Grey uniforms. Antebellum dresses. Vintage rifles kee-racking.
Old traditions unfolded and flags unfurled in a recent cemetery scene: A muggy Saturday afternoon found descendants of Confederate Major Isaac White MD gathered amid tombstones for a full ceremonial tribute to their ancestor.
Historical groups filled the small Shawsville hillside graveyard: members of Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Order of the Confederate Rose, Military Order of the Stars and Bars.
A marching color guard, many wreaths placed, brief speeches, prayers, welcome and dismissal by SCV Commander Mark Craig – and yes, that firing-of-the-volley – but no cannon to startle the still, summer air.
“I didn’t want the cannon fired,” drawled George White Snead, great-grandson of Major White. “Every cow in Montgomery County would have calved!”
He noted the dignity of the memorial service, and thanked the participants: “Big-hearted people in heavy wool” on a hot day – itself a small reminder of the suffering of Civil War soldiers. (He himself is a World War II veteran.)
George addressed the crowd eloquently, though he apologized for a voice sometimes cracking with emotion.
Before the ceremony daughter Lin Melchionna of Roanoke explained that Sarah Jones of Virginia’s UDC had approached her dad because “she knew of Civil War dead here” in the cemetery across from the old family farmhouse.
A shoebox of Isaac White’s memorabilia was a family treasure, said Lin. “It was handed down to me by my mother,” George said. “There are 98 pieces in all, including his medical requisitions.”
And White’s 34 letters: “Dad spoke with [eminent Civil War historian, now-retired] Virginia Tech Prof. James Robertson, and gave the letters to Tech,” said Lin. (Virginia Tech was “elated to receive them,” said the UDC’s Sarah Jones.)
“The letters are very detailed,” George said. “They can even be used to track battles.”
The personal aspects of the letters touched Lin: “They’re addressed to ‘dearest darling Jinnie,’ [his bride, from Danville]…. He was a young MCV [Medical College of Virginia] graduate, a surgeon who was on the battlefield. And he came home…. I wear his cufflink cover on my charm bracelet.”
She said her grandmother Bess Duvall White Snead “gave a piece of money” here-and-there to keep up the White Cemetery during the Depression.
Longtime Salemite George recalled mowing the cemetery with boyhood pal Jimmy Pearman for 50 cents apiece. Later they and former Sen. Madison Marye established a fund for its upkeep. (James E. Pearman Jr., son of the late Pearman, is now president of the cemetery and attended the ceremony.)
“The ancestral homeplace had been a 1700s land grant to the Crocketts; the Whites bought it about 1830,” George said. “The house had no electricity until I was 12! (I’m just a country boy.)… [Noted Roanoke artist] Eric Fitzpatrick did a large painting of it for me.”
Tribute was also paid to James and Jacob Langhorne, brothers killed in the Civil War. Their tombstone is near the grave of Isaac White.