One Hundred and Fifty years ago this week my great-great-grandfather Lecil DeVine was shot in the face and captured by Union forces at Big Shanty, Georgia, a key rail station just north of Kennesaw Mountain and Marietta, while a confederate soldier defending against General William Tecumseh Sherman’s inevitable capture of Atlanta in the Fall of 1864 that ensured President Abraham Lincoln’s re-election and the re-unification of all states in a new America free of slavery.
Lecil DeVine and his ancestors had loved America while eschewing slavery since they first arrived on its shores before the war for independence they fought in. Born in Spartanburg, South Carolina less then 80 miles from President Andrew Jackson’s Palmetto State birthplace at Lancaster, Lecil joined fellow Jacksonian Democrats in his new Alabama home to elect a unionist delegate to oppose secession at the early 1861 Montgomery state convention. Unlike President Jackson who threatened to invade and hang Nullification secessionists in his home state in the 1830s, DeVine and other like-minded Southern Americans failed to persuade a majority in eleven states to continue the formation of a more perfect union under the United States Constitution.
Thus defeated, Lecil watched the state-rights Confederacy effect the first draft of free individuals into involuntary military service in American history and the ridicule and shame heaped upon those that didn’t volunteer beforehand. Thus chastened before his inevitable conscription in April pursuant to the second such Act passed at President Jefferson Davis’s request by the CSA congress, he joined the 31st Alabama Infantry Regiment in March of 1862. After fighting in Tennessee, Lecil helped defend Port Gibson, Mississippi before enduring Grant’s siege of Vicksburg after which he was taken prisoner; paroled to Demopolis, Alabama and later exchanged with fellow Confederates for Union prisoners; before rejoining his regiment and his inevitable re-capture 20 miles north of Atlanta.
While Atlanta burned, DeVine was imprisoned at the federal Rock Island, Illinois POW camp which, while not as notoriously wicked as the Andersonville one run by Confederates in Georgia, was known as one rife with hunger and disease. Even before the fall of Atlanta, war deprivations of food and shelter in much of Dixie were stark, and afterwards much more so, including in Lecil’s northern Alabama home. Thus, with the war he wanted no part of obviously lost by the Confederacy and his patriotic duty fulfilled, he “swallowed the dog” by pledging his Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America and enlisted for a year of frontier service in the U.S. Army. Ironically, his Oath and enlistment papers were signed by Major H.B. Rathbone who, with his wife, accompanied President and Mrs. Lincoln on that fateful night to come at Ford’s Theater.
Lincoln died to preserve the last best hope of man on Earth. Lecil DeVine, rather than wallow in decades of “Lost Cause” bemoanings, embraced that new hope that had been his first cause and pursued the American Dream through family and enterprise in a South though ravaged by war and an imperfect reconstruction, was at least purged of the evil institution of slavery and with an amended Constitution better dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Lecil DeVine’s successors in this Spartanburg native’s immediate family would help build a New South of industry in railroads and nuclear power; integrated schools, Little Leagues and Cub Scouts; law, faith, education and good humor. None of which would have been possible absent the sacrifices of great-great-grandfather Lecil.
So as this Carolina Gamecock now roosted atop Stone Mountain of Georgia and my fellow Atlantans approach the Sesquicentennial of the burning of our great city by who Decatur’s Mary A.H. Gay called America’s Nero; let us remember than unlike Nero’s Rome, Sherman’s Atlanta and America rose from its ashes united to free half the world from Nazis and an evil communist empire and our own empire from Jim Crow.
God’s not finished with America yet and I thank God for a reluctant Confederate ancestor who never lost sight of the City on the Hill that he wanted for himself and his family.
“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson