Memorial service honors Confederate veteranPublished 6:01am Saturday, November 3, 2012
Tim Willis’ research into his family’s past has taken him to Franklin County many times.
But last weekend, the Deltona, Fla., resident got a chance to do something he thought he might not ever be able to see.
Willis and several family and community members gathered at No. 6 Cemetery between Tharptown and Pleasant Ridge to honor his great-great grandfather Gardner Willis, who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.
Gardner Willis was born in 1830 in Jackson County, but moved to northwest Alabama sometime before 1860, according to census records. Willis joined Company B, 9th Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry in Florence in 1861 but was quickly transferred to Company I, Alabama Infantry in which he served until 1865.
Willis lived in Russellville for the last 10 years of his life, until he died in 1918. He was buried with his second wife, Ledora, and the couple’s daughter, Walker Ella Roberts, in the No. 6 Cemetery.
Willis’ great-grandson, 91 year-old Clifton Smelser, said he didn’t even know Willis served in the Confederate Army until recently.
Chris Ozbirn, director of the Franklin County Archives and Research Center, found the information on Gardner Willis and the location of his grave and told Smelser where he was buried.
Over the years, Ozbirn has been able to obtain 158 Confederate grave markers for Confederate soldiers buried in Franklin County.
“Of those, we have done 64 Confederate memorial services,” Ozbirn said.
Sunday’s service included participation by the Winston Grays, the Tuscumbia Honor Guard and the Mechanized Cavalry.
“We do these to honor these soldiers who fought to protect there home and what belonged to them – it wasn’t about slavery,” Ozbirn said.
Steve Turner, with the Winston Grays, told the crowd that Confederate memorial services are held to educate children and adults, alike, about the South’s heritage, which he contends was fought to keep the Union together, not to end slavery.
“Every child would tell you that the Civil War was fought over slavery, but that was not the case and it’s important that we educate them about our Southern history, and part of that is to remember these veterans who fought to preserve their homes and way of life,” Turner said.
Ozbirn said her goal is to locate and obtain grave markers for each Confederate soldier buried in Franklin County.
She is also quick to point out that those buried in what is now Colbert County were Franklin County residents at the time of the Civil War.