Why We Still Revere Our Ancestors – and Always Will

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I am deeply
honored and privileged to be here today [17 June, 2006] at the
109th Reunion of the Georgia Division of the Sons of Confederate
Veterans, and to be asked to speak before such a dedicated group
of people, many of whom have been working much harder and longer
and more effectively than I have to preserve the heritage and
reputation of our beloved ancestors.

Before I
begin I'd like to emphasize that while I am very proud of my ancestors,
Iu2018m not bragging about anything. I can claim no personal distinction
for their heroism, which reflects what was common among the hopelessly
outnumbered, outsupplied but not outfought Confederate troops,
something in which we all take much pride.

Our ancestors
often ran low on food, ammunition, and other supplies, but never
on courage.

I write
and talk about all this because I am proud of our heritage and
committed to helping keep its memory alive and honored, amidst
the ongoing campaign to rewrite history and discredit the valor
and honor of the Confederate soldiers and their Cause. I know
that no one here today needs educating on this issue.

It's been
141 years since General Sherman burned Columbia, South Carolina
and sent a battle-hardened military unit towards nearby Sumter,
presumably to do the same. My then 16-year-old great grandfather,
Andrew Jackson Moses, rode out to defend his hometown, along with
some other teenagers, invalids, old men, and the disabled and
wounded from the local hospital.

Jack kept
running away from school to join the Confederate army, so they
finally let him join up and act as a courier on horseback. His
final mission was as hopeless as it was valiant, but the rag-tag
group of volunteers did manage to hold off the experienced "Potter's
Raiders" for over an hour before being overwhelmed by a vastly
superior force.

Shortly after
this engagement, Jack's eldest brother, Joshua Lazarus Moses,
was killed in the War's last big engagement. Josh had been in
the thick of the shooting when Fort Sumter was attacked at the
beginning of the War, and was wounded in the war's first major
battle (First Manassas or Bull Run). He was killed at Fort Blakeley,
Alabama, commanding the last guns firing in defense of Mobile.
Josh was shot down a few hours after Lee surrendered, his unit
outnumbered 12 to l, in a battle in which one brother was wounded
and another captured.

I am proud
to be a member of the Dixon-Lee-Moses SCV Camp in Mobile, named
in part after Josh.

The fifth
Moses bother, Isaac Harby Moses, who began the War as a Citadel
cadet, was fighting with Wade Hampton's cavalry, commanding his
company since all of the officers had been killed or wounded.
His Mother wrote very proudly that after the Battle of Bentonville,
North Carolina, he rode home from the War, never having surrendered
to anyone.

The five
Moses brothers were among the 3,000 or so Jewish Confederates,
part of an amazingly diverse army that also included Native Americans,
Hispanics, Scotch, Irish, Germans, Italians, even Blacks, all
fighting for a common purpose, to throw back the invasion from
the North.

These Confederates
showed incredible courage and valor in fighting not for slavery,
as is so often said, but for their country, their families, and
to save their own lives.

Indeed, slavery
and other political issues were probably the furthest thing from
their minds as they fought desperately against an invading army
that was trying, with great success, to kill them, burn their
homes, and destroy their society.

Yet, those
of us who take pride in our ancestors' bravery are constantly
portrayed in the press as ignorant and intolerant bigots, vilified
as defenders of slavery, and derided as living in a past that
never really existed.

I know this
first hand, because when the battle over Georgia's flag was raging
a few years ago, I wrote for the Atlanta Journal Constitution
a mild mannered article trying to explain why so many Georgians
take pride in their ancestors and the symbols & flags they
fought under.

I tried to
explain that we revere our ancestors because, against overwhelming
odds, they fought on, often hungry, cold, sick, wounded, or shoeless
to protect their homeland from an often cruel invader.

In response,
the newspaper published two letters to the editor:

One said
that my statements "were reminiscent of neo-Nazi apologists
denying the Holocaust." The other letter accused me of defending
slavery and "a treasonous movement" called the Confederacy.

My then 84-year-old
Mother asked me, "please wait until I die before you write
any more articles."

But none
of these things should be surprising… In a society where any form
of filth or pornography or violence is acceptable in movies and
TV, but any public mention of religion is almost unheard of and
the public display of it largely outlawed.

The amazing
thing is that the Atlanta newspapers published my article at all,
something for which I'll always be grateful.

