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A Southern Homecoming
by Randy Hill



It was April 14, 1863, in Virginia, and the youngest company commander in Hood's Texas Brigade, Captain (brevet major) Ike Turner, age 24, lay mortally wounded. With his troops gathered around him, he made a final request.

"Men," Turner asked, "if you can, please take me home to my mother, for I fear she will worry so about me."

But there was a war on. And the best that could be managed for the time being was to bury him on his family's old plantation in Georgia. Later, perhaps after it was all over, he could be carried back to his kinfolk in Polk County, Texas.

The war ended and men of Turner's command were known to have stopped by and paid their respects to their former leader. However, possibly because no feasible means of transportation existed in the war-torn South, "Cap'm Ike" was left to rest beneath the red soil of Georgia.

The century ended. The decades rolled on. Over 125 years passed. In Polk County, a local camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans took his name . . . and the obligation to carry out his dying wish. To that end, the men of the Ike Turner Camp No. 1275 assembled around the grave of his mother and made a solemn pledge to bring her son home.

They were faithful to the trust. Exactly 132 years after his death in battle, Captain Ike Turner was brought back for the funeral he never had. It was an event symbolic of honoring all the Confederate soldiers listed as missing in action.

And dedicated to all the mothers of the South whose boys never came home.

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It was, as the Turner camp commander later put it, an "inherited obligation." And one that might have had to wait a lot longer if not for a phone call from Georgia. The camp had been re-activated in 1992 with one of its initial projects being the marking of Confederate graves in the local area. There were quite a few of them, and almost immediately the natural question arose: Where was Ike Turner buried? The question appeared in a Confederate Veteran magazine article wherein camp officers stated the long-range goal of finding out. Research indicated the captain was buried somewhere in Georgia. Just where in Georgia was the mystery.

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Isaac Newton Moreland Turner was born on the Turnwold Plantation, in Putnam County, Georgia, on April 3, 1839. His father had purchased land in Texas after serving in the Mexican War. With the rest of the family planning to migrate there soon, Ike was the one entrusted with the initial task of coming west to oversee the property.

When the War Between the States broke out, Ike and his uncle formed an artillery unit that was later switched over to Confederate infantry service as Company K, 5th Texas Volunteers. Ike was elected captain and, after a proper send-off replete with rousing speeches, marching men, and cheering crowds -- during which time he promised to send each man back a hero -- they all went off to fight a war.

The 5th would join with the 1st and 4th Texas, the 18th Georgia, and a South Carolina legion, under the designation "Texas Brigade" and compile a record of gallantry and a fighting reputation so renowned that, in a latter day and age, they would be referred to as the "shock troops" of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. During their impressive string of participation in major engagements, Turner himself was wounded twice. After the loss of ranking officers at Second Manassas -- a battle in which the Texas boys' bravery was cited as "unsurpassed in the history of the world" -- he assumed temporary command of the entire regiment.

Following the battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam) Turner was brevetted to major, with the understanding the rank would become permanent upon his organizing a battalion of sharpshooters. The promotion never came to fruition. On April 14, 1863, near Suffolk, Virginia, he was fatally wounded by a yankee bullet. He died the following day.

Some forty years later the United Confederate Veterans organized a camp in Polk County, Texas, and called itself the Ike Turner Camp No. 321. Their sons and grandsons of the SCV did a similar christening in their turn. It was they who would speak aloud the vow to somehow find their namesake and bring him home to his mother and his people.

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One Georgia man knew exactly where Captain Ike Turner had rested all these years. He had read of the efforts of the Texans and was intrigued by the project. After a little research of his own, he found the location to be only some 20 miles away from his hometown of Milledgeville. The original plantation home was long gone, and the nearby family cemetery was overgrown in a tangle of vines and undergrowth. But, nestled within a bed of bright blue periwinkles, the old headstone was still there. It was even off to itself a bit, as if specially chosen for someone's return for it, someday.

Following an enthusiastic phone call to Texas, events moved quickly. Permission was sought -- and granted -- from Turner's descendant's to do an exhumation. The grave depth was shallow, confirming the belief it had never been intended as permanent. Although the casket itself had long since rotted away, the mortal remains and some glass buttons from the uniform were unearthed and, along with some soil from the gravesite, placed into a newly built "period style" coffin of yellow poplar which had been especially constructed for the journey home.

For two days, Turner's casket, draped with the Stars and Bars and adorned with a spray of yellow Texas roses, lay in the rotunda of the Old Governor's mansion in Milledgeville. Then, on September 24, 1994, in a ceremony involving hundreds of spectators and participants, and with bands playing Dixie, Georgia once again bade a farewell to a native son headed west.

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Livingston, Texas, the county seat of Polk, lies nestled comfortably in the piney woods of southeast Texas. The first thing visitors from all across the South might have noticed as they came into town on April 14, 1995, was the prominence of yellow ribbons, and that most of the flags in town were flying at half-staff.

