Graves decorated for Confederate Memorial Day 2017

OKEECHOBEE — A small contingent of Sons of the Confederate Veterans and Order of the Confederate Rose visited Okeechobee Cemeteries, Evergreen, Basinger and Fort Drum to honor civil war veterans on Saturday.

Commander Jim O’Dell is Commander of the 12th Brigade and the George W. Thomas Camp 1595 in Ft. Pierce. He visits many cemeteries during April from the Treasure Coast to Palm Beach County to honor former Confederate soldiers.

The camps go out during the month to do flag raising, honor veterans, place flags on graves, fire a volley for them, read their names and honor their accomplishments.

Confederate Memorial Day is April 26 in Florida.

“Sadly it’s the only time of year that many of these graves have visitors because many of their ancestors have passed away,” he noted.

In 1929 the U.S. Congress recognized all Confederate Veterans as American Veterans.

This year there was something new at the gravesites, the Iron cross. The United Daughters of the Confederacy have conducted a project to place the cross of honor on all Confederate graves to reward them for gallantry in battle.

“Most of the soldiers in the army do not have the iron cross on the graves. Step by step we will make sure that they receive them,” he added.

The camps also find old graves, repair head stones, and petition the Veterans Administration for head stones for Civil War veterans. The costs of the stones are often paid for by the Camps.

They also hold battle re-enactments throughout Florida that encourages the study of history and can provide tourism and economic developments.

The Florida part of the Civil War history involved some minor skirmishes and two major battles. The Union sent ships to blockade or occupy several ports like Jacksonville, Pensacola and Key West. With the long coast line of Florida, several blockade runners were active to get goods into the struggling nation.

“The blockade starved people, towns and communities to death,” O’Dell said. “Some sailors managed to bring in trade goods from England, France and other areas.”

Farms and plantations were able to raise cattle, pork, fish, fruit and salt to the Confederate troops. The salt was important because it was used to keep meat from spoiling.

“The Florida Cow cavalry rounded up many of the cattle left to roam wild by the Spanish and British and they drove them to Punta Gorda where they were shipped to Cuba and traded for Spanish Gold,” he said.

An estimated 16,000 Florida soldiers fought in the war. Of those, about 2,000 joined the Union Army. Many didn’t want to fight for either side and hid out in the woods and swamps. Approximately 5,000 Florida soldiers were killed during the war.

The major battles in Florida were the battle of Natural Bridge and the battle of Olustee. Both were Confederate victories. Tallahassee was the lone southern capital city not to fall to Union troops during the war. Florida surrendered on April 26, 1865.

“History is an important thing. The Civil War was not a glorious part because there was a lot of carnage and families broken apart,” O’Dell noted. “A lot of these men, came back and became a positive part of our society, helped establish Okeechobee, Fort Meade and many were veterans of other wars, Seminole, the Mexican American war.”

The soldiers who moved to Okeechobee after the war are buried here include Joel Swain and Henry Lewis Parker in Fort Drum, Shadrach Chandler, William Underhill, Matthew Underhill, Jeremiah Walker and Abner Wright in Basinger, and William Yeager and William Raulerson at Evergreen Cemetery.

“If you dishonor the confederate soldier, you dishonor the union soldier,” O’Dell added.

The local camp gave out three college scholarships in St. Lucie County to students in the ROTC programs at Martin County High, Fort Pierce Westwood and the Treasure Coast. They hope to provide a Hunley Award to a deserving senior at Okeechobee High School.

Confederate Memorial Day commemorated. Jim O’Dell, Joe Hagan, Lise Hagan, Vernon Beaty, Mary Beaty, Katelyn Beaty, Dowling Watford, Talisssa Wilson, Martha Kenyon and Dru Dehart took part in a short memorial service for five soldiers buried at the Basinger Cemetery Saturday.

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