A Confederate Funeral in Charleston, SC

Terry and myself were on our annual holiday in my "other home" the United States. We arrived in Florida and travelled through Georgia to South Carolina, visiting Charleston, for the first time.

We parked the car and walked down one of the many side roads to the centre of the city, and found ourselves outside a Lutheran Church. There were three men dressed in the Confederate uniform of the Southern States of America. We spoke to these men and we were invited to join the funeral service, which was being taken at that moment.

There were 22 small coffins and one of a three year old child situated around the altar, all were covered with the Confederate flag except for the child's coffin, which had a white satin cloth covering it. The service was very moving and sad.

After the service we were invited by a lady we met there who is the President of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, to the re-interment of the 22 men and the young child, which would be taking place the next day. On the day of the funeral it was overcast and grey and we arrived at 10 o'clock at the Battery for the funeral march through the city. There was one carriage drawn by two black plumed horses for each coffin. They were escorted by men in the Confederate grey uniforms, in small units of twelve. At the front of the procession men carried several flags, and marched in time to the drummers and flute players, with their solemn tunes. After the carriages carrying the coffin, came 22 ladies dressed from head to foot in black, with their crinoline skirts swaying in the breeze. Children accompanied these ladies in the same attire.

All along the route people spilled out of their offices and homes, many carrying the Confederate flag, hats were removed and silence prevailed. The walk to the city Magnolia cemetery was four miles, of heavily congested roads; the mounted police halted the traffic in respect.

Arriving at the cemetery a huge bell in the grounds tolled in the silence. There were hundreds of people already awaiting the funeral cortege as it slowly made its way to the Confederate cemetery.

A piper in full kilted attire began to play Amazing Grace on the bagpipes.

The service began with prayers and singing hymns, which included Psalm 23, finishing with the Lords prayer. Everyone sang "Dixie", which was followed by the presentation of the flags.

The twenty-two ladies in black were then presented with the folded Confederate flag and a Magnolia flower, they placed the Magnolias on the coffins, which were laid side by side in a long row.

Men in uniform then fired their Enfield rifles into the air with a deafening sound. The horses reared in fright and then the 21 Gun Artillery Salute began. Pounding away into the silence, people with tears running down their cheeks, it was the most moving experience we have ever had.

Taps was then sounded on the bugle, with the Tattoo being the final part of the service, played by a young boy also in uniform.

The remains of the men were removed from beneath Johnson Hagood Stadium, home of the Citadel Bull Dogs, by archaeologists and volunteers this past summer in a joint project of the Confederate Heritage Trust, The South Carolina Department of Archaeology and the South Carolina Hunley Commission. The Confederate Mariners cemetery dates from the 1860's and contains the bodies of Confederate seamen and marines who died in Charleston during the War Between the States, including the remains of the first crew of the H.1. Hunley, the first submarine to ever sink an enemy warship.

The identity of the child who was exhumed and why he was buried in a military cemetery is unknown. Forensic evidence indicates he was approximately three years old at the time of death. The cause of death could not be determined but was probably due to disease. He was probably the son or brother of one of the sailors he was buried between. His casket was draped with the 'Stainless Banner' the 2nd National flag of the Confederacy. His remains were re-interred between the same two men he was lain to rest with 135 years ago. His grave will be marked with a stone marker appropriate for a child of that period.

Four of the Hunley crew members were found during the exhumation and will be re-interred at Magnolia cemetery at a later date in a plot donated by the family of Horace L Hunley, co-inventor and financier of the submarine. Horace Hunley and the members of the second crew were buried here after a tragic sinking during a practice dive in November 1863. When the submarine is salvaged in the year 2000, the remains of the third crew will also be interred in the Hunley plot with the other heroic submarine pioneers in a funeral service with full military honours.

This is the largest re-interment of Confederate seamen who died during the war since the Ladies Memorial Association returned the bodies of 86 South Carolinians who died at the Battle of Gettysburg to Charleston in July of 1871. The remains of these men rest in the Soldiers ground at Magnolia Cemetery.

Although it was a very sad day for all of us, I think that no one would have missed the opportunity of a lifetime, to witness that day's proceedings, there was not a dry eye anywhere. The strangest feeling was felt by all, it was as if you were actually there a century ago. But perhaps for me, to find the Church by chance and then to be invited to the actual funeral, was overwhelming, because my family, the McKinnons, lost exactly the same number of Confederate soldiers in the War Between the States, some were married, some were not, but all were young men, hardly full grown. There was one remaining Confederate soldier in the family, after the War. And his descendant and I have been in touch. I do have photographs of my remaining McKinnon relation standing with my great grandmother Roxy McKinnon, his adopted sister.

Roxy McKinnon was a full blood Cherokee who was orphaned in 1845 in the Berrien County Indian wars; her father was called Grey Feather. Roxy was also a Medicine woman and worked in and around Statenville, Georgia.

Malcolm and Margaret McKinnon adopted Roxy as a baby and so it was Roxy that lost 22 of her relations in the War Between the States.

Dee Russell.

The funerals took place on 12 November 1999

The above article appeared in the ACWS Newsletter, June 2000