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ENS - Charleston parish plays key role in burial of Confederate
Worldwide Faith News <email@example.com>
Tue, 20 Apr 2004 14:36:57 -0700
Charleston parish plays key role in burial of Confederate submarine crew
by E. T. Malone Jr.
[Episcopal News Service] Thousands of visitors from around the world
crowded historic Charleston, South Carolina, for the colorful and
much-anticipated burial April 17 of the crew of the Confederate submarine
H. L. Hunley, which vanished in 1864 after sinking a Union ship blockading
that city's harbor.
"We want to give these men the burial that fate denied them," declared
Friends of the Hunley Commission chairman Glenn McConnell, speaking to the
massed troops and thousands of onlookers at the cemetery.
McConnell, president pro tem of the South Carolina State Senate, is a
parishioner at Charleston's Church of the Holy Communion.
And it is perhaps for this reason that it was Holy Communion, rather than
the larger and better-known historic downtown Episcopal parishes of St.
Michael's and St. Philip's, that became most involved in Hunley-related
Nearly 10,000 uniformed Civil War re-enactors marched from the Battery in
Charleston Harbor in a 4.5-mile procession to Magnolia Cemetery, with the
coffins of the eight sailors riding on horse-drawn caissons. A number of
the marchers wore Confederate Navy uniforms, and several hundred of them
were women in 19th-century black mourning outfits.
Planners of the event labored intently to maintain the dignity of the
week-long schedule of lectures, concerts, exhibits, and religious services
that culminated in the Saturday burial. The crew lay in state on the U.S.
Navy aircraft carrier Yorktown and in four churches in the city.
Holy Communion, an Anglo-Catholic style parish with a vibrant urban
outreach program in the racially mixed west side of downtown Charleston,
was where the eight coffins of the Hunley crew lay in state all day on
Friday. Lined up in the crossing of the church, each coffin was draped with
the ensign of the Confederate Navy. Throughout the day, an honor guard of
re-enactors, who stood at attention in the sanctuary, was changed every 15
"There was a steady stream of people passing through to view the coffins,
from the time we opened the doors at 9 a.m. until we closed at five
o'clock. The South Carolina Highway Patrol told me that they estimated the
numbers had reached 3,000 by two in the afternoon," said the Rev. M. Dow
Sanderson, rector of Holy Communion. He said that by 5 p.m. the estimate of
visitors was close to 5,000.
The doors were shut and then re-opened two hours later for a solemn requiem
mass, attended by 500 persons. Another one hundred people were turned away
after all the seats were filled inside. Sanderson preached a homily for the
service, which was attended by many who were visitors to the city and not
familiar with the liturgy of the church, or its music, processions,
acolytes, and billowing incense.
Eventually, the sonorous dirges of the choir's Missa pro Defunctis
transported one portly young trooper into dreamland, and he slumped
slightly forward, his chin upon his chest. Two bonnet and
homespun-dress-clad young Rebel ladies, unable to endure a more extended
dose of Anglo-Catholicism, crept off the rear pews frowning and mumbling
out the back door when the Communion of the Faithful had hardly gotten
"I guess this was 'shock and awe' for the Baptists," noted one parishioner,
as he watched them slip away.
Others, including a group of women from a Church of Christ congregation in
rural South Carolina, echoed his sentiments, expressing their satisfaction
with the respectful and reverent tone of the liturgy.
Sanderson, who also read the Committal service Saturday at the graveside,
said he thought his church's involvement in the burial was entirely
He said that Senator McConnell approached him more than two years ago about
hosting the current funeral at Holy Communion. "We were willing to do it,
very happy to do it, and I think that all of us have been rather
overwhelmed by the numbers of people who have come. When I got here this
morning at six o'clock there were already people in the parking lot."
When asked why Charleston was attaching so much importance to this event,
Sanderson replied, "It's important on several levels. There is the
historical level, and regardless of what one's politics are, how amazing to
be able to bury one hundred and something years after the event, the last
eight persons from the Civil War era. This would, I imagine, never happen
again. And it's a link with history that we can see and be a part of in a
tangible way that most people have only imagined through reading history
Sanderson said the religious affiliations of the long-dead crew were unknown.
