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United Daughters of the Confederacy remember Confederate soldiers with dedication of iron crosses at Oak Hill Cemetery

Hannah Swayze • May 20, 2018 at 5:45 PM

The Johnson City Chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy held a dedication ceremony Saturday afternoon to mark the installation of new Southern Crosses to honor the memory of 62 Confederate soldiers buried in Oak Hill Cemetery.

"Our chapter began in 1904 and in 1906 we bought 40 plots here in this cemetery because the Confederate veterans could not be buried at the VA,"  Katie Walker, former president of the local United Daughters of the Confederacy, said.

Walker said that while she did not have relatives buried in the cemetery located in downtown Johnson City, "it's just a way to honor these Confederate veterans."

The crosses dedicated in the ceremony were replicas of the original iron Southern Crosses of Honor that rested on several the graves, a symbol awarded to men who served for the South during the Civil War by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 

During the ceremony, the United Daughters of the Confederacy were joined by a color guard provided by the Johnson City Chapter of the Sons of the Confederacy. A "Poem of Remembrance" was read and all 62 of the men's names were announced, accompanied by the ringing of a bell.  A crowd of about 30 remained silent and solemn while a member of the color guard played "Taps" on a lone trumpet.

Allen Jackson, a historian with the Johnson City/Washington County Veterans Memorial Foundation, was present at the ceremony to visit a relative of his own.

Irvin "Erwin" Washington Lewis fought for the South in the Civil War and was a relative of Jackson. Jackson said Lewis was wounded four times during the war and taken prisoner at Camp Douglas in Chicago before returning to fight in a battle in Asheville, North Carolina. After the war he was a minister at Sinking Creek Baptist Church.

"It's always special, any event whether I have a relative or not. In the cemetery, to honor those who gave us what we have, our history," Jackson said.

Walker said she does run into people who don't agree with her and the group’s views on this matter. She said the group’s purpose is to preserve and tell the truth about history.

"All of these men belonged to a family. They had a mother and a father and most of them had wives and children and they fought for what they thought was their right to do and most of them did not have slaves. In fact none of my ancestors in North Carolina had slaves. It was a matter of states' rights to them."

Oak Hill Cemetery is located at 205 Whitney St. and is the oldest public cemetery in the city. There are 62 Confederate soldiers and 14 Union soldiers buried throughout its 8 acres of land. For anyone who wants to visit any of the graves, the gates are open in the morning and locked again at nightfall. 

Oak Hill also will have a decoration day on June 15 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

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