Albert Lee Comer is one of fewer than 200 surviving sons of Confederate soldiers, but it's not such a big deal to him. "I grew up with it," he said.
It's important to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who will induct the 78-year-old retired machinist from Western Maryland into the organization this morning at a public meeting in Gettysburg.
John Millirons, a member of the Sons organization who checked Comer's credentials this year, said: "This is really big for us. After meeting him, I didn't want to wash my hand. I had touched the hand of a man who actually knew a real Confederate soldier."
Comer's father, James J. Comer, rode with Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's famous 33rd brigade. Millirons found out about Comer when Comer's niece, Nancy Lantz, of Ridgeley, W.Va., told him of her Uncle Albert. She had come to Gettysburg for a Civil War reenactment this summer.
Comer will be the only "real son" in the Maryland organization, said Patrick Griffin, chairman of the board for the national organization and a member of Camp William Norris, which Comer will join. Although that camp is headquartered in Darnestown, the group often meets at a private museum in Gettysburg.
Sons Executive Director Maitland Westbrook said the organization was founded in 1896 for the purpose of "honoring the Confederate soldiers and telling the true story of the war."
As excited as Millirons and Griffin and others are at having a son in the Maryland Sons, Comer is decidedly nonchalant. He doesn't fly the Confederate battle flag or espouse the Lost Cause. The American flag has a place next to his front door for all the appropriate holidays.
There is nothing in his neat, one-story frame house in Lavale, Md., that indicates his Southern lineage. Plaques naming him Elk of the Year two different times are the only personal display in his living room that is furnished with a soft peach carpet, lace curtains and comfortable chairs.
When Comer speaks of his father, he likes to tell how the blacksmith and farmer pulled the Shenandoah Valley family through the tough years of the Depression. Comer, born in 1921, was the 15th, and last, child in the family. His father, 74 at the time, died nine years later. Albert Comer's mother was James Comer's second wife, whom he wed about 1900.
If pressed, Albert Comer will tell some of the stories he heard about the war from his father. There was the time his father had come home without leave in April 1862, to check on his family in the small community of Comertown, Va., where the extended family had lived for generations.
"While he was home--I recall this story so vividly--a Union sergeant and eight horsemen came into the yard. The Union sergeant saw we had a horse and some chickens, and he up and told my dad's mother he was going to take them. She pleaded with him not to take them. She said she needed the horse to plow the garden and the chickens were all they had to eat.
"The Union sergeant told his men, 'Go ahead.' My dad was in the kitchen where the Union men couldn't see him and he stuck his rifle out the window. He told the Union sergeant, 'This is pointed right at you. If you take those chickens or horse, you are a dead man.'
"The Union sergeant looked around at his men and said, 'I guess we'd better leave,' and they did."
Comer, who joined the service on June 1, 1861, was 14. By the time he mustered out at the end of the war, according to his service records, he had been given a $50 bonus for capturing a deserter in Luray, Va., and was wounded May 3, 1863, at Chancellorsville, Va., the same battle where Stonewall Jackson was shot and later died of his injuries.
Comer recovered--his son doesn't know what his injuries were--but was taken as a prisoner of war on July 8, 1864, in Harpers Ferry. Sent to Elmira, N.Y., he was later released in a prisoner exchange.
Albert Comer is willing to show the records and photographs to a visitor but it is not the war he wants to talk about. His childhood in the Shenandoah Valley, where neighbors--black and white--helped each other out, is his favorite subject.
He is joining the Sons not because of any particular pride in his father's war record, but because he was asked to join.
"Those fellows are far more excited about this than I am," he said.
CAPTION: Albert Lee Comer, avid golfer and son of a Confederate soldier, is to be inducted into Maryland's chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
CAPTION: Albert Lee Comer is nonchalant about his lineage. His father rode with Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's famous 33rd brigade.
CAPTION: Albert Lee Comer's father, James J. Comer, during the mid-1920s.