CHARLESTON, S.C. — Confederate Memorial Day was celebrated Tuesday in the state where the Civil War began amid the mournful strains of "Taps," the crack of rifle salutes and flags adorning the graves of the Southern dead.
In South Carolina it was also a holiday for state workers —- something that has stirred controversy for more than a decade — and the General Assembly recessed. But only about a quarter of the state's counties observe the day with a holiday and no school districts were closed.
May 10 is the day when iconic Southern Gen. Stonewall Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson died in 1863 after he was wounded by Southern troops at Chancellorsville. Ironically, it's also the day when Union troops finally captured fleeing Southern President Jefferson Davis in Georgia in 1865 after the war ended.
Early Tuesday, Carolyn Slay and Jane Freeman placed flags on Southern graves in the Soldiers Ground at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. The United Daughters of the Confederacy planned a memorial program later in the day.
"We're honoring them for standing up for their rights and defending their homeland," Slay, 69, said. "It's very special to us and ingrained in us."
"To tell the true story of the South is one of our goals," Freeman added. "Since the North won, the events kind of got swung to one side."
A short while later, across the Cooper River in Mount Pleasant, three Confederate re-enactors fired a rifle salute. Later a bugler sounded "Taps" at a ceremony at a small Confederate graveyard.
A roll of those who died in the war from the surrounding area was read and the group of about 30 people prayed.
One prayer thanked God for Confederate history and "for the inspiring reflection that, despite its disappointments and sorrows, it proclaims for us, to all the world, that we came through its years of trials and struggle with our battered shields pure; our character as a patriotic and courageous people untarnished."
At the end of the brief service, the attendees sang "Dixie."
"We honor our ancestors and that's why we're here," said Herb Antley, the chaplain of the local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He said people are still interested in such events.
"It's just not as pronounced as it used to be. When I was a young boy schools were out on Confederate Memorial Day and they are not now. But it is a state holiday," he said. "We are happy there are people who care. I have many ancestors who fought in the war — all four of my great-grandfathers."
Dot Scott, the president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she has no problem with people celebrating their Confederate heritage. But, she said, it shouldn't be a state holiday.
The Post and Courier reported Tuesday that the holiday costs taxpayers $10 million.
Confederate Memorial Day became an official state holiday in 2000 as part of a compromise to also make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday. South Carolina was the last state to recognize King Day.
"Lumping the Confederate holiday with King Day was a bad choice. It was something the NAACP did not endorse and did not sanction," Scott said, adding even today the group would not today trade off the King holiday for Confederate Memorial Day.
"It shouldn't be a state-supported holiday," she said.
Associated Press Writer Seanna Adcox in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.
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