Members of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War are gathering for their annual national convention in Marietta this weekend, and some members could tell they were in what used to be considered foreign territory.
Dennis St. Andrew, the department commander of North Carolina for the group, said members of the group weren’t worried about visiting below the Mason-Dixon Line, unless they should be.
“It’s fine — as long as nobody’s out to get us, right?” said St. Andrew, of Cary, N.C.
Brad Quinlin, a local historian, organized the weekend’s events to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War in Atlanta.
The anniversary began June 27, which marked 150 years since Union Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman launched his frontal assault at Kennesaw Mountain against the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by Gen. Joseph Johnston. The battle ended in defeat for the Union army and was Sherman’s last frontal assault of the Atlanta Campaign.
The battle at Kennesaw Mountain put this part of Georgia on the map during the Civil War, and Quinlin said that made it a draw for the convention.
Quinlin said some descendants of soldiers hold allegiance to both sides.
“Some of us are SOBs — you know, sons of both,” Quinlin said. “It’s not unique that you had an ancestor on both sides, so we try to honor that here, too.”
Quinlin said the group has never traveled as far south as Marietta for a convention. For one member, it was an especially long trip.
Adam Gaines, a genealogist, said he traveled all the way from his home in Ontario, Canada, to see the South.
“I’ve been coming to these (conventions) every year since 2006,” Gaines said. “The South don’t bother me.”
Gaines said he comes to see other members of the organization, who are all brought together by their common ancestry.
During the convention, members plan to hold leadership meetings, initiate new members and attend business meetings over the weekend.
A descendant of a Union veteran can become a member of the group by applying. Those who are not related to a Union veteran can apply to become associate members of the group, which focuses on honoring veterans and preserving historic heritage through events and community education.
Katie Peterson, the executive director of the Marietta Visitors Bureau, said visitors always boost the local economy.
“It’s just great whenever we do have conferences or meetings take place in Marietta because they come in and they spend their money here in the city of Marietta — and especially on the Square — and it helps our local businesses,” Peterson said.
Peterson said about 300 people are in Marietta for the conference, and she estimates they will spend $130,000 at restaurants, shops, museums and hotels during the four-day conference, which began Thursday.
Diane Mellor, the president of the Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans, which is a women’s group that works with the veterans group, said she plans on taking a vacation from her home in New Hampshire while she’s here.
“We want camaraderie. We are a part of the United States, and we all have a common cause, which is keeping the memories of the boys in blue alive,” Mellor said.
About 20 members of the group visited the Marietta National Cemetery on a trolley tour of the city Thursday, where many Union soldiers are buried.
Quinlin said 78 Union soldiers who are buried in the cemetery died at the former Army Corps hospital site in 1864.
“These men, after 150 years, are still comrades in arms,” Quinlin said of the soldiers’ graves. “They’re still taking care of each other.”
The site of the old Union hospital is where the Marietta Hilton Hotel and Conference Center is now located. That hotel is the home base for the Union group this weekend.
The group will host its biggest event, a bonfire, at the hotel Saturday night.
Evan Brown, of Acworth, an 18-year-old Civil War re-enactor who is applying to become a member of the Sons of Union Veterans, said he is looking forward to the campfire. Brown set up a tent outside the hotel and was sharpening his knife while “guarding” the building dressed in an authentic-looking navy blue Army uniform.
“I re-enact because it’s fun, and you get the feel of being a soldier without really being in the Army,” Brown said.
Quinlin said the weekend of celebrating the history of the Civil War is important because it makes history come alive.
“When I tell stories, it’s about the soldiers,” Quinlin said. “Everyone can connect with soldiers.”