THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, May 5, 1996 TAG: 9605030233 SECTION: CHESAPEAKE CLIPPER PAGE: 16 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY ERIC FEBER, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Medium: 94 lines
Not many Chesapeake residents know that the city has its own monument in honor of those who died in the service of the Confederacy during the Civil War.
The Norfolk County Grays of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Grays' United Daughters of the Confederacy Chapter would like to change that.
After a fund raising effort where the group sold pieces of real Confederate history, three roads signs were purchased. These signs will now be used to direct the curious to the four-sided stone obelisk on Benefit Road which was erected after 1900 by survivors of Company A of the 61st Virginia Infantry Regiment to honor its dead.
The 61st was Norfolk County's own regiment, led by Col. William Stewart. They were popularly known as the Jackson Grays, said Billie B. Earnest, treasurer with the Norfolk County Grays UDC Chapter.
``The local company was formed on spot where monument now sits,'' she said. ``They called themselves the Jackson Grays, after James T. Jackson, a hotel proprietor who was shot and killed by Union forces after they invaded his Northern Virginia hotel.''
Earnest said Jackson displayed the the Confederate flag at his place of business during the early stages of the war. The banner was spotted by a certain Col. Ellsworth, a rising young Union officer and a friend of Abraham Lincoln. Ellsworth rounded up a contingent of Zouave troops, crossed the Potomac and marched to the hotel to take over the building and strike the Confederate colors. Enraged by this action, Jackson shot and killed Ellsworth as the Union officer tried to take the flag. Jackson was immediately shot down by the Yankee soldiers.
``They thought so much of Jackson, they named company after him,'' Earnest said.
And the two local SCV and UDC groups thought so much of the men who fought and died defending their home land from invading Union troops, that they took it upon themselves to raise money for the signs.
Earnest said membership in one of these two groups is based on tracing one's lineage to a Southern Civil War veteran.
``We're all directly related to men who fought with the 61st,'' Earnest said in reference to Chesapeake's local Confederate contingent. ``We honor the men who fought for Norfolk County (which merged with South Norfolk to form Chesapeake in 1963).
Earnest's husband, B. Frank Earnest, is commander of the Norfolk County Grays' SCV Camp.
Billie Earnest said that she, her husband and other members of the Norfolk County Grays had been troubled for years over the fact that not many Chesapeake and area residents had any idea about the monument or even knew how to get to it.
``This monument has been sitting out in boonies of Chesapeake since 1909,'' Earnest said. ``All this time there has never been any signs to direct public to the memorial.''
Last December she hit upon an idea.
``On holidays and important dates related to the Civil War we always go to the monument to honor the dead and place flowers by the monument,'' Earnest said. ``Last Christmas I thought since we knew where it was, why not raise money to purchase signs so others know where it is, too? We held a fund raising project and were given permission by the city to erect the signs.''
The fund raiser Earnest mentioned was one bound to appeal to loyal sons and daughters of the South.
``We sold bricks taken from the birthplace of Gen. William `Billy' Mahone,'' Earnest said. Mahone was commander of the 61st. His home was in the town of Monroe, now part of Southampton County, she said.
A beloved general during the war, Mahone was known as the ``Hero of the Crater,'' the pivotal battle that took place in Petersburg during the last year of the war. After the war he was a U.S. senator from 1881-87. He died in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 8, 1895, and was buried in Blandford Cemetery in Petersburg.
``We did extremely well with brick donations,'' Earnest said. ``The owner of the property where his home rests gave us the bricks. The signs were to be made by the city. They were very cooperative and we're proud the city worked with us on this. After I told them about our plan, they sent me an estimated amount so we knew our fund raising goal.''
The bricks sold and soon the local SCV/UDC were able to purchase the three signs. Two point the way to the Benefit Road monument, telling exactly how far away the attraction is, and the third announces to motorists that the memorial is nearby.
Local, regional and statewide SCV and UDC chapters along with Civil War buffs and re-enactors in authentic uniform were scheduled Saturday for a brief dedication ceremony.
Now people will know about the memorial to Chesapeake's Civil War dead, Earnest said.
``The whole purpose to get these signs and have them put in place is to honor these men who served so gallantly during the war,'' Earnest said. ``They fought bravely for a cause that for them really wasn't about slavery. The majority of men who served never owned slaves. They were just defending their homes and property.'' by CNB