans too."

"Since Confederate soldiers fought against the federal government, their bodies were not allowed in the cemetery," Millar said. "Their families couldn’t come look for them."

Many died with a slip of paper pinned to the inside of their jacket with their name written on it. The battlefield and cemetery are about 100 miles east of Memphis.

Before the Confederate service Monday, a larger ceremony attended by hundreds sitting on blankets, leaning on trees, clustered in shady spots, honored the more than 3,000 veterans whose service stretches from the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Children dressed in white shirts and khaki pants from the local Baptist church sang the national anthem. Members of Boy Scouts of America Troop 34 passed out programs.

As the midday temperature continued to climb toward the 90s, about a hundred came to the Confederate service, held about a mile or so south along a winding road at one of the trenches.

People slapped at mosquitoes and fanned their sweaty faces as they listened to Collierville resident Dr. E.C. Fields, who was easily the most dapper, if not the hottest, at the event, dressed in a perfectly replicated woolen uniform worn by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

He talked about the Confederates as a formidable foe and how Shiloh, with carnage never seen on the North American continent, convinced him it would be a fight to the death.

"In my memoirs I later wrote that Shiloh was the severest battle fought in the West. … It was after the battle that I came to a field here covered in dead bodies. It was possible to walk from one corner of the field to the other on dead bodies and not have your feet touch the ground."

Memphian Robert Hubbard and his wife, Stephanie, brought three mini-lawn chairs for their three children to sit in. They scooted around an oak tree, chasing the shade, as the afternoon wore on.

"My daughter is in fourth grade, so I thought it was time she started learning about her family’s history," said Hubbard, whose great-great-grandfather survived the Civil War.

His children perked up when it came time for the musket salute. After the first shots, all three poked fingers in their ears. Hubbard was glad.

"That got their attention."

© 2011 Memphis Commercial Appeal.

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