Charleston ceremony honors black Civil War soldiers, celebrates reconciliation
Is the Civil War finally over in Charleston?
Certainly it’s not over when it comes to remembering the horrors of a war that killed 700,000 Americans on their own soil. The conflict is part of Charleston’s history, and it’s a major factor in the city’s tourist industry.
But there’s a push to put some of the bad memories aside and try for more understanding on both sides.
A Sunday ceremony at The Battery was designed to recognize the sacrifices, emotions and quest for honor on both sides of the war.
The occasion was the dedication of a monument to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-black unit that bravely stormed Confederate outpost Battery Wagner on Morris Island 150 years ago.
Their courage convinced the skeptical Union Army that African Americans could be relied on to fight for their country, according to the program.
A wreath was also placed by the Confederate soldiers’ monument, to reaffirm their sacrifices as well.
“History can be interpreted in many ways,” Charleston City Councilman Blake Hallman told a crowd of about 200 under the limbs of the great oak trees. “A Confederate soldier defending his home, seeing the roof tops blown away ... a white soldier from the North, coming down to fight the scourge of slavery to keep the Union whole ... a black soldier, tired of digging ditches and latrines, said I am just as good as any other soldier. ... At the end of the day they were all Americans, fighting for what they believed in.”
The Rev. John Paul Brown, pastor of Mt. Zion AME Church, prayed that rifts continue to be mended.
The black soldiers of the 54th Infantry worshiped at Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church during Civil War times, and the church on Glebe Street became the first brick building in Charleston that blacks owned, according to the program.
An ensemble from the church performed during the ceremony. Local black musician Lonnie Hamilton played “Amazing Grace.”
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called the occasion “an inclusive, educational, inspirational and unifying experience.”
“We come here tonight not as Southerners or Northerners,” he said. “We come here as Americans.”
Still, the 54th Infantry deserves special recognition for its sacrifice, he said. The members fought for what they believed even though the Union Army wouldn’t offer them the same pay as their white counterparts. To protest that disparity, they fought as volunteers.
Their sacrifice led the Union leaders to increase their recruitment of black soldiers, according to the program.
Re-enactors accompanied Riley as he placed the two wreaths.
The Washington Light Infantry posted the colors during the ceremony.
The ceremony was preceded by music by the 8th Regiment Band of Rome, Ga. Members wear the colors of the North and the South to honor the sacrifices of both sides.
John and Kathy McFadden of James Island were impressed by the spirit of reconciliation.
“We were glad to see the Confederate and the Union together,” John McFadden said. “It’s amazing to think that this was here where all this started 150 years ago. Today we’re in a different place, but we’ve still got a long ways to go. If it can be done here, it can be done anywhere.”
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.