The land of the free and the home of the brave.
I was warned earlier in the week that we would be taking a Sunday drive in lieu of vacation. The route would be left up to me, with the caveat that the final waypoint should be a nice place for lunch.
Forewarned means prepared, and assistance came in the form of my South Carolina Atlas & Gazetteer, a great tool for finding the road not taken. Fortunately, my wife enjoys exploring as much as I do, and our comfort with the uncertainty of what the next curve brings has yielded many wonderful sights. And there are always surprises when you take the backroads and byways of your home turf.
So we found ourselves on Steed Creek Road, a quiet, smooth two-lane blacktop that cuts through the Francis Marion National Forest. Heading west, we came upon a sign with an arrow and the words: "Shooting Range". All it took was a shared glance, and down the trail we went, coming soon to the Twin Pond Rifle Range.
Pulling into a parking area filled with cars and trucks, we shared a common concern; were we about enter the territory of drunken shooters, tattooed men with faces hidden by beards and topped with unruly mullets? Was this ground to be our final resting place?
Not to worry. What we found were, well, Americans…nice, friendly, normal looking people. Yes, they were shooting guns, and there was plenty of noise, really big noise. But a lot of the shooting was being done by wives and girlfriends, learning how to handle a pistol. A few hunters were zeroing their scopes, and the hobbyists were practicing their skills on their winchesters and other unidentifiable long guns. The atmosphere reeked of order, safety, expertise, and cordite and the volume of noise mixed with the power of the gunfire was somehow reassuring instead of frightening. Guns used not to intimidate or to murder, but to defend and protect, or to feed.
We could have stayed, and maybe even had an opportunity to pull a trigger or two, but the blacktop beckoned. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Twin Pond, and there may yet be some friendships made in the pine forest of the Francis Marion.
Hardly settled into our seats and still processing the thrill of proximate gunfire, another opportunity presented itself with an intriguing sign.
Not a dirt road this, but a grassy track that led deeper into the pine trees. Apple Old Field Cemetery. A quiet place, and small. Neat and well tended, with a pretty, white picket fence to keep the animals and vandals away. A sunflower garnished the barrier, perhaps to soften the warning.
One gravestone stood taller than the others, with a small Confederate battle flag placed alongside.
Miles from the nearest town, hidden in the vastness of a national forest, remembered still for his service to that old ideal, lies Elias Cumbee, born in 1846, died in 1923. After a little research, I think Elias Cumbee served as a private in Company D, 23rd Regiment of the South Carolina Infantry, also known as Hatch’s Coast Rangers, part of the Tramp Brigade. Here is a bit of the history of that regiment:
23rd Infantry Regiment [also called Coast Rangers] was assembled at Charleston, South Carolina, in November, 1861. Most of the men were from Horry, Georgetown, Charleston, and Colleton counties. After being stationed in South Carolina, the regiment moved to Virginia and during the war served in General Evans’, Elliot’s, and Wallace’s Brigade. It participated in the conflicts at Second Manassas, South Mountain, and Sharpsburg, then was ordered to North Carolina and later to Mississippi. The unit skirmished at Jackson, was sent to Charleston, and in the spring of 1864 returned to Virginia. It continued the fight in the trenches of Petersburg and around Appomattox. During the Second Manassas operations, August 6-20, 1862, this regiment lost sixty-eight percent of the 225 engaged, and all its field officers were wounded. It reported 10 killed, 22 wounded, and 5 missing in the Maryland Campaign, totalled 297 men in October, 1863, and had 49 killed or wounded at the Petersburg mine explosion. The 23rd had many disabled at Sayler’s Creek and surrendered 5 officers and 103 men.
Private Cumbee saw the worst of that war, and somehow survived. How many friends did he see die? Here is a more complete history at the regiment…
Just a few steps away we found a smaller headstone, bearing the name LeVaughan Cumbee. Carved in the stone, just below his name, is the legend "Tec5", the highest rank he held while serving in the army during World War II. Mr. Cumbee was born in 1917, and died sometime after the war (the date was unreadable).
No flag graced his final resting place, but his service to our country was considered important enough by his family to earn a prominent place on the headstone. It struck us that the grandfather would serve the Confederacy, and the grandson would then serve the United States. Buried within feet of each other, equally proud of their service, both willing to risk their lives to defend the ground they lie in. Different flags, different times, shared sacrifice.
The land of the free and the home of the brave.