Capt. C.F. Connor, Camp #849
Blue Ridge Brigade, NC Division
Hickory, North Carolina
Sons of Confederate Veterans
Priceless Pictures of the First Reunion
By Sylvia Kidd
Seventy-five years ago this summer a civic-minded group planned a county-wide reunion of Catawba County's ageing veterans of the Confederacy. The throng of bearded men gathered with their families and hundreds of folks on the Courthouse Square here on the third Thursday in August and, in a sentimental day of reminiscing and visiting, they began a local tradition that we continue to this day.
On the third Thursday in August this year people will flock to the county seat for the 75th annual Soldier's Reunion, but this time the soldiers we honor will be veterans of later wars. The men in gray are long since gone but the tradition is still a part of our heritage.
This year's reunion events will mark a diamond anniversary for the celebration, and things will have changed greatly from the days when folks came to town in buggies and spread a community picnic dinner on the Courthouse lawn.
We are fortunate to have tow memorable photographs of the first reunion gathering, in 1892. These were brought to us by Mrs. Aubrey Smith of Route 2, Maiden, who found them among the mementos at the home of her grandfather, the late John C. Warlick of Lincoln County. Mr. Warlick was an amateur photographer in the days when picture-taking was a novelty, and his work today is priceless.
The picture showing the four rows of men, most of them with long, flowing white beards, is truly historic. It shows the Confederate veterans who were present in Newton on that first reunion day, and we counted 62 men in the rows.
This photo and the other one should be studied with a magnifying glass to appreciate some of the fading details. One is the medals from the Confederacy that can be seen pinned to the lapels of many of the old men. It is evident they had treasured those medals for the nearly 30 years between the War Between the States and the time of that first reunion gathering.
Not all the men are elderly, for many of them were quite young just teens when they went to war. But the beards and the big old-fashioned felt hats they wore, even in August, make them all appear older than men of middle age look today.
One man, on the back row, the second from the end on the right side, is holding a young boy, dressed up like Little Lord Fauntleroy, who must have been his grandson.
One by one the ranks of the Confederate veterans thinned, until a generation ago when the last ancient ones died. By then we were honoring our veterans from later wars. Several years ago the last man to fight in the Spanish-American War passed away, and today the old soldiers at reunion are from World War I. This year they will be special persons at the celebration, along with the men who fought in World War II and in Korea. And now, in 1967, we will honor our country's fighting men in Vietnam.
Bountiful Tables Marked Reunions
Mrs. Smith's other photo is the more colorful one. This shows the community picnic that was spread on more man 12 long tables on the Courthouse east lawn with hundreds of people milling around.
This picture is a history buff's delight. Close scrutiny shows the quaint fashions of the men, women and children of the day. That was the era of dignity triumphing over comfort; even in the hot August sun the men all are wearing their coats. The women are elegant in their long dresses and wide, flower-laden hats.
Near the bottom of the photo is a woman who may have been in mourning, a young woman in what seems to be a black silk dress and wide black hat, carrying a year-old child in its long white dress and white cap. This baby could have been a little boy, since the lads wore dresses just as tiny girls did. Walking in front of this woman must have been her husband. He is carrying a little girl of about three, in a wide sailor-type hat.
At the bottom of the photo can be seen two women seated beneath a parasol in a one-horse, one-seated buggy. To the left of it is a larger, open wagon that was probably the conveyance of a big family and its picnic lunch.
In the foreground, just to the front of the one-horse buggy, can be seen two men with their arms entwined around each other's shoulders, one in a light suit and one in a dark suit, both of them wearing the big-brimmed hats.
In those days residents of Blackburn and folks living at Sherrills Ford were as distant from one another as Carolinians are from Georgians of today.
One cute vignette in the picture is of a young boy, on the extreme right bottom corner. This lad of about eight is barefooted, with a knee-pants suit and a big straw hat. He is standing beside his father, seemingly longing to get to the laden picnic tables.
A lovely reminder of yesteryear is a white-gowned woman spreading the lunch, seen at the tables to the right, among the trees. Her wasp-waist and leg-o-mutton sleeves over a sweeping skirt look cumbersome, indeed, but there is no denying she "cut a fine figure of a woman," in the courtly language of the day.
The Victorian-style business building to be seen in the background of the photo, in the opening between the trees, was the former P. O. Carpenter store, now Carpenter-Cook store. The old courthouse building is the large, columned structure in the left of the photo, the center of all the activity.
One proof of the age of this photo is the absence, on the northwest corner of the Square, of the Confederate soldier statue and monument, which had not then been erected. It was put up and dedicated at Reunion in 1904.
In those first years of Reunion everyone brought big picnic baskets and spread them together, and later they provided dinner for just the old veterans and their wives. One older resident told us that the picnic dinner had to be finally abandoned because many folks came to eat who did not bring a picnic and things ran out before everyone had a plateful.
Today the local American Legion Post, which co-sponsors Reunion with the Merchants Association, feeds all the veterans at a free fish fry after the Reunion Day parade.
[This outstanding account of times past was discovered in an old newspaper I rescued from the Fairgrounds fleamarket this week. This account was found in the Catawba Weekender,
a weekend edition of the Observer-News-Enterprise, dated July 7, 1967.
Of particular interest is that it was written by my dear friend, Sylvia Kidd Ray, Catawba County's premier journalist. I would also like to take this opportunity to feature Sylvia's award, commissioning her as a full-fledged Kentucky Colonel, presented to her in November of 2005.]
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