A June 12 article incorrectly identified the author of a poem read at a ceremony at the Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting at Point Lookout, Md. The poem was read by its author, George Herman Coppage, as a tribute to Sidney Lanier, who had been a prisoner at Point Lookout until his release at the end of the Civil War.
The Sons of the Confederate Veterans, whose ancestors fought to break from the United States 122 years ago, are donning the gray uniforms and unfurling once again the Stars and Bars.
It is time, they say, to accept with pride an ancestry they see as having suffered a century of misunderstanding and prejudice. They aim to revise a popular view of history that they believe reduces the contradictions and complicated issues of the Civil War into a simplistic image of Southern bigotry and racism.
Yesterday members representing the five chapters, or camps, formed in Maryland's southern counties since 1979, gathered on the riverbanks of Point Lookout State Park in St. Mary's County to commemorate the 4,000 Confederate soldiers who died in the Union Army prison stockade there between 1863 and 1865.
"It is the Sons' mission to see if we cannot correct some erroneous history," said Forrest Tucker, commander of the Virginia division of the SCV. "People associate the Confederate battle flag to be synonymous with slavery. That's the gravest misconception," he said.
Tucker said only 10 percent of the Confederates owned slaves, and most of the men who took up arms did so to fight against what they believed to be an army of invaders who would force their states to return to a Union whose tariff laws had driven their leaders to secede.
Addressing a contingent in full Confederate regalia, Tucker recalled that the 52,000 prisoners brought to the 16-acre prison by steamship from Virginia were kept winter and summer in a compound of discarded army tents, with one blanket each.
"Through all the suffering they underwent, they stood fast to the principles they felt were just," he said. "Whether they were right or wrong, that is to be honored."
Before the reenactment of a skirmish in which a number of Civil War enthusiasts dressed as Union soldiers participated, a number of the Maryland Sons gathered and talked of their ancestors and other tales from the prison.
George H. Coppage read a poem by Sidney Lanier, who escaped from Point Lookout and walked back to Georgia. And county historian Edwin W. Bietzell told the story of Jane A. Perkins, "a romantic story, really," about a woman who disguised herself as a soldier to follow her sweetheart into battle, and became the only woman held at Point Lookout.
Garth Bowling's great-great-grandfather was one of those entombed beneath the immense stone pillar that marks the burial site just outside the gate of Point Lookout State Park. He led his 4-year-old daughter, Kelly, to the site.
"Your great-great-great-grandpappy's buried here," he told her. They walked to the monument, and Kelly laid Maryland wild flowers beside roses on the grave. With her father's hand guiding hers, she ran her finger over the name of Pvt. Jesse Wiggins.