Confederate Heroes Day, celebrated on January 19th each year in Texas (Robert E. Lee's birthday), was established by House Bill 126, 42nd legislature Regular Session. Chapter 8. Approved and Effective as of January 30, 1931, and Senate Bill 60, 63rd Legislature Regular Session. Chapter 221. Approved June 1, 1973 and Effective August 27, 1973 as Confederate Heroes Day. (This law abolished the holiday that had been celebrated on June 3rd, which was Jefferson Davis' birthday, and combined the two celebrations, in order to make room for an official state holiday commemorating the birthday of President Lyndon Baines Johnson on August 27th. Renamed to Confederate Heroes Day, it commemorated not only Lee and Davis, but every soldier from Texas who served on the Confederate side of the War Between the States.) It is the only holiday in the state of Texas dedicated to Confederate veterans.
Although memorial and decoration days (day in which families decorated the tombs of veteran soldiers) had long been established, usually in springtime, the War Between the States was the first in which Americans found themselves pitted against each other, sometimes with families split down the middle and one brother serving one side, and fighting against the brother serving on the other side.
Whatever one thinks of the complex political, social and economic issues surrounding and provoking the War Between the States, it is clear that many of the Confederate Soldiers were indeed heroes. Many were impoverished, could not read or write, and had only the most basic agricultural and fighting skills. Yet they fought for years, and came close to winning the war, even when they were starving, without warm clothes or even shoes, without horses, without uniforms, and with little economic organization or infrastructure to supply them. Often they won battles when they were outgunned, outnumbered, and outmaneuvered. Many paid money they could ill afford to sign up, brought their own weapons, horses, clothing and supplies, and put their families, their farms and their livelihoods at risk, fighting for what they believed was their liberty.
More than a quarter of a million Southerners died in the War Between the States, and the day is commemorated with re-enactments, parades, cotillions, ceremonies, and other events. Many of those soldiers who served and died in the War Between the States (some estimate up to a hundred thousand soldiers) were African-American.
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When I was in school in Texas in the 1970s, we all had to recite this poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead," by Allen Tate:
Row after row with strict impunity
The headstones yield their names to the element,
The wind whirrs without recollection;
In the riven troughs the splayed leaves
Pile up, of nature the casual sacrament
To the seasonal eternity of death;
Then driven by the fierce scrutiny
Of heaven to their election in the vast breath,
They sough the rumour of mortality.
Autumn is desolation in the plot
Of a thousand acres where these memories grow
From the inexhaustible bodies that are not
Dead, but feed the grass row after rich row.
Think of the autumns that have come and gone!--
Ambitious November with the humors of the year,
With a particular zeal for every slab,
Staining the uncomfortable angels that rot
On the slabs, a wing chipped here, an arm there:
The brute curiosity of an angel's stare
Turns you, like them, to stone,
Transforms the heaving air
Till plunged to a heavier world below
You shift your sea-space blindly
Heaving, turning like the blind crab.
Dazed by the wind, only the wind
The leaves flying, plunge
You know who have waited by the wall
The twilight certainty of an animal,
Those midnight restitutions of the blood
You know--the immitigable pines, the smoky frieze
Of the sky, the sudden call: you know the rage,
The cold pool left by the mounting flood,
Of muted Zeno and Parmenides.
You who have waited for the angry resolution
Of those desires that should be yours tomorrow,
You know the unimportant shrift of death
And praise the vision
And praise the arrogant circumstance
Of those who fall
Rank upon rank, hurried beyond decision--
Here by the sagging gate, stopped by the wall.
Seeing, seeing only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire
Turn your eyes to the immoderate past,
Turn to the inscrutable infantry rising
Demons out of the earth they will not last.
Stonewall, Stonewall, and the sunken fields of hemp,
Shiloh, Antietam, Malvern Hill, Bull Run.
Lost in that orient of the thick and fast
You will curse the setting sun.
Cursing only the leaves crying
Like an old man in a storm
You hear the shout, the crazy hemlocks point
With troubled fingers to the silence which
Smothers you, a mummy, in time.
The hound bitch
Toothless and dying, in a musty cellar
Hears the wind only.
Now that the salt of their blood
Stiffens the saltier oblivion of the sea,
Seals the malignant purity of the flood,
What shall we who count our days and bow
Our heads with a commemorial woe
In the ribboned coats of grim felicity,
What shall we say of the bones, unclean,
Whose verdurous anonymity will grow?
The ragged arms, the ragged heads and eyes
Lost in these acres of the insane green?
The gray lean spiders come, they come and go;
In a tangle of willows without light
The singular screech-owl's tight
Invisible lyric seeds the mind
With the furious murmur of their chivalry.
We shall say only the leaves
Flying, plunge and expire
We shall say only the leaves whispering
In the improbable mist of nightfall
That flies on multiple wing:
Night is the beginning and the end
And in between the ends of distraction
Waits mute speculation, the patient curse
That stones the eyes, or like the jaguar leaps
For his own image in a jungle pool, his victim.
What shall we say who have knowledge
Carried to the heart? Shall we take the act
To the grave? Shall we, more hopeful, set up the grave
In the house? The ravenous grave?
The shut gate and the decomposing wall:
The gentle serpent, green in the mulberry bush,
Riots with his tongue through the hush--
Sentinel of the grave who counts us all!
Texas Confederate Troops
There are many ways to celebrate Confederate Heroes Day (besides avoiding the Department of Motor Vehicles and the County Tax Assessors' Offices, which are closed, as are most State of Texas offices). My favourite way is to dress up in 1860s clothing and read about the history, or go out and join a discussion group for Texas history of the War Between the States. Another way is to visit the Muster Oak or one of the other famous trees of Texas that played a part in that period of Texas history.