Dinner with Gen. Lee and #8220;Warhorse#8221; Gen. Longstreet

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

I spotted them in rocking chairs on the riverside portico of the Hilton Garden Inn, resplendent in richly embroidered Confederate uniforms. They were chatting, and I hesitated to interrupt, but did so. I wouldn’t miss such a rare opportunity. No matter their fame and power in the South, they welcomed me with handshakes and smiles, and for a few moments, we exchanged pleasantries. Then it was off to dinner.

Here I was, a Yankee, guest of Adjutant Keith Morris, enjoying repast with delegates to the Virginia Division Sons Of Confederate Veterans. I, too, am a veteran, different time, different war, but a veteran just the same. These men and women were honoring veterans who had preceded them and fought their just cause. I saw it as nothing more than that.

Dinner had followed the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, including the word &uot;God.&uot; Then a salute to the flag of Virginia, and a salute to the Confederate Flag that contains words, that even after a century, offends some. But I believe my distant relatives who fought on the Union side would be &uot;over it&uot; by now.

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It is written that, &uot;Not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, not lured by ambition or goaded by necessity. But in simple obedience to duty as they understood it these men suffered all, dared all and died.&uot; In every war, before or since, millions of Americans have gone into deadly battle for the same reasons, cause and duty.

The convention was no different in most respects to state Lions conventions I have attended, where plaques and certificates were awarded to those who contributed above and beyond the call of duty … outgoing officers applauded for their work and new officers installed. It happens every year in our Chuckatuck Ruritan Club. I was pleased to see that a member of our club was also the Commander of the Suffolk Tom Smith Camp.

Next year the convention will be in New Orleans. This year our city got plenty of exposure. The convention program described our city history, that included the achievements of George Washington Carver. This convention put many thousands of dollars into cash registers of our businesses for three days. Let the Tourist Bureau top that. The Hilton did very well, one of its best weekends in spite of the fact the flag of the Confederacy could not be flown outside or displayed inside the hotel. As near as I could tell, there were no other guests in the hotel that Saturday night.

Ingenuity, however, made it possible for all to view the colors when flags were proudly displayed on a private ship in the Nansemond behind the Hilton. Where was the city coast guard? And I find it hilarious, that a plane flew over Suffolk trailing what surely astonished the mayor. The South must have coined that old saying,&uot; There’s more than one way to skin a cat.&uot; It was suggested the flag could have been on display legally where Confederate books and memorabilia were being sold … say with a price tag of $5,000 dollars on it.

A year or so ago I wrote a column to which Adjutant Morris took offence, and he did his best to check my genealogy and find a Confederate in my history somewhere. His attempt failed, but it was the most comprehensive genealogy chart I’d ever seen, and was most helpful to or family.

The genealogy of Mayor Bobby Ralph contains the names of seven Confederates, none of whom owned slaves. No one has even inferred that by not signing the proffered proclamation, designating April as Confederate History Month, he failed to honor his relatives. And I don’t mean to poke a stick in the mayor’s eye, but I believe he owes many thanks to the Tom Smith Camp for bringing attention, and a ton of money, to Suffolk, especially the Hilton.

Contact the author at pocklington@suffolknewsherald.com