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Simeon W. Cummings , C.S.N.






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Former gravesite on Kliprug Farm, at Saldanha Bay, South Africa





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The Confederate Sailor Who Wears the Yellow Ribbon

By Warner D. Farr and Stan R. Lambrick

 

            Third engineer Simeon W. Cummings, C. S. Navy, was a native of New York born in 1827.  He traveled to New Orleans and for 12 years before the War lived in Louisiana and worked in the merchant marine.  Because of his lone residence in the South, he offered his services to Louisiana, his adopted state, when the War broke out.  He became estranged from his family because of fighting for the Cause of the South.  He never saw them again.

            In a letter to the Confederate Secretary of the Nave, S. R. Mallory, which is prefaced “New Orleans, May 23, 1861,” Commander Raphael Semmes, C.S.N., writes: “Sir: In compliance with your order of the 17th instant, I have the honor to enclose herewith a list of the officer of the C.S.S. Sumter… Engineers,… Simeon W. Cummings, third assistant.” This letter contained in the Naval Official Records, announced the assignment of Lieutenant Cummings to his first Confederate ship and the start of a long, as well as final, career.

            On June 30, 1861, the C.S.S. Sumter, one of the first Confederate high seas raider, sailed from New Orleans,  She made her way out the north of the Mississippi River under Federal chase but successfully reached Cuba.  Commander Semmes, with Third Engineer Cummings in his crew, captured 17 prize vessels before being blockaded into the harbor at British Gibraltar in early 1862. After the ship was abandoned, the officers slowly made their way to England.

            In London, on April 28, 1862, Commander Semmes wrote to J. M. Mason, the Confederate State Commissioner in England: “…the following persons, late of the S.S.S. Sumter, are in this city…I would recommend that some of these officers be ordered to report to him…as follows:…Third Assistant Engineer Cummings…”

            Captain James D. Bullock, the Confederacy’s accomplished naval agent in England, was indeed fitting out a new cruiser, the “290.”  It was soon to be christened, while on the open seas, the C.S.S. Alabama, the most successful Confederate raider of the war.  After taking command of the C. S. S. Alabama, Captain Semmes sailed first to Newfoundland, then off the U.S. coast, sinking the U.S.S. Hatteras near Galveston, Texas,  The Alabama, with Engineer Cummings in the complement of ships officers, continued on to Jamaica, Brazil and finally anchored at Saldanha Bay.  This is on the southwest coast of British South Africa, now the Republic of South Africa.  This as a natural harbor on Cape Columbia, 100 miles north of Cape Town where Federal Navy ships might be lurking.  By this time, the Alabama had taken 55 prizes.

            The crew, deserving a welcome rest, provisioned, repaired and refitted the ship.  The captain allowed the Dutch settlers, the Boers that the British had displaced northward, to come on bard to view the ship and the crew spent time sight-seeing and ostrich hunting in the surrounding area.    

            Commander Semmes’ last entries about Engineer Cummings are in the C.S.S. Alabama’s journal, the first dated Monday, August3, 1863:  “Just as we were going to sundown quarters a boat come alongside with the body of Third Assistant Engineer Cummings, who had accidentally shot himself with his gun.”  Lieutenant Cummings, with other junior officers from the Alabama, had gone hunting.  While embarking the small boat for a return to the Alabama, or when leaving the launch for the Alabama (the accounts are unclear), he accidentally discharged his shotgun.  The pellets struck him in the heart.  The entire crew was shocked.  The Confederate ensign was lowered to half mast and burial arrangements were made. 

            On Tuesday, August4, 1863, the captain’s journal continues:  “Weather very fine.  In the afternoon at 3 the funeral procession started for the shore with the body of the deceased engineer.  He was taken to a private cemetery about a mile and a half distant and interred with the honors due to his grade.  The ship’s first lieutenant reading the funeral service.  This is the first burial we have had from the ship.”  Six of the Alabama’s boats waving lowered flags formed a procession and, stroking the funeral stroke, made their way to shore.  The procession, with ships officers on horseback, then marched inland.  The body, on a wagon with four pallbearers, was taken to the farm “Kliprug.”  Lieutenant Kell read the Episcopal burial service and three volleys were fired.  Lt. Cummings was then laid to rest in the small farm cemetery.  Shortly, the C.S.S. Alabama continued on her way to take more prizes, sail the Indian Ocean and reach her destiny off France, battling the U.S.S. Kearsarge. 

            This story does not end with the burial of Third Lieutenant Cummings on a distant shore, far away from his Confederacy.  A group of British Naval officers, stationed at the south at Cape Town, South Africa, contributed money to erect a permanent marker for their unknown naval comrade in arms.  It reads:

            Sacred to the memory of Simeon W. Cummings Assistant Engineer of the Confederate States Steamer “Alabama”.  Who died Aug. 3rd, 1863.  From the accidental discharge of a gun in his own hands.  Aged 36 years.

            The Boer farmer, Mr. Pienaar, in whose family cemetery the officer had been laid to rest, affectionately tended the grace over the years and passed this reverent concern o to his descendants.  His descendants say American visitors appear occasionally to see the gravesite.  The United Daughters of the Confederacy, in 1968, gave award to Beatrix Pienarr, a descendant of Mr. Pienaar, who still “lovingly cares” for the grave and to Steven Levin, who publicized the existence of the gravesite ad its need for repair and upkeep.  An award was also given to Frank Bradlow who wrote a book, published in the Union of South Africa, entitled:  “Here comes the Alabama:  The Career of a Confederate Raider.”  All three awards were presented for the UDC by the American Consul General in Cape Town.

            A letter to the editor in the March/April 19991 issue of Civil War Times Illustrated, by S.R. Lambrick, entitled “ Daar Kom Die Alabama,” discussed the Alabama and the Afrikaans folksong, whose first line is “Daar Kom Die Alabama, die Alabama kom oor die see…”  This led to another letter in the May/June 1991 issue, by W.D. Farr entitled “Africa’s Rebel Sailor.”  This engendered an exchange of correspondence and collaborative research on Third Lieutenant Simeon W. Cummings.  It ultimately led to the writing of this article.

            As can be seen in the photographs, the grave is still well kept.  It is located 7 kilometers (402 miles) from Saldanha Bay on the Kliprug farm.  Mrs. Pienaar, talking to one of the authors (S.R. Lambrick) on May 1, 1991, relate that American tourist often stop by.  One visitor had recently tied a length of yellow ribbon around the base of the marker.  She had heard that it was an American custom begun for the American hostages in Iran. 

            So, in the summer of 1992, as yellow ribbons had welcomed American soldiers home from Irag and Saudi Arabia, one such yellow ribbon also waves in southern African breezes.  Third Lieutenant Cummings may not have come home to the South, but his grave is still well attended and appropriately decorated with a truly American symbol-the yellow ribbon.

 


Confederate Veteran Magazine July/August 1992 Pgs. 20-21   

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Final resting place of Lt. Cummings @ Elm Springs
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HOME IS THE SAILOR

By Perry J. Outlaw

 

For the past 131 years Lt. Simeon W. Cummings, CSN has had the distinction of being the only known Confederate serviceman to be killed during the late War of Southern Independence and buried outside the United States.

On August 3, 1863, while serving as assistant engineer aboard the Confederate Commerce raider CSS Alabama, Lt. Cummings was accidentally killed while foraging ