originally published 5/27/2009
Cowarts and Holberts, kinsmen and others converged from far counties at Nelson's Bethesda Church cemetery Sunday, May 24, to honor a long-dead ancestor as a Confederate veteran. Stephen D. Cowart departed this life May 24, 1903. Nothing on his simple headstone indicates Cowart served with the Confederacy.
Research by Cowart's great-great-granddaughter, Elaine Russell of Alcoa, Tennessee places Cowart as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Cherokee Legion. Russell said the Legion was a Georgia State Guard unit organized midway through the war to defend North Georgia when Union invaders came knocking in 1863. Stephen Cowart enlisted with the Legion at age 44 for six month's service, she said.
Originally from North Carolina, Stephen married Sophia Holbert in Rutherford County of that state before they ventured into Georgia at about the time of the Cherokee Removal, Russell indicated. When the Civil War came, Cowart joined a Georgia unit. Upon his death in 1903, Cowart was buried in Georgia ground, surrounded by Holberts (his wife's people) near the center of Bethesda Cemetery.
Russell placed the footstone that now marks Cowart's grave as that of a Confederate veteran. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (Russell is a member at Maryville, Tennessee) conducted the Sunday ceremony that honored Cowart. The observance occurred on the anniversary of his death and the day before national observance of Memorial Day.
Begun as Decoration Day, the South's day to flower the graves of its Civil War dead, the remembrance was adopted by the North, moved to a different date and renamed Memorial Day. That holiday was never observed in the South, Russell explained to hearers beside Cowart's grave site, until World War I casualties, shared by North and South, reunited the regions in national sorrow.
"Memorial Day is not about divisions," Russell said. "It is about reconciliation, about coming together to honor those who gave their all."
Presiding during the ceremony to honor Cowart, Shirley Hall, president of the Captain W. Y. C. Hannum Chapter, Number 1881 of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, quoted Confederate General Robert E. Lee: "There is one glory and honor above all others––the glory of duty well done and the honor of integrity to principle."
Stephen Cowart had 8 children with wife Sophia, UDC Historian Elaine Russell told those assembled near his grave. His forefathers fought in the American Revolution, she said. He probably saw himself defending his family, their home and freedom when he threw in with the Confederacy.
"In simple obedience to duty as they understood it, these men sacrificed all, endured all, dared all," Hall said.
And like most Americans, Confederate veterans like Cowart faced changes to their world as best they could. They coped with life as it came to them, lived it out and passed from the scene.
Some century later came kinsmen with a stone, with wreaths and flags and cameras. In a peaceful churchyard between rain showers, they raised hymns and prayers to honor a soldier defeated in war but not in life.
"All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh," spoke Linda Underwood, another great-great-granddaughter, in benediction.