SEBRING – The day came and went unceremoniously and was mostly forgotten around Highlands County.
April 26 was Confederate Memorial Day in Florida (SCV) and the 11 full-time members of the Capt. F.A. Hendry Camp 1284 may have held individual remembrances at home for their Confederate forbearers, but outside, the day was mostly unheralded -- much like the small, Sebring-based SCV camp currently is.
However, members of the Hendry camp -- named for Capt. Francis Asbury Hendry, a Confederate soldier, cattle magnate and civic leader after which Hendry County is named -- are working to breathe life into the historical and social organization. Through meetings, programs and community service, they said they’re working to boost members and change perceptions of the Confederacy, its leaders and common foot soldiers and ideals and its importance in Florida history.
According to its website, the SCV is the direct heir of the United Confederate Veterans, and the oldest hereditary organization for male descendants of Confederate soldiers. It was founded Richmond, Va., in 1896, and serves as an historical, patriotic and “non-political organization dedicated to insuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved.”
For David Poteat, camp commander, it’s the 33 Rebel ancestors who fought in north Florida and North Carolina that keeps his membership active.
For Gator Howerton, camp historian, it’s his great-great-grandfathers William Oscar Andrews, Florida 5th Infanty, and Aquilla Farrer, Georgia 38th Infantry -- captured and held in Fort Delaware, Del. -- that makes him active; and for Raymond McIntyre, Highlands County property appraiser, it’s the service of ancestors like Pvt. William Merritt, his great-great-grandfather who fought with the 9th Florida Infantry in the Battle of Olustee, Fla., and was at Appomattox April 9, 1865, when the South surrendered.
The men admit keeping interest in the SCV and the Hendry camp, specifically, is more of a challenge around Florida with its large transplant and immigrant populations, folks with no ancestral connection to the Confederacy.
He said also having a significant rural population makes getting to centralized camp meetings difficult for some.
“Demographically, Highlands County has a lot of snowbirds and that doesn’t help when you’re trying to recruit locally. It’s hard to recruit people that might live 20 or 30 miles away or aren’t even from the South,” said John Adams, public relations officer and past commander of the SCV’s Florida Division.
Adams rechartered the Hendry Camp in 2008. It started in 1990 as the Sgt. John L. Skipper Camp, disbanded in 2000 before reactivating under the Hendry name.
McIntyre, the Hendry Camp’s adjutant, said it rechartered with about 10 members and reached about 20 in 2011, where membership still hovers.
The SCV is open to all male descendants of any veteran who served honorably in the Confederate armed forces and membership can be obtained through lineal or collateral family lines. The minimum age for full membership is 12, but there is no minimum for “Cadet” membership.
Locally, over the past five to six years, camp members have worked to get the program active through SCV and historical event participation and presentations. McIntyre said getting out and about is integral to the chapter’s growth,
“We’d like people to know we’re here and we want people to know their histories. We welcome all men who want to honor their Confederate heritage,” he said.
The Hendry Camp meets at 5:30 p.m., the first Tuesday of the month, at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, N. 2940 U.S. 27.
To do that, the Hendry Camp, the Florida Division -- chartered in 1898 with two camps -- and the national SCV based in Columbia, Tenn., host or sponsor activities around Highlands County.
Poteat, 53, who joined the SCV in 1995, said April 25, the camp awarded the The H. L. Hunley JROTC Award scholarship -- named after the inventor of the Confederate submarine that was the first submarine to sink an enemy ship in battle -- to an Avon Park High School JROTC cadet, with six camp members present.
The Hendry Camp has also established a Color Guard and participated in an SCV Iron Cross ceremony the week of April 21 in Lakeland; the Iron Cross was given to Confederates who fought with valor during battles. Nov. 14, the Hendry Color Guard will take part in an Iron Cross ceremony in Ft. Ogden, with Poteat and McIntyre giving presentations.
McIntyre said meetings begin with dinner and then there is usually a 45-minute business meeting followed by an historical presentation by a guest or member, which has recently included the Battle of Richmond, Ky. and one on railroads during the Civil War. Scheduled for June 3 will be a discussion on Civil War weapons and clothing.
In addition, field trips are taken, such as an Oct. 19, 2013, visit to the Berea Cemetery in Berea, just north of Avon Park, when five Iron Crosses were dedicated. Tips on genealogical research are also frequently provided.
“The programs and trips may help you learn something about the truth of the Confederacy and the war and you may find you have family members that were in the Confederate army,” said Poteat. “We’re not political; we don’t talk politics and we don’t tolerate rude behavior. We treat everyone with respect and hope they’ll feel comfortable enough to come back and visit with us.”
Adams said the largest SCV camp in Florida is in Jacksonville, with over 200 members and with 11 members, the Hendry camp is one of the smallest.
For information, call (863) 385-5036 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.