Here in Gainesville,
not far from the home of General James Longstreet, under whom
my ancestor Major Raphael Jacob Moses served as chief commissary
officer, is a good place to talk about how that War really was
fought.

Major Moses
is known as "the father of Georgia's peach industry,"
and is most famous for having attended the Confederate Government's
last meeting, and carrying out its Last Order.

As General
James Longstreet’s chief commissary officer, Major Moses participated
in many of the major battles in the East, and was responsible
for supplying and feeding an army of up to 54,000 troops, including
porters and other non-combatants.

General
Lee had forbidden him from entering private homes in search of
supplies in raids into Union territory (such as the incursions
into Pennsylvania), even when food and other provisions were in
painfully short supply, and his soldiers were suffering greatly
from this lack of supplies.

Often while
seizing supplies, Moses encountered considerable hostility and
abuse from the local women, which he always endured in good humor,
and it became a source of much teasing from his fellow officers.

Moses always
acted honorably, compassionately, and as a gentleman. Once, when
a distraught woman approached Moses and pleaded for the return
of her pet heifer that had been caught up in a cattle seizure,
he graciously gave the cow back to her.

[Moses' three
sons also fought for the South, and one was killed at Seven Pines
in May, 1862 after performing acts of amazing valor -- Lt. Albert
Moses Luria, at age 19, the first Jewish Confederate to fall in
battle. His first cousin, Josh Moses, killed at mobile, was the
last.]

The contrast
is striking between the humane Confederate policies and those
of the North, wherein Union generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan
regularly burned and looted homes, farms, courthouses, churches,
libraries, and entire cities full of civilians, such as Atlanta
and Columbia, South Carolina, and most everything of value in
between. Some typical Union actions included:

  • Ordering
    the destruction of an entire agricultural area to deny the enemy
    support (the Shenandoah Valley, 5 August, 1864).
  • Overseeing
    the complete destruction of defenseless Southern cities, and
    conducting such warfare against unarmed women and children (e.g.,
    the razing of Meridien, and other cities in Mississippi, spring,
    1863).

And, most
terrible of all, was the mass murder, a virtual genocide, of Native
People, such as the Plains Indians in 1865–66. The victims
were mainly helpless old men, women, and children in their villages,
eliminated to make land available for the western railroads

What the
famous Civil War author and television producer, that little twerp
Ken Burns, and other eminent historians euphemistically call “the
Indian Wars,” was carried out by many of the same Union officers
who led the war against the South — Sherman, Grant, Sheridan,
Custer, and other leading commanders.

Some of the
most impressive stories of the War concern the role of Southern
women in these perilous and trying times.

One of my
ancestors of whom I'm most proud is my great great grandmother,
Octavia Harby Moses, who was a leader in Sumter, S.C. in supporting
the troops from the homefront, and I think she typifies many of
the Southern women who did so much to help the war effort.

Octavia lost
her Mother at age four, and married Andrew Jackson Moses, Sr.,
at age 16, bearing 17 children (three of whom died in infancy),
and outliving most of them. She was very active on the Homefront
in support of the Confederacy. As she put it, "When the War
broke out, …like every other Southern woman, I immediately began
work for the soldiers":

I organized
a sewing society, to cut and make garments for them. Many boxes
of clothes and provisions were sent off, not only to my own
sons, but to any others who needed them. I made it a point to
try and meet every train that brought soldiers through our town,
and, with others, frequently walked from my home, sometimes
at two o'clock in the morning, to take food to our men as they
passed through. We always greeted them with the wildest enthusiasm,
and no thought of defeat ever entered our minds.

During
all this time, I was working unceasingly for our soldiers —
getting up entertainments [meetings] to furnish means and, like
other women, I cut up my carpets and piano cover for them, sent
them blankets, etc… Whenever the boys were fortunate enough
to get home on short furloughs, they were the guests of the
town — everybody feted them and nothing was too much to do in
their honor.

Octavia's
daughter Rebecca adds that "For our own soldiers, she felt
that nothing she could do would be too much — they deserved all
that was possible":

With young
children clustering round her knees, with her home filled with
aged and helpless relatives who had refugeed there from Charleston
and other points, she yet found time to work unceasingly for
"the men behind the guns."

