Eighty-eight Confederate flags, placed on the graves of Civil War veterans buried in the cemetery at Bethany ARP Church near Clover, were removed and tossed in the woods after an observance there, authorities say.
Kirk Carter, a member of the Private Thomas Caldwell Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the group placed the flags on the graves for a May 9 service in honor of Confederate Memorial Day. When he went by the cemetery on S.C. 161 about two weeks later, he noticed the flags were gone.
“I stopped to look around and all of them had been taken up,” Carter said last week about the flags. “Something told me to go back to the rear of the cemetery. I looked down the wall into the woods and I found the first pile of red cloth just thrown over the wall.”
Carter, who serves as third brigadier commander of the state organization, said he walked along the stone wall behind the cemetery and found several more piles of the flags. He also took several pictures.
“I just want the community to know about this terrible deed that has been done,” said Carter, who also reported the incident to the York County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s a despicable act that someone would disrespect the dead in that nature. It’s just not right.”
M.G. Patterson, who serves as overseer of the Bethany ARP Church cemetery, said he was upset about the incident. Patterson, who inquired about the incident among the church membership the following Sunday, said he had no idea who would have pulled up the flags.
“This has never happened at this cemetery, as far as I know,” he said.
Patterson said he felt like the incident was done by someone who objects to the organization. “You go through here and pull all these up,” he said of the flags. “This took time.”
The Rev. Alan Arthur Morrow, pastor of the church, said Bethany has for several years allowed the Sons of Confederate Veterans to hold its Confederate Memorial Day service at the cemetery.
The church was organized in 1797, and Morrow said the cemetery has “quite a few” graves of Civil War veterans, as well as veterans of the Revolutionary War and later American wars.
“They must have done it under cover of darkness,” Morrow said. He said the community would have been aware of the observance because of the crowd and gunshots at the cemetery that day.
Carter said the SCV is a historical honor society that provides information about the Civil War and Southern heritage. The group has attracted some criticism nationally for some of its views. Carter acknowledge that there are some “misperceptions about what the group is about.”
“We attempt to teach others about the truth,” Carter said. He also said the group does “things within the community to let the community know we are an organization that cares about the community.”
Carter said the group is seeking information leading to the arrest of the person or group who took the flags. “We cannot let these graves be desecrated in the manner they were and sit back and do nothing,” he said.