A decade of service celebrated

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

The philosopher George Santayana once wrote, &uot;Those who do not know their history will be destined to repeat it.&uot;

While some would argue against living in the past, the truth of the matter is we owe it to ourselves to learn from both the mistakes and the successes of those who came before us.

This brings me to where I am now, in writing the first, of what I hope to be many articles, on local Confederate history.

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Through this column, I hope to shed light on little known facts about our community, its families, and topics of general interest about Nansemond County and Suffolk during the War Between the States, or as it is more commonly known, the Civil War.

First though, I would like to share a bit of contemporary history about a group whose goal it has been for over one hundred years now to see that the South and the Confederate soldier are forever remembered with reverence and respect.

In 1896, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) was formed in Richmond, Virginia, made up of the sons of the then remaining veterans of the Confederate armies.

Ever since, the SCV has been an historical and patriotic fraternity of the descendents of Confederate soldiers.

While the SCV is now well over a century old, its presence in Suffolk has been but a small part of that.

Nonetheless, its impact on our local community has been exceptional, and here with just a few days after marking its 10th anniversary, I would like to pay tribute to the group which has been the subject of many stories in this newspaper.

It began as the dream of just a few devoted Suffolk historians in the spring of 1995, but soon took shape when the Tom Smith Camp #1702, Sons of Confederate Veterans, was officially presented its charter on May 22 at their first official meeting at Bunny’s Family Restaurant.

Chartering with twenty-six members and officers, the Tom Smith Camp elected to office Randy Turner as Commander, Robert R. Hardy as Lieutenant Commander, Woodie L. Walker as Adjutant, and Charles Johnson as Paymaster.

By the summer of 1995, the young Tom Smith Camp SCV had already become active in honoring Confederate veterans whose graves had previously been unmarked.

In November of that same year, the Camp held its first banquet, and honored historian Marion Joyner Watson, who for years had recorded and preserved local history.

In the words of F. Lee Hart, III, the man who would soon become the Commander of the Tom Smith Camp, &uot;Marion Watson held the history of Suffolk and Nansemond County in the palm of her hand as a mother would hold a newborn child.&uot;

Following her untimely death the following spring, the Tom Smith Camp voted to name the award in her honor, and has for each year since presented the Marion Joyner Watson Award to a deserving Suffolk citizen who has worked to preserve the history and heritage of our local community.

In 1997, under the leadership of Commander Hart, the Tom Smith Camp began the task of restoring the Tom Smith Confederate Monument in historic Cedar Hill Cemetery.

This monument, unveiled in 1889, had not been able to escape the harsh elements and time which had cracked its structure.

With the assistance of the art preservation group Save Outdoor Sculptures, the Modern Art Foundry of Astoria, New York, and the help of private citizens who financially supported the monument’s $30,000 restoration, the Tom Smith Monument was successfully restored in three years.

In October of 2001, with the grounds around the monument newly renovated, the monument was rededicated and publicly unveiled before hundreds of onlookers.

This would not be the first time, or the last, that the Tom Smith Camp would receive national acclaim for its activities.

In the fall of 1999, the Camp honored Black Confederate Jason Boone.

Born and raised in the Skeetertown section of Nansemond County, Boone was a free black farmer who in 1861 joined the ranks of Company K, 41st Virginia Infantry Regiment and served faithfully throughout the war.

As a result of his service, the state granted Boone a pension in 1924, which he received until his death.

In his memory, the Tom Smith Camp placed a headstone at his previously unmarked grave, and held a service which included approximately seventy-five members of Boone’s family.

In April of 2002, the Tom Smith Camp would again make national headlines, when then Commander William M. Richardson requested of Mayor Curtis Milteer a proclamation honoring Confederate History & Heritage Month.

Mayor Milteer signed the proclamation, much to the approval of the Tom Smith Camp, but to the disdain of some others.

While the Camp did not receive a proclamation during the two-year term of Mayor E. Dana Dickens, III, the recognition of Confederate History & Heritage Month was again commenced by Mayor Bobby L. Ralph in April of this year.

By this point in the history of the SCV here in Suffolk, the name of the Tom Smith Camp had certainly become a household word.

Almost overnight, the Camp’s membership sky-rocketed, and in August of 2003, the Camp welcomed its 100th member.

The following spring in 2004, the Camp restored the Cedar Hill Cemetery gravesite of Confederate Brigadier General Laurence Simmons Baker.

Though a native of North Carolina, Baker moved his family to Suffolk after the war, and became the Agent of the Seaboard Airline Railroad in 1877.

Baker served in this capacity, and as a prominent citizen of Suffolk, until his death in 1907.

In honor of the 174th anniversary of his birth, the Tom Smith Camp unveiled a granite obelisk, brisk steps, and walkway at the Baker Family Plot, before a crowd that included dozens of Baker family members who had traveled from across the country to honor their kinsmen.

Today, the Tom Smith Camp proudly boasts 175 members, making it the twelfth largest Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the nation.

In 2004, it was honored with the Nathan Bedford Forrest Award by its national organization for the largest increase in camp membership, and among its ranks are also two national officers of the SCV.

Not surprisingly, its work in Suffolk and throughout the local area continues, whether it is a new headstone, a school program, or chatting with fellow citizens at the numerous events it attends across our city.

As the Camp celebrates its ten years of accomplishments this week, and now looks toward the next decade, we can say with much certainty that ol’ times here (at least in Suffolk) will not be forgotten.

Fred D. Taylor is a native of Suffolk, a graduate of Nansemond River High School and Old Dominion University, and the immediate Past Commander of the Tom Smith Camp #1702, Sons of Confederate Veterans. Fred can be reached for questions or comments about his column via e-mail at FDTaylor04@yahoo.com