PoP's Southern Thangs: Old Soldiers’ Day in Catawba County


Old Soldiers’ Day in Catawba County

A wonderful late-nineteenth century recollection of North Carolina’s Senator Sam Ervin, Jr.

Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"

Old Soldiers’ Day in Catawba County:

“During the 1890s the people of Newton, the county seat of Catawba County, North Carolina, set aside a day in August of each year which they designated as Old Soldiers Day, to pay tribute to Confederate veterans. After all the Confederate veterans had pitched their tents on fame’s eternal camping ground, the people of Newton continued to celebrate Old Soldier’s Day, and to this day use it as an occasion for honoring all the soldiers who have served in all America’s wars.

Charles F. McKesson, a beloved member of the Morganton bar during my youth, was affectionately called “Cousin Charlie” by all the people of the community. He was a silver-tongued orator, in the parlance of the day, and was in great demand as a public speaker on occasions of patriotic rejoicing.

I told Cousin Charlie that he always spoke with grace and ease and that I sometimes wondered if he had ever lost his composure while speaking. He responded, “Yes,” and added, “I lost it completely years ago when I was keynote speaker at the Old Soldiers’ Day in Newton.”

“At that time multitudes of Confederate veterans were still in the land of the living. Before the speaking, the Daughters of the Confederacy provided them with a bountiful barbeque on the courthouse square. Others added to their pleasure by bringing a supply of moonshine from the Catfish section of Catawba County.

“After the eating and drinking, the old soldiers repaired to the auditorium in the courthouse, and I delivered my speech, which I had prepared with meticulous care. An old soldier who sat on the front bench gave me the most rapt attention I have ever received from any member of an audience. He seemed to hang on every word I uttered.

“I reached the climax of my speech. I said, “I saw you undergo your baptism of blood at Bethel, I saw you storm Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg, I saw you fight the Battle above the Clouds on Lookout Mountain.”

At this juncture the most attentive member of the audience staggered to his feet and shouted, “That’s a damned lie. You weren’t there!”

I lost my composure completely, and had the greatest difficulty regaining it.”

(Humor of a Country Lawyer, Sam J. Ervin, Jr., UNC Press, 1983, pp. 45-46)
From Free North Carolina


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