A couple of weeks ago, Columbia, SC marked the anniversary of the town’s 1865 burning, called “The Longest Days”, with a mini-history festival at the State Museum. Groups with booths and exhibits included the SC Archives, some reenactors, several other local museums, and of course a few heritage groups. Amidst children walking around in gray homespun and women fanning themselves in hoop skirts, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War was the oddball, conspicuously represented by a younger gentleman in a bright blue and red Zouave outfit. I had been aware of the group’s existence as well as the fact that it was not, like I would have presumed, composed of mainly descendants of the United States Colored Troops, but it was such an interesting scene that I had to go check it out.
In speaking to a rep who was not decked out in period garb, I was surprised to find that the SUVCW focuses not only on Civil War veterans related issues (grave sites, memorials, etc.), but also on honoring veterans of all American wars, including our current troops. In fact, I got the sense that they spend as much time on anything else veteran-related as they do on CW-related items (although that could be wrong, or uniquely local, but it was my sense). Even though honoring all veterans is in the national charter, I still found it especially odd since the local chapter, the only one in South Carolina, is but a few years old, meaning it is not as if there had formed a tradition of reaching out beyond the CW over the years. So then why does the group exist? Could these few individuals not simply help with the V.A. or perhaps form their own veterans’ assistance organization? Why did they feel the need to coalesce under the SUVCW banner?
I believe that the answers lie in a desire to take the timeless call of “Support Our Troops” to a new level. Even though our politics may differ, we understand that those who fight on the front lines for America allow us to have this country, whether they were under General Washington, General Eisenhower, or, in regards to the SUVCW, General Grant. The values of supporting our troops and honoring our veterans span generations for this reason. By working as part of the SUVCW, a heritage group, these values are not only perpetuated, but they are turned into legacies: “What did my ancestors leave for me?” Followed by, “My ancestors allowed me to have this country. What will I do to ensure the same and better for my progeny?” This view of ancestry as legacy fits in perfectly with the traditional goal of parenting, which is to give our children better lives than we had and to teach them to be better people than we were.
I bring this up because of so much recent blogosphere discussion on honoring Civil War ancestors, as I have mentioned and analyzed before. For sure, military ancestry can definitely get complicated when trying to separate why politicians went to war from why an individual fought in that war, especially with Confederates, but I think that the SUVCW serves as a fantastic example of how one can still glean meaningful legacy from generations passed, even if other parts of those ancestors’ lives are either unknown or perhaps less than desirable.