Rows of gravestones lie silent in the Confederate section of Myrtle Hill Cemetery. They're not all Confederate markers. This is one of those rare locations where soldiers from both sides are buried together, their final resting places as tightly mingled as their dying breaths.
Standing amongst the rows is a hardwood tree (an oak, if my memory serves me correctly) that is gradually consuming one of the tombstones. At present, the only part of the inscription that remains visible is "UN". Now, to the casual passerby, this inscription might suggest that the occupant might have been named Unther or that he hailed from Unadilla, GA or maybe even that he served in the Union Army. But to people familiar with military cemeteries and history "UN" is the beginning of only one word. "UNKNOWN".
How ironic. Lying in a historic section of a NRHP registered cemetery is a fallen soldier, known only to God, whose lone memorial is being consumed with the passage of time.
Who was this man? Union or Confederate? Artillery, infantry or cavalry? Officer or enlisted? Race? Religion? Level of education? Who were his parents? did he have a wife or children? How did he meet his awful fate? How old was he? Any identifier, other than to suggest that he's not identifiable, has been consumed by the constant growth of the tree.
And time progresses.
Why is the consumption of a 150 year old grave important? Without getting into cliches about repeating forgotten histories let me say it's very important. This grave is a microcosm of our time. History is disappearing with time. There are many trees eating many headstones but one tree concerns me more than the others.
The tree of political correctness is eating our history at an alarming rate. The removal of Confederate flags from the Confederate Memorial Park and Chapel on Richmond, VA, the changing of the mascot at the University of Mississippi, the discontinuance of "Dixie" by marching bands throughout the South and even the planned renaming of Memphis' Forrest Park - including the exhumation of General Forrest and his wife - are the bark on the progressing trunk. And as history continues to be removed from public view, we will forget and then...well...I promised no clichés.
Why is this happening? What kind of person would do this?
Much of it is ignorance. 150 years of the victor's history has led people to have deplorable knowledge of factual history. Most people today have no knowledge of Nathan Bedford Forrest outside of a comical mention in the opening scenes of Forrest Gump. If you think 1)that he started the KKK or 2) that the Klan was his major contribution to society, then a trip to the library is recommended. NEITHER of these are true.
That being said, there is good and bad on both sides of history. Forrest was not exactly a Girl Scout. But also, as bad as Barack Obama has been, he made it to his second term without razing a single American city. The same cannot be said for the saintly Mr. Lincoln.
Good and bad. Give and take. Shades of gray reenact the entire, stinky, bloody drama that culminated in 600,000 dead combatants and who knows how many civilians. Staggering levels of property damage. Orphans. Widows.
Who were the good guys? Who were the bad guys? The only quick answer to these questions can be "yes" because an honest answer depends on too many other questions. Questions that are gradually being obscured by apathy and ignorance.
Who was he? Who knows? Who cares?
So I come to this. The story of our unknown friend hinges on us. He's already forgotten to history. One day the las speck of stone will slip into the bark, forever obscured and then even this inadequate reminder of someone's son will be gone.
I leave you a borrowed line that I think is appropriate. Another "UN" word. This time it's "UNLESS". Because, as Dr. Seuss told us in the Lorax, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
Who was he? I don't know. I might never know. But you can bet your next paycheck that I care.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire