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Lawrenceville event marks
Confederate Memorial Day

LAWRENCEVILLE - If a picture is worth a thousand words, Bill Grimes would prefer they illustrate a story or two about the life of a Confederate soldier.

A photograph hanging in the gazebo adjacent to the historic courthouse in downtown Lawrenceville on Saturday to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day supplied many an untold tale, he said. Frayed from the years, the black and white portrait showed stoic, elderly men gathered at a 1912 reunion at the courthouse to mark their service as sons of Gwinnett who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Their eyes - like ghostly orbs - made it difficult to disagree.

"It's something to look in their eyes and imagine what kind of men they must have been," said Grimes, one of the organizers of the Maj. William E. Simmons Camp 96 Confederate Memorial Day celebration.

Though the picture will remain silent, Grimes said Saturday's event lends a voice to the 2,039 Gwinnett soldiers who fought in the war.

"You know, you've heard the saying, 'the winner writes the history books,' but we're making sure their story gets told," he said prior to the festivities, which included folk music, a gun salute and a keynote address about Jefferson Davis. "Our basic mission here is to make sure their history gets told and to honor them in the same way that America honors our other veterans of all wars."

More than 146 years ago on May 17, 1861, 83 Gwinnett men enlisted in the Confederate army at the courthouse, according to Confederacy enthusiast Hugh McMillian, a Dacula resident who attended Saturday's ceremony. One of those men was an ancestor of McMillian's. While their uniforms were being made, they practiced daily on the lawn.

"These men were representing what their political rights were, their right to own property; that's what they were fighting for," he said.

Many of Saturday's attendees came dressed for the occasion. Several women wore Civil War-era gowns, while the men wore uniforms clad with weaponry of the period.

Dave Floyd, Camp 96's adjutant, said several misconceptions plague the legacy of the Confederacy. As examples, he cited hate groups adopting the Confederate flag and the bitter aftermath of slavery.

"We don't feel those things represent us at all," he said.

According to records, 364 Gwinnettian soldiers died in the Civil War. Georgia had more than 125,000 combatants in the war, making up 10 percent of the Confederacy's forces, event organizers said.

Manning a cannon with two comrades, enthusiast Steve Tobelman, a Lilburn resident, fears the war's legacy is being forgotten.

"I've seen it, (teachers) are not teaching the history at all," he said. "Not just the whole story - they're not teaching it at all. That's a threat. Generations growing up won't even understand their own government or what they're fighting for."