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Cemetery flags help honor local Confederate soldiers

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY, Ga. -- Gene Edmunds' genealogical research started when he decided to do a little checking into his family's history.

When it turned out that there were more than 200 Edmundses -- or Edmondses -- listed among the Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War, including some of his ancestors, the retired M&M Mars employee decided to focus his research there.

Now, as the national Sons of Confederate Veterans organization recognizes April as Confederate Heritage Month, Edmunds' personal tribute to local soldiers of the Confederacy is on display at Albany's Oakview Cemetery and, to a lesser degree, at the cemetery at Pinebluff Baptist Church.

Edmunds, the quartermaster of the Dougherty SCV Camp, placed more than 200 miniature Confederate flags on graves of soldiers buried in the cemeteries on the first of the month. He plans to take them down when the month ends Friday.

"This is something I've done the last six or seven years," said Edmunds, who also works with American Legion officials on the annual Field of Flags display at the Albany Mall. "It's a part of my family's history, and it's a part of the histories of a lot of families in this area. I do it as a tribute to the service and sacrifice of our ancestors."

Among the more than 225 graves of Confederate soldiers that Edmunds was able to identify in the Oakview Cemetery were four in the family plot of Albany founder Nelson Tift. One of Tift's sons and three of his sons-in-law fought for the Confederacy during the war.

With an assist from Jeanette Driggers, a library assistant in the Genealogy Room at the Dougherty Central Library branch, Edmunds painstakingly researched such publications as "Roster of the Confederate Soldiers: 1861-1865" and "Roster of the Confederate Soldiers of Georgia." He compared names in those publications to a listing of individuals buried in local cemeteries to find the graves of Confederate dead.

"Mr. Edmunds did a nice job of putting together a map of the cemetery that shows where the graves are," Driggers said. "He really put a lot of research into the project. He used our research books, used the web and went out to the cemetery to confirm the names on the graves.

"I understand he contacted a lot of the families of the soldiers to verify the burial plots and then put the flags out on the markers."

Not content to place the miniature flags in the dirt surrounding the graves, where they would be at the mercy of the elements, Edmunds received permission and put piping into the ground that serves as standards for the flags.

"You can't just stick one of those little flagsticks into hard Georgia red clay," Edmunds said. "Plus, some of the gravesites had concrete poured in the ground around them, so I had to drill holes to put the pipes in.

"I also think it's necessary to take the flags up at the end of the month. You don't just leave them out in the weather; that's no way to treat the flag."

The fruit of Edmunds' research, in addition to the placement of the flags, can be found in two detailed notebooks filled with data he collected on the soldiers and their regiments.

"It was a time-consuming process," Edmunds, who joined the local Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp in 1999, said. "But my duties as quartermaster included responsibility for the flags, and that kind of fit in with the research I'd been doing.

"The Oakview and Pinebluff -- which has the graves of 10 to 15 soldiers -- cemeteries are the only ones in Dougherty County that I found that contain the remains of Confederate soldiers. The other cemeteries in the county were established well after the war. It took some work, but I really enjoyed being a part of honoring our ancestors. It's a fitting tribute."