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Just as the Civil War decided the direction and governance of our entire country, the deep divisions it created in our community became a defining part of our unique Ozarks heritage. In the second installment of our two-part series KSMU’s Emma Wilson examines two local chapters of Sons of Confederate Veterans that work to preserve the memories of the Civil War and the soldiers who fought for the south.
On a Thursday afternoon in the West Plains Public Library, the John R. Woodside Camp 203 is called to order.
“I guess it’s time to start the meeting, isn’t it? I will lead us through the pledge to the American flag”
After the pledge to the American flag, the group salutes Confederate flag.
After a prayer, the meeting begins. The Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting is not unlike those of other groups or clubs. There is roll call, and the conversation is dominated by a small change to the camp’s constitution. The goals of this group are similar to those of the Sons of Union Veterans. They seek out Confederate gravesites and erect markers and monuments for fallen Confederate soldiers and various battles and skirmishes.
After the meeting adjourned, Commander Joe Cargill and Sub-Commander Lou Wehmer sit at the end of the meeting table and discuss their reasons for being part of the SCV. Wehmer is a historian and genealogical researcher; he says research is the best part of being a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“To take all these stories that float around here locally and run them to ground with facts and see what is true and not true. That’s the reason I’ve gotten into this organization. It’s great to go get the family stories and put the pieces together and see where the truth is.”
Through the Sons of Confederate Veterans Cargill and Wehmer have each discovered numerous ancestors that fought in the Civil War-both Union and Confederate- and have helped other members do the same. Cargill says his longstanding interest in genealogy is what motivated him to get involved with the group.
“It’s just part of me, part of my heritage, and part of my family. And I don’t want people to forget that there were two sides, that there were two flags.”
In Springfield, John Christianson is the commander of the James H. McBride Camp. Both he and Cargill stressed the importance of telling what they call the “true history of the south.” Christianson refers to the Civil War as the “War for Southern Independence.” He says that it should not be seen as a war to perpetuate slavery, because the majority of southerners owned no slaves.
“Well, we weren’t fighting for slavery because 6.6 million people said ‘to heck with it, we’re not fighting for that rich slave owner down there. Let him fight this war himself.’ It’s a complicated story but it was basically [about] states’ rights. The government was getting to powerful, many people felt like.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans realize this is a controversial viewpoint and that flying the Confederate flag will elicit a negative reaction from many. But the people we interviewed for this story made one thing very clear. Again, John Christianson.
“We’re not a racist organization. If we do discover somebody is a member of the Klan or something like that then they are not welcome in our organization at all”
Wehmer says that because of misconceptions and bias against those who fought for the south, many ex-Confederates were basically forced to go underground in the aftermath of the Civil War.
“Anyone who fought for the Confederate side or the Missouri State Guard side was excluded from voting, from serving in public office, even ministers couldn’t preach. It was all the way until 1872 before you could hold your head up and not be totally disenfranchised in this state as a former Confederate. That is another reason why these groups were initially formed and why they are still carried forward today.”
There are also chapters of Daughters of Confederate Veterans in both Springfield and West Plains that we were unable to get a hold of for this story. The McBride Camp of Springfield meets every third Friday of the month at Heritage Cafeteria and the Woodside Camp meets in the West Plains Public Library every second Thursday.
For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Emma Wilson.