Downtown, the dual columns of the courthouse were tied with huge black mourning ribbons. Outside, near the Confederate monument -- without which no Southern courthouse lawn would be complete -- the Ike Turner 6-pound artillery piece was displayed. Inside, the body of Ike Turner had lain in state since 6:00 that morning. His coffin, still covered with the Stars and Bars, was surrounded by floral arrangements which, arranged in tasteful symmetry, had been sent from all across Dixie. On either side, two uniformed CSA re-enactors stood as an honor guard that changed every 30 minutes with a formal, silent decorum. An enlarged photograph of the captain hung perfectly centered on the wall behind the casket, forever young and handsome in gray uniform. A steady stream of visitors filed in to pay their respects; the line stretching back through the doors, down the steps to the walkway, up and down the sidewalk and around both corners.

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April 15, 1995, the day of the funeral, was cloudy, breezy, and humid. The sky was a patchy Confederate gray. At the curb a glass-enclosed, horse-drawn hearse awaited, and the symbolic riderless horse was tended nearby. Shortly before noon, bagpipes struck up a processional hymn and the uniformed pall bearers shouldered the casket. Preceded by cross and incense bearers and a chanting priest, they emerged from the courthouse, stepped down the walk, and loaded the casket into the hearse. On the street, a procession lined up to march to the city cemetery where the graves of other Confederate veterans would be blessed, before returning to the Old Methodist Church for Captain Turner's official funeral. The service was to be conducted according to the exact customs of the 1860's -- as true to the one he would have had as the passing of time could ever permit.

A color guard and a period brass band were first in line, followed by companies of re-enactors, hundreds of infantry, cavalry, and artillery in gray and butternut. Behind them were ladies in ante-bellum dress, strewing rose petals, while scores of townspeople and visitors fell in behind. Forming an avenue on both sides of the street, thousands of other spectators, including all the major news media with cameras at the ready, lined up as far as the eye could see.

There was a moment of unrehearsed silence. Then there was a cue from somewhere. And then they stepped off and began to march.

On they came, with the old swinging route step and swaying battle-flags...the proud Confederate ensign...the whole column seemed crowned with red... so bravely borne through many a field more crimson than itself...*

And when the band broke into Dixie, the explosive cheer that went up immediately almost drowned out the horns and crashing cymbals. It seemed endless -- a detonated burst of emotion arising from the hearts of an undefeated people, echoing across the whole of the town and beyond.

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The final event of the day was the graveside services and re-burial of Capt. Ike Turner in the family cemetery some 20 miles east of Livingston. The procession reformed and began another march down a pine-bordered country lane to the cemetery. In support, tended artillery pieces were positioned on a high grassy knoll some distance from the burial grounds.

At graveside, the small fenced cemetery was laced and ringed by countless mourners, including family members, who listened as eulogies were given and tributes paid to Turner's service to the Confederacy. The Georgia contingent poured some of its red soil into the grave, while one of their numbers read the words of Edward Carmack's timeless love letter to a region:

"The South is a land that has known sorrows; it is a land that has broken the ashen crust and moistened it with tears; a land scarred and riven by the plowshare of war and billowed with the graves of her dead; but a land of legend, a land of song, a land of hallowed and heroic memories. To that land every drop of my blood, every fiber of my being, every pulsation of my heart, is consecrated forever. I was born of her womb; I was nurtured at her breast; and when my last hour shall come, I pray God that I may be pillowed upon her bosom and rocked to sleep within her tender and encircling arms."

A salute was fired by the re-enactors and the bagpipes played Amazing Grace. Buglers struck up Tattoo and concluded with Taps. In the distance, the rolling thunder of a 21 shot cannon volley provided dramatic accompaniment. Captain Ike Turner was home to stay.

A loose, informal procession reformed behind the brass band as it marched back up the lane where the warm spring breeze brushed the soft grasses of the knoll into angel hair. More people joined in and cheered their hearts out as the crashing strains of Dixie reverberated through the towering pines

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*From "Passing of the Armies" by General Joshua L. Chamberlain

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Randy Hill is a fourth generation Texan of Deep Dixie ancestry, and he bleeds Confederate Gray with Lone Stars. He lives in Wichita Falls, Texas, holds a BA degree with a major in political science and a minor in journalism. He's a public school teacher (asking that such not be held against him). His interests include all things Texan and Southern, his kids, hunting, fishing, camping, cold beer, and severe weather. He dabbles in writing--with file folders full of scribblings too sophomoric to submit for publication--and is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He also believes passionately that a Southern birthright is a gift from God.





Read more of Randy's popular stories at USADEEPSOUTH:
DIXIE ~~ anthem of the South
Memories of a Family Reunion
Texas and the Deep South
A Southern Homecoming
The First Confederate April


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