United Daughters of the Confederacy: Passionate Patriots
By: Kim Cassell
It’s interesting to give thought to what women have done in response to the wars that have been fought here in the U.S. or those fought overseas that have tragically affected American families.
Women were the ones left to maintain the household, raise the children and possibly bury their loved ones. After the end of the Civil War, in particular, the strong sentiment of Southern pride saw monuments erected and Confederate soldiers honored at commemorative events. The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) was established to honor their memories.
The UDC is one of many women’s ancestral groups that rose out of the ashes of war. Earlier groups met the needs of soldiers, hospitals and families during wars: hospital associations, sewing societies and knitting circles.
The UDC was founded in Nashville, TN, in 1894 by Mrs. Caroline Meriwether Goodlett and co-founder, Mrs. Lucian H. Raines. The North Carolina Division came about when Mrs. William Parsley got word about the Nashville organization; she’d spent the Civil War caring for wounded Confederate soldiers. Traveling to the March 1894 UDC meeting in Nashville, Parsley’s aim was to voice her concerns about the lineal ancestry limitations to membership.
Like other ancestral organizations of the time, the UDC had established a membership policy stating that women could join only if they had lineal blood ties to someone who took part in the revolution. This excluded wives, mothers and sisters.
Parsley was successful in her bid to win a change in UDC rules. She formed the Cape Fear Chapter in December of that year and the North Carolina Division followed in 1897.
Patricia Gasson is current president of the North Carolina Division of the UDC. Her Civil War ancestor is Lot Gregory. From Onslow County (Richlands), North Carolina, he was a member of Company B, 41st Regiment, 3rd North Carolina Cavalry. When his horse was killed in battle, he had to return home and get another. He survived the war.
“After the (Civil) war, these organizations kept pace with the changing times and evolved into cemetery, memorial, monument, and Confederate home associations and auxiliaries to camps of Confederate veterans. The UDC, in association with the Daughters of the Confederacy in Missouri and the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in Tennessee, is the oldest patriotic lineage organization in the country,” Gasson says.
“They also raised money to care for the widows and children of the Confederate dead. Most of these memorial associations eventually merged into the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which grew from 17,000 members in 1900 to nearly 100,000 women by World War I,” according to wikipedia.org.
The Dodson-Ramseur Chapter of the UDC, chartered in 1898, was the first in Cabarrus County. Named after Major General Stephen Dodson Ramseur, it was assembled by Mrs. J.P. Allison and had 42 members.
Then, in Washington, DC, in 1919, the UDC was incorporated. In doing so, it created the Articles of Incorporation. The “objectives of the society are Historical, Benevolent, Educational, Memorial and Patriotic, and include the following goals:
- To honor the memory of those who served and those who fell in the service of the Confederate States.
- To protect, preserve and mark the places made historic by Confederate valor.
- To collect and preserve the material for a truthful history of the War Between the States.
- To record the part taken by Southern women in patient endurance of hardship and patriotic devotion during the struggle and in untiring efforts after the war during the reconstruction of the South.
- To fulfill the sacred duty of benevolence toward the survivors and toward those dependent upon them.
- To assist descendants of worthy Confederates in securing proper education.
- To cherish the ties of friendship among the members of the organization.” (from United Daughters of the Confederacy Notebook)
Grills’ ancestral link to the Civil War is John DeWeese Irwin, her great-grandfather. Born in Cabarrus County in 1838, he enlisted in 1861 into Company A, 20th NC Infantry. Known as The Cabarrus Guards, it was the first company organized in Cabarrus County.
Irwin earned the rank of 1st Lieutenant before being shot in the hand at Gettysburg in 1863; a finger had to be amputated. He was then wounded in the leg at Spotsylvania Courthouse in 1864. Soon after returning to duty, he was captured in Winchester, VA, and spent the remaining months of the war as a POW, held at Fort Delaware.
According to Chapter Histories, compiled by Mrs. Edwin R. MacKethan in 1946 (written in the present tense), “It assisted in sponsoring a program in which hundreds of schoolchildren decorate the Confederate monument on the courthouse lawn. It has given many flags to schools in addition to portraits of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis highway maps. They went to the schools on Lee and Jackson Day and gave talks. Essay prizes were given annually in local schools in the state. Money as well as rare volumes was given to the school library.
“When Concord erected a community center (in 1939), some members conceived the idea of establishing a museum…Memorial Hall, one of the finest museums in the state. It contains 50 historical manuscripts and more than 2,000 diaries, documents and letters. Covering the west walls is a 50-foot mural painting depicting the history of Cabarrus County. Adjacent to Memorial Hall is a library of rare and valuable books on Southern history, literature and general Americana. The chapter sponsored the library and provided a librarian and a curator. During the War, Memorial Hall was used as a canteen and members of the chapter were hostesses.”
The Historic Cabarrus Association now stores and maintains the contents of Memorial Hall, which was located on Union Street, adjacent to the Cabarrus County Public Library.
Today, the Coltrane-Harris Chapter represents Cabarrus County solely. “About 15 years ago, the Dodson-Ramseur Chapter got down to about five elderly ladies as members that were unable to sustain a chapter. That chapter went defunct and the remaining ladies joined our chapter,” Grills explains.
Goals remain the same as when the UDC was founded. “In our chapter, we have a historical program at our meetings each month,” Grills says. “We have a statewide project underway benefitting disabled veterans. We observe Confederate Memorial Day each year (on Mother’s Day) and try to care for the graves of Confederate veterans. Two years ago, our chapter re-dedicated a nearly forgotten historical marker that the Dodson-Ramseur chapter installed many years ago, on the spot in Concord where CSA President Jefferson Davis and his cabinet camped out in Concord when fleeing south after the surrender at Appomattox.”
“We go into schools, when invited, and talk about Confederate history, heroes, battles, life on the home front, etc. We participate in Living History Events in many towns in all of our divisions (states). We offer scholarships on the Chapter, Division and National level to qualified students,” Gasson adds.
“We are involved with a multitude of areas to help the community, the homeless, needy, including, but not limited to, Habitat for Humanity, Ronald McDonald House, Red Cross, Salvation Army, Goodwill, food and coupons to our military overseas.”
Gasson stresses that the military is a fundamental part of what the UDC does. It honors and supports military past and present, and from all wars. “We support active duty with letters, cards, packages of needed items, etc. We work with all four of the VA medical centers in North Carolina. We go into nursing homes and visit our veterans and bring gifts,” she says.
Each UDC president general also takes on a Patriotic Project. In North Carolina, that’s Mrs. Harold Trammell and, for two years, she’ll put her efforts into the Action Track Chair for Veterans. The goal is to raise enough money to purchase as many of these $15,000 chairs as possible.
“My Patriotic Project is the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War and how we can remember, honor and thank our Vietnam Veterans,” Gasson says. “I am encouraging our chapters throughout the nation to partner with the Department of Defense to hold events to honor these men and women and the spouses of those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.”
As a non-profit, the UDC has to get creative in financing its efforts. “We raise funds, as do the other lineage organizations, in various ways. We sell items, write articles, work at locations during reenactments, we create cookbooks,” Gasson shares. “We hold luncheons with speakers, we hold silent auctions as well as regular auctions, we participate in ‘Charity Days.’ ”
“We would like to raise more money so we can do more things. North Carolina is hosting the general (national) convention for the first time in 35 or 40 years, in 2015. The convention is in Raleigh in November and all chapters have a lot of work to do to help get ready for that,” Grills says.
Lineage organizations have particular rules with regard to what ancestor qualifies them to join. “Membership is open to women who are descended from a man who served honorably (in the Civil War). You can’t join if your ancestor deserted,” Grills says. “If your ancestor was non-military but was, for instance, serving in a governmental office, that would qualify as well.
“And we have some African-American members of the UDC. Their ancestor may not have fired a gun, but some slaves went off to war with their masters and served as cooks or teamsters. That qualifies as well. In fact, North Carolina lost its next-to-the-last Real Daughter last year: Mrs. Mattie Clyburn Rice. ‘Miss Mattie,’ as everyone called her, was the daughter of a slave who ran away from a South Carolina plantation to join his young master in the army. When he was an old man, he received a North Carolina state pension for Confederate veterans. Miss Mattie was a proud UDC member until her death.”
“As for attracting new members, any young lady who is 16 can join the UDC if she has a Confederate ancestor (grandfather or uncle, but not a cousin) who fought honorably for the Confederacy, gave civil or material aid to the Confederacy. She must prove her lineage to the Confederate as well as his service to the Confederacy. Requiring this proof is no different from any other lineage organization,” Gasson adds.
“We no longer have a Confederate Army, that is a fact…but we strive to educate folks concerning the correct, true history, and we remember the War Between the States and the part our Southern men and boys in gray played, as well as the suffering and struggles of the families at home,” Gasson states. “This is a part of our history and our Confederates have nothing to regret in defending our Southland. They were doing their job, just as our military are doing today. They were defending their families, their homes and their South!”
Grills adds, “In these days when much of the past history is glossed over or made politically correct and historic structures are demolished, it is more important than ever to preserve our heritage.”
To join the Coltrane-Harris Chapter of the UDC, or for general information, contact Susan Grills at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ncudc.org.