Paying respects to pioneers
The drama of the rediscovery of the Hunley, its raising in 2000 from the
ocean floor, and subsequent scientific work in preservation of the craft
and forensic examination of the human remains aboard have been documented
in a book, a film, and frequent press stories. The submarine has been
housed in the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in the old Charleston Navy
Yard, with part of the research funded by the National Geographic Society.
The Hunley, an experimental craft, was a daring creation for its day. Its
first two volunteer crews drowned in 1863. The second of these, whose
bodies were found during construction work on the campus of South
Carolina's military college, The Citadel, were also buried in a service
from Holy Communion Church only about five years ago. Now, all three of the
crews rest alongside each other under a massive old live oak draped with
Spanish moss, in a secluded area of Magnolia Cemetery. Bringing them
together was a long-term goal of the Hunley Commission.
The Rev. William Willoughby III, rector of the Parish of Saint Paul the
Apostle in Savannah, said that he had come because a parishioner of his,
Jamie Downs, had done much of the forensic work on the human remains.
"All we need is the Flying Wallendas," intoned Willoughby, who thought that
the week had become too much of a circus. "But sometimes, also, the
political correctness gets too crazy, and I say that as one who is both a
political liberal and a liberal Catholic," he added.
Henry Kidd of Colonial Heights, Virginia, a tall, erect man with curled
mustache who was clad in a Confederate officer's uniform with white gloves,
sat attentively on a back pew near a cluster of blue and white-garbed North
Carolina re-enactor soldiers and women dressed in period clothing.
"I came from Virginia to say good-bye to these men, and I appreciate the
great dignity that Holy Communion provided for this service," Kidd
commented. Virginia Division Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans,
Kidd created a design for a medal of honor, actually authorized during the
Civil War by the Confederate government but never struck, which was on
display in the narthex of the church. Eight of the medals rested on eight
purple satin pillows. They were later carried in the funeral procession and
presented to descendants of the crew and representatives of their families
at the cemetery.
One visitor, John Lambert of Spottsylvania, Virginia, said, "I came to pay
my respects to a very brave crew, pioneers in their own time. As of right
now there are people from both the North and South who have a passion for
this war and for the men who fought and died. Whatever we can do to pay
tribute to them and to keep history alive is worthwhile.
"I see these men as heroes and defenders of their new-formed country in
their day," he added. "They believed in states' rights, and I do too, but
if this was a crew from a Union ironclad, like the Monitor, and they were
having a funeral for them up North, I'd go there too, as much as I hate to
go up North," he said.
Lambert, formerly of Clinton, North Carolina, re-enacts with the 1st North
Carolina Volunteers, 11th N.C. State Troops. In his view, the Civil War was
a second war of independence, in which the South attempted to fight off a
foreign invader. For Lambert it was "The War of Northern Aggression."
Remembering a lesson learned
"A few people have tried to create a sense of protest," said Sanderson, in
response to a question, "but there really has been none. A friend of mine
is the Rev. Joe Darby, an AME pastor here in town who is the vice-president
of the state chapter of the NAACP. Someone asked him if there was to be a
protest, and he said, 'No. We don't protest funerals.' So there's just not
a willingness to play that game."
Sanderson pointed out that Holy Communion in February hosted the annual
memorial mass for the last children sold into slavery in Charleston. He
said Walter Rhett, the organizer of that event, and a member of St.
Michael's Episcopal Church, had commented to the press that it was
appropriate that the same parish would also be later on burying the Hunley
"There are parallel issues," said Sanderson. "The African-American
community wants to remember. People who celebrate their heritage, all of
these re-enactors, want to remember. But I don't think anyone wants to
remember and stay entrenched. They want to remember as a lesson learned,
ways that God has healed. No one wants to go back to those oppressive days.
We give thanks to God that that's put behind us. All the while we realize
that injustice is still part of our everyday lives. There's still much,
much work to do. But, goodness, how far we've come."
