The Sword

In the Victorian era of the language of flowers, the black or burgundy color Dahlia flower symbolizes betrayal. Black Dahlia’s symbolism is extremely strong and has been present for centuries.

It is not every day that you come across a picture of your great-great grandfather in a newspaper article written in 2017, with a picture of him 100 years before, in 1917 at age 75, holding a sword, dressed in his Civil War uniform going to register on the first day of the draft for WWI!  He wasn’t accepted, but his grandson was.  This picture mirrors the only other picture I have of him, from when he was 21, and in both pictures, he is in uniform, holding a sword, ready for war.

My first thought was (setting aside any judgements or politics) that it is good to know I have an ancestor, Captain Edwin D. Camden, who is ready to fight battles for me, uphold the family honor, never say die, hold the boundaries. But it brings up a lot of questions too.  What was it in his character that kept that fighting spirit alive, well into old age?    During the civil war he was badly injured, left for dead, taken prisoner and intentionally starved.  Despite that, in his later years, what is still driving this spirit?  Is he still defending his family and home, standing for what he believes in?  Is he proud of his place in history?  Is he still angry at perceived betrayals and still willing to fight over them?  Perhaps it is simply that he was a bad ass and is still ready to prove it to anyone who crosses him.  Likely, it was also about HONOR, that sometimes hard to understand line in the sand. 

I learned in my research that Edwin Camden was one of 14 children (eight living) of a hotel and tavern owner, John S. Camden and his wife Nancy, in Sutton, WV, whose hotel was burned to the ground in December 1861 in a skirmish between the Confederates and Union armies.  He, his dad and two younger brothers were Confederates while his two older brothers and uncles were Union sympathizers.  His parents died of exposure and exhaustion after being rendered homeless from the fire that burned the whole town.  And the siblings were in court 12 years later suing each other over their father’s estate, with Edwin as the lead plaintiff.   The divisions, betrayals, and utter destruction these family members experienced must have been completely overwhelming. 

The word betrayal started to really stand out for me the more I read into his history. There are few words that conjure up a deeper cocktail of anger and hurt than the word betrayal.   Betrayals often happen with those you trust the most, with the ones you have let close to your heart.  Even saying the word betrayal feels like a sword thrust. 

In reviewing Edwin’s war record, after 3 years of fighting, he was badly wounded, left for dead on the battlefield, and taken prisoner by the Union Army.  He was a prisoner for a year, was intentionally starved, used as a human shield by the Union Army, and became one of the Immortal Six Hundred – men who as POWs never took the Oath of Allegiance to the United States after the war.   From Wikipedia: The Immortal Six Hundred prisoners became known throughout the South for their refusal to take the Oath of Allegiance under duress. Southerners have long lauded their refusal as honorable and principled.

With betrayals so deep, a code of Honor so deeply imbedded, it’s no wonder that the brick walls of family divisions grew so large.  I imagine their mothers would have loved to have said, “JUST COME HOME RIGHT NOW AND STOP THAT.  We are family.  Work it out. Love each other.”

Most of us have experienced betrayal against ourselves, like a close friend revealing a secret, or a teammate at work taking credit for our work, or sometimes worse….   But if we dig a little deeper most of us will also find we have been the CAUSE of a betrayal, usually an unintentional one.  It is these unintentional betrayals that are the hardest, often hurting those we love the most. 

When I asked my 92-year-old aunt about all these divided families in my Camden ancestry, she tells me she never heard anything was amiss, and that her grandmother, Edwin’s daughter Kate, would never say bad things about anyone.  And so, all this was “swept under the rug” as they say.  I know they meant well, trying to “keep the peace” by suppressing disturbing dramas and conflicts.  But what really happens is the other famous saying “those who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it”.  When we don’t hear the stories of why the brothers split sides in a war, of why a brother left for the other side of the country, of why one brother sued another, then the next generations don’t have an opportunity to learn from those mistakes, and hopefully not repeat them over and over like in the movie Groundhog Day.

Edwin went to his grave carrying those divisions and betrayals I am sure, his honor intact, but at what cost?  How often did he have to choose between honor and love?   Now I see Edwin as a champion for healing divided families from his much wider vantage point on the other side of the veil, making confetti with his sword of any long-held resentments and anger, helping us dissolve the bitterness of betrayal. 

Images: 1) Edwin Camden at age 75, dressed in his Civil War uniform 2) Edwin Camden at age 21, ready to go off to the Civil War.

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