Those of you who remember any facts from American History class (1975-76, Coach Burns) are likely to recall that the American Uncivil War was fought from 1861-1865. It was a dark time in our history, and many can still trace their ancestry and prove they had relatives who fought on both sides during the War of Northern Aggression.
When the war ended, former slaves went to a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp and dug up 257 Union soldiers, and then reburied them with honors. Many claim this was the origin of our current Memorial Day holiday, and they could be right.
Regardless, Memorial Day is a time set aside to remember those who gave their lives in service to our country, and reflect on the sacrifices that have been made to preserve our nation. Without the dedication and patriotism our fallen have shown, we would probably speak German or Japanese in America today.
But since Memorial Day reaches so far into our history, I would like to offer my thanks, not only to those who died serving during the past century, but also to those further in the past. Few Americans have no veterans in the family tree, and I think we all should pay tribute to our past heroes, no matter how long ago they served.
One of my ancestors, Thomas Eastland, was reportedly a fairly high-ranking officer under Andrew Jackson during the war of 1812, and although he was from Kentucky, after that war he moved his family to the area of Sparta, Tennessee, to live on land given to him by Ol’ Hickory for his service. Some of the family is probably still there, but some moved to Texas when Moses Austin put out the call for settlers.
Two of Thomas’s sons who emigrated were Nicholas Washington Eastland and William Mosby Eastland, who were persuaded by their friend and neighbor, Edward Burleson, to make the trip. Both became Texas Rangers, and William served as a Ranger Captain, and was a Captain at the battle of San Jacinto. The only recorded wound he suffered during his Ranger service occurred during an Indian battle in North Texas, when he took an arrow through the nose.
Well, except for being shot in 1843 by a Mexican firing squad after the failed Meir Expedition. Eastland was the only officer to draw a black bean in the famed diezmo, and died at Rancho Salado with sixteen other Texans. He gave a farewell address for the group, at the end of which he said, “It has been said that I am a timid man, but as God is my witness I am not afraid to die for Texas.”
A cousin, Nicholas Mosby Dawson, also moved to Texas with the Eastland boys, and was later killed when his small group of Texans were surrounded by a much larger bunch of Mexican soldiers. The Texans were on their way to reinforce the Alamo during early March, 1836. They were all killed except for one young man who slipped away during the battle.
None of these men died serving America as such, but they were serving their country, Texas, and I believe their sacrifices were no less important than any others. Like Nathan Hale, who was hanged as a spy by the British in 1776, we all have but one life to give for our country, and each is equally valuable.
One family member, a descendent of the group that stayed in Tennessee and spread to Virginia, became famous during the Civil War, and was known as the Gray Ghost of the Confederacy, because of his speed and elusiveness. John Singleton Mosby served J.E.B. Stuart as a scout, later became the leader of all the Confederate guerillas during the war, and was at the top of the Union’s Most Wanted list during its final year.
Mosby’s exploits behind Union lines, blowing up trains, stealing supplies, and capturing enemy officers, became almost legendary. He refused to surrender at the end of the war, and instead disbanded his men and they all faded into the hills. A television series about the Gray Ghost aired for a short time during the 1960s, and there’s a museum dedicated to him back in Sparta. Mosby died on Memorial Day, 1916.
We all, as Americans, have more to be thankful for than we can say Grace over, and I believe Texans have more to appreciate than other Americans. As usual, I procrastinated until after the fact to get this into a column, but that may be appropriate, since memorials are always offered after the sacrifice, never before.
However you spent Memorial Day, I hope you were able to take the time to reflect on the selflessness of those who gave their one life to make our country what it is. And thank a veteran when you get a chance. Although the holiday is not observed in honor of the living, all who have served have risked losing their lives for a cause they believed in . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Texas 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org