Set in Stone
The Atlantic has an essay up today that begins with the shrill headline, “You Won’t Believe What the Government Spends on Confederate Graves,” and carries that tone all the way through. The essay includes some useful data on the Veteran Administration’s expenditures on markers for Civil War veterans (about 60% of which goes to Confederate stones), but otherwise contains little new information. Naturally it contains quotes from both Jamie Malanowski, who recently called for the renaming of U.S. military installations named for Confederate generals, and the peripatetic Ed Sebesta, who’s always good for a provocative line or two about “neo-Confederates.”
The article, though, buries what I think is the real scandal here. It’s not the amount of money involved (which is very small by government standards), nor that the federal government is providing the stones, which is codified by federal law. Rather, it’s this foolishness:
Years later, she had assembled a long list of names detailing who had been interred there and wanted to order headstones from the VA to mark their graves. There was one problem, though, she told me in 2003: Hallman knew who was buried in the cemetery, but she didn’t know which bodies were in which graves. Nevertheless, Hallman ordered headstones, and relied on fellow Confederate heritage activists — like Commander Jack Grubb of the Thomaston SCV camp in Southeast Georgia — to place them. Grubb told me in 2003 that his camp alone had planted more than 1,000 headstones over at least 15 years. But the work came to halt when the VA found out Hallman didn’t actually know the identities of the bodies interred in the graves she was marking with VA-provided headstones.
My emphasis. Placing headstones more-or-less randomly in a cemetery, where they may or may not be within a hundred yards of the actual interment of the person they ostensibly honor, pretty much makes a mockery of the point of a cemetery in the first place. It is effectively creating a fake grave. Given that the whole purpose of the VA headstone program is explicitly to provide markers for otherwise unmarked graves, it amounts to fraud for heritage advocates to obtain these markers, and then place them in whatever convenient, otherwise unoccupied spot they can find.
I suspect this happens quite a bit more often than heritage organizers let on, especially in small cemeteries where detailed interment records are lacking. The goal for folks like Linda Hallman and Jack Grubb really does seem to be less about marking actual graves than to have an opportunity for a ceremony to salute the Confederacy, underwritten by the taxpayers. The individual soldiers being so “honored” merely provide the excuse. How else to explain the SCV/UDC’s creation of a faux cemetery in Pulaski, Tennessee, with granite headstones — in this case, paid for with private funds — inscribed with the names of nineteen “black Confederates,” not a single one of whom is actually buried there?
Both present-day taxpayers and long-dead Civil War veterans deserve more respect from the “heritage” crowd.