Carter County wrapping up preparations for Veterans Monument dedication

John Thompson • Sep 23, 2013 at 3:16 PM

ELIZABETHTON — With only three weeks until Elizabethton and Carter County celebrate the centennial of the dedication of the Veterans Monument, the committee in charge of organizing the event is working on final details and also tracing descendants of veterans to be honored (see adjoining story for list of veterans). The event will be held at the monument Oct. 12 from noon-2 p.m.

The committee charged with organizing the centennial celebration is now at work on the logistics for the upcoming parade and observance.

Committee members Dawn and Jackie Peters have also continued to research the original dedication ceremony, and they have even uncovered the outline and conclusion of the dedication speech given by David Sinclair Burleson.

Burleson, a Milligan graduate, was one of the first faculty members of the new East Tennessee Normal School, which had begun classes just two years earlier. He served as chairman of the mathematics department, later he transferred to the English department and became dean of the faculty in 1920.

The dedication of the monument coincided with a reunion of the 13th Tennessee Cavalry, a union organization. Burleson’s father had been a private in the organization.

Burleson began his speech by talking about his father, Greenbury Washington Burleson. In his outline of the speech, David Burleson said he was proud of his father because of his “uprightness of character” and would be equally proud of him “had he worn the gray.” He said the only traitor was “the dishonest, cowardly, immoral citizen. The only treason: dishonesty, rascality and corruptness.”

With that introduction, Burleson went into a long discourse about good citizenship in that post-reconstruction era when many Southern veterans were still not accepted by all as good citizens of the nation. Burleson spoke of a patriotism “that realizes what our freedom has cost; the rivers of blood and tears, the billions of wealth, the toil, privation, suffering, sacrifice, chains and slavery.”

He also spoke of the need for honesty in good citizenship. He said “good citizenship lives and lets live.”

Burleson could speak from his own experience. Although he was born after the Civil War, he was born in Limestone Cove, near the site of an ambush on the farm of his grandfather, David W. Bell. Bell was a doctor with the 13th Tennessee Cavalry and while he was away on duty, a force of 500 Confederate soldiers ambushed 50 Union men camped in Bell’s front yard.

Eight of the men were killed in the attack. Union leader Daniel Ellis wrote in his autobiography that Burleson’s great uncle, James Bell, was shot by the Confederate soldiers and his head crushed against the rocks of a stream.

While not everyone attending the dedication of the monument had been in combat, nearly all had family stories of similar tragedies.

Burleson was speaking to those when he spoke about the limited time the monument will stand when compared to the surrounding mountains, such as the Roan. He said someday it will go the way of all human structures.

After that unhappy thought, he comforted his audience by telling them “you are building one monument which not so pass. Our fathers, in whose honor you lift this pile, have helped rear it. This monument whose stones consist of whatever you and they have contributed to the cause of human freedom, human happiness, human goodness.” He said as long as the mountains stand “so will stand the monument of man’s noble deeds.”

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