Octavia stressed
that, considering the widespread suffering so prevalent throughout
the South, she did not consider her sacrifices to be a hardship,
writing that "I have always said that I knew no privations
during the War."

"The
History of Sumter County" related how "The women of
Stateburg and Sumter formed themselves into the Soldier's Relief
Associations…":

They knitted
socks, ravelled lint for dressing wounds, rolled bandages, and
sent boxes of supplies to the larger centers of Charleston and
Columbia…At the depot in Sumter, the ladies set up a long table
beside the tracks, where in fair weather, hot food was served
to soldiers on the crowded troop trains passing through. In
bad weather, they used the dining-room of the Rev Noah Graham's
hotel. Later in the war, when hurrying soldiers did not have
time to stop, the ladies handed out packaged lunches, while
their little daughters filled the canteens with fresh water.
Even in the small hours after midnight, Mrs. Octavia Moses and
other devoted women would walk to the depot, taking food for
the soldiers.

With provisions
in short supply, "the busy women of Sumter," doing all
they could to support the war effort, "stitched by hand the
garments for their families as well as for the soldiers. They
made imitation coffee from okra seeds and parched peanuts, and
dim, evil-smelling candles from tallow and myrtle berries. They
devised hats from corn shucks, and new dresses from old window
curtains. They sent their silver to the Confederate government,
the church bells to the foundries to be cast into cannon, and
cut their carpets into blankets for the soldiers. They held fairs
and bazaars to raise money for the various war activities."

When hospitals
were established in Sumter, Octavia writes, "Our ladies,
of course, took immediate charge, and the soldiers were fed and
nursed with all the means of our command, and all the tenderness
of Southern women."

She also
showed compassion for the Union troops who had been taken prisoner:
"When I heard that the Northern prisoners would be brought
through our town and that they were nearly in a starving condition,
I immediately exerted myself to obtain a large quantity of provisions…to
give to them…"

After the
war, she devoted her life to memorializing “The Lost Cause,” and
in 1869 was elected president of the “Ladies Monumental Association."
Succeeding her in her crusade was her eldest daughter Rebecca,
who wrote that "Daughters and grand daughters were all taught
by her that this was a sacred duty."

In 1903,
at the age of 80, Octavia wrote a summary of her memoirs, describing
the family’s experiences during the war, concluding with the paragraph,
“the rest of the miserable story, through the days of Reconstruction,
need not be told. We suffered, as others did, and endured as best
we could.”

How can you
not take pride in people like that!

And how can
we not undertake the "sacred duty" to continue to speak
of our ancestors' sacrifices and valor?

And, you
know, Southerners have not changed much since then, especially
the women, who can still be as tough or tender as the situation
requires. They are amazing creatures.

I am very
proud to be a Southerner. I have great pride in our famous culture
of good manners, courtesy, patriotism, and especially our warm
hospitality. Stubbornness may also be part of that culture. And
if you're gonna be in this movement, you gotta be pretty stubborn.

We have many
colorful characters — perhaps an overabundance – we may even
have a few here today. And there are countless famous writers,
soldiers, and political leaders who could only have come out of
the South.

So what if
a lot of us think Elvis is still alive and spot him at 7/11's
from time to time?

But the South
is changing, not always for the better. And I give thanks that
there are a few Atlanta restaurants left, besides the Waffle House,
that still serve grits. And that there are people like you all
who will not let our ancestors be slandered or forgotten.

So as Faulkner
said of the South, the past is not dead, sometimes it's not even
past.

Yes, we are
stubborn, and so we will never give up on honoring our ancestors,
remembering their valor, recognizing their sacrifices, defending
our heritage, and insisting that The Truth be known.

It may have
been a Lost Cause, but it was an honorable one, and no matter
how hard and frustrating it is, we must never let that be forgotten.

Thank you
for all you all are doing to keep the flames of truth alive, and
for allowing me the honor of being with you today.

June
19, 2006

Lewis
Regenstein [send him
mail]
, a Native Atlantan, is descended on his Mother's side
from the Moses family of Georgia and South Carolina, whose patriarch,
Myer Moses, participated in the American Revolution. Almost three
dozen members of the extended family fought for the Confederacy,
and participated in most of the major battles and campaigns of the
War. A score of them, largely teenagers, died in defense of their
homeland, and included the first and last Confederate Jews to fall
in battle.

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