During the war, the dioceses of the Southern states left the national
church and formed the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States
of America. The organization continued to exist after the war was over, and
it actually held a General Convention in the fall of 1865. Within a few
years all the Southern dioceses rejoined the national church, but some
scholars maintain that the Confederate Episcopal Church was never
Sanderson said that Holy Communion's first rector, Anthony Toomer Porter,
who had been a chaplain in the Confederate Army, after the war started a
school for black children in Charleston. When he visited the North to raise
money for the school, he addressed a hostile congregation at Grace Church
in Brooklyn by announcing from the pulpit, "I am Joseph, your brother."
Hearts were melted, the money was raised, the school was built.
The Church of the Holy Communion has a long tradition, Sanderson said.
"Like all Anglo-Catholic parishes, I think, you see the truth of the
Incarnation in the Eucharist, which leads you to see the truth of the
Incarnation in the oppressed. We have a heart to serve our neighborhood,
which we attempt to do in a number of ways. Most all of the Anglo-Catholic
parishes that I know of have been on the fringe of the city, not down on
the corner of Meeting and Broad."
Spirit of graciousness
The city of Charleston did, indeed, seem to indulge on this sunny, balmy
late spring day in a spirit of graciousness.
Darby, the NAACP official, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying,
"I'm not worried about dead Confederates. It's the live ones in the
Legislature that worry me."
As it was time for the procession to begin at the Battery, a small plane
droned overhead, trailing behind it a huge Confederate battle flag. People
walking from Holy Communion on Ashley Street eastward would have passed a
small YMCA with a mural painted on its window of a black and white child
together, with the caption "Dr. King's Dream."
Most African-Americans stayed away from the parade route along East Bay
Street, but three workmen taking a break in the shade about three blocks
west ventured a few opinions.
Martin Reed said, "I don't see any big deal about, if you ask me. I'm not
upset about it, but I don't see the big deal about it either."
David Hutchinson added, "Personally, I don't have a problem with it."
A third man, Frank Lassiter, agreed. "It don't bother me one way or the
other, just as long as they don't fence us again. If they fence us again,
they'll be real something wrong!"
A few blocks away, a cab driver, Eric Thompson, who moved to Charleston
from New York about six years ago, said that he had not experienced any
particular racial discrimination since his arrival. "I wonder whether it
might not have been better, though, not to disturb the men, but just to
leave them there in their underwater grave," he observed.
Out at the cemetery, hot, tired, and thirsty after the long march from the
Battery, a group of re-enactors from the 24th Georgia took a break near the
speakers' platform as the coffins were unloaded from the caissons. One
middle-aged uniformed man slept on the ground as his teen-aged son cast
occasional concerned glances toward him. Greg Haines told a reporter that
these men were from northeast Georgia. His own great-grandfather had fought
for the 15th Georgia at Gettysburg, he said. "All of these men out here,
this means a lot to us to be here, to honor our ancestors," he said,
relating how he had recently seen for the first time the flag of his
great-grandfather's unit at the state capitol in Atlanta, where it had been
returned after the war by Pennsylvania soldiers. Tears came into his eyes.
Event 'spans the differences'
As the festivities began to wind down, Charleston businessman Warren Lasch,
sparkplug of the Hunley Commission, addressed the people from the platform.
"The Hunley belongs to all of us," said the Ohio native. "We all have an
obligation to honor the achievements of those who came before us. This
event spans the differences between North and South. These men taught us
about honor, courage, and determination. Today the remains of these men
will be committed to the earth, but their spirit will live."
After the interment, after the firing of rifle and cannon salutes, after
prayers were said and roses cast into the grave, the multitude began to
drift away. The thousands of troops began marching off through the winding,
sandy paths, past weathered tombstones under ancient oaks, a soft breeze
moving the Spanish moss.
A regimental brass band that had been playing funeral music all of a sudden
struck up "Dixie," and the departing crowds came alive, shouting and
whooping, waving their hats. The marching men yelled "Hurrah" and gave out
Here and there one could see a plainly-clad soldier trudging along, with
wife and children in modern dress trailing after or beside him.
"Did you have a good time, Daddy?" a small girl asked.
"Yes, I did," the man replied, hesitating. "I had a real good time."
--The Rev. Canon E. T. Malone Jr. is a free-lance writer who lives in
Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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