Confederate veterans' descendants aim to preserve heritage, dispel misconceptions
PRESCOTT - As a child, Bob Anderson paid close attention when his elders talked about family history.
Through early stories from his maternal grandmother Radiant Bliss Word, for instance, he learned that his great-grandfather Benjamin Franklin Word had once served as a private in the Alabama Cavalry for the Confederacy.
"Grannie was a genealogist in her own right, and she told me in passing about her dad," Anderson said of his grandmother, who was born in 1880.
Although the South was defeated in the War Between the States, Anderson, 70, holds onto an obvious sense of pride about his great-grandfather's service.
Today, he wears that pride on his sleeve - literally, as a member of the gray-uniformed Sons of Confederate Veterans camp of Prescott and Prescott Valley.
Likewise for group Chaplain Mike Pulley, whose great-great-grandfather J.W. Pulley served as a private with the Confederate's Arkansas Infantry, and ended up as a prisoner of war.
Several dozen members of the Confederate Veterans group gathered Saturday at The Palace Restaurant & Saloon in downtown Prescott for their regular monthly meeting, which also coincided with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's 206th birthday.
While they acknowledge that their gray uniforms and display of the Confederate flag can elicit angry responses from some people, the group members say their mission is more about history than about any political statement.
"It's about heritage," said Stephen Waller, whose cousin Archibald Waller served in the Jeff Davis Legion.
Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, who was on hand for Saturday's meeting, agrees. "I think it portrays a lot of the history of our area," he said, noting that the group takes part in local parades and re-enactments.
And when it comes to history, the group members maintain that many Americans do not have the accurate facts about the war, including its name.
"One big mistake is that everybody was taught that it was a Civil War," Waller said. Rather, he sees the war as a revolution similar to the American Revolution.
"The federal government won the war, so they're going to write the history," Waller said. "Our ancestors have pretty much been vilified by the public school system."
Central to that, the group members say, is the issue of slavery. Most Confederate soldiers came from families that did not have slaves, Pulley said. His family, for instance, were sharecroppers who farmed their own land.
"People forget that slavery existed in the whole country at the time, and less than 10 percent (of Confederates) actually owned slaves," Waller said.
He and others say that President Abraham Lincoln made the war about slavery, but that it was more about money and tariffs.
While emphasizing that "slavery was an abomination no matter what culture it's in," group member Gene Bonfoey questioned the moral ground of the U.S. government, which was simultaneously engaged in "annihilating the Indians."
Contributing to their group's image problem, say its members, is the misplaced use of the Confederate flag. "A lot of those horrible white supremacist groups unfortunately use the flag," Waller said. "That's not who we are."
The local members say the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization dates back to the late 1800s, when war veterans and their descendants began meeting. Today, Waller said, similar groups exist "in every state in the Union."