Two photographs set Maribeth Brannen, the president of the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Alpharetta, on a genealogical journey: One was of her great-great-grandfather, a major with the Union Army’s cavalry; the other was of her husband’s great-great-grandfather, a Confederate private who lost two fingers in the Battle of Atlanta. Brannen was proud of her heritage but soon found that no group in Georgia recognized direct female descendants of Union veterans. So in 2009, she founded a chapter—or “tent,” as they’re called—with seventeen fellow Georgians. The Daughters of Union Veterans group has since swelled to fifty members, ranging in age from twelve to eighty. About half are Southern by birth.
I’m from Saint Petersburg, Florida, which really is Yankee territory. I’ve lived in Atlanta forty-seven years, so I picked up the accent. I married a Southern boy. I joke that my son is an S.O.B.—son of both.
I found this photograph in things passed down through the family. My mother never told me her great-grandfather was in the Civil War; the conversation never came up.
With the advent of the computer, genealogy has just busted wide open, and there’s
a resurgence in these organizations. It’s really to preserve the history and honor the ancestors. So much gets lost in time and people don’t know where they came from. And we’re a service organization, too. We’re not just fluff.
People that have both [lineages] who live here choose to honor their Confederate ancestor and not recognize their Union.
One time, we heard somebody say, when she learned that we were in Daughters of the Union, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” And that really did upset me. It’s like, why would we be ashamed of ourselves? There’s still a lot of resentment. Some people are really still fighting the Civil War.
I try not to rub it in. I really try not to. But we did save the flag, and we did save the Union, and we would be two different countries if they’d won.
This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue under the headline “The Descendants.”