Confederates’ offspring are ‘last links’ to history
When he mentions that his daddy fought for the Confederacy, H.V. Booth gets more than a few raised eyebrows.
“Really? Really?” Booth says, mimicking people’s incredulity. “They just can’t believe it.”
His father, Isham Johnson Booth, a country boy from north of Athens, played a bit part in the Civil War. But it was a grim role, the memory of which never left him and was something he rarely spoke about. He was a guard at Andersonville, the prisoner-of-war camp in south-central Georgia that has become synonymous with suffering.
Booth, who turns 92 this month, is the end of a chapter of American history. He is an actual son of a Confederate veteran. There aren’t many anymore. The Sons of the Confederate Veterans — the organization, that is — believes there are about 30 “real sons” still alive, including two in Georgia.
Their fathers were young when Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered in 1865 but old when they sired children in the early decades of the 20th century.
Near Vidalia, at a crossroads called Tarrytown, lives 84-year-old John McDonald, whose father enlisted with his rifle and horse when he was just 13, following two older brothers.
“We’re the last link,” Booth said in a recent interview. “We’re the last link of the mouth to the ear.”
There wasn’t much mouth-to-ear. Isham Booth didn’t talk about the war much to his son. They were too busy working. The elder Booth was a stern man who eked out a living as a sharecropper and died at age 86 in 1934, when his son was 15. Up until the end, he picked 90 to 100 pounds of cotton a day.
“He didn’t believe in schooling,” Booth recalled from his living room in Elberton in northeast Georgia. “He believed in working. He said a poor man didn’t need anything but a burial plot.”
It was a message from a man who knew early on that life was hard.
I’ve mentioned several times at LGF that I actually knew people who had childhood memories of the Civil War. The most striking was our neighbor in Colorado Springs, a Mrs. R. She was born in DC in 1859 and lived there through most of her childhood. She could remember seeing Abraham Lincoln in person more than once, along with great masses of blue clad soldiers. She said they frequently heard gunfire in the distance.
At my father’s suggestion I made a point of looking into her eyes. When she asked me why, I told her it was because I wanted to be sure and remember the eyes that had seen the great Lincoln. They were brown, and filled with kindness and wisdom. She laughed and said to remember it well, because I might end up being one of the last people on Earth who could remember such a thing. She died a few months before her 100th birthday, when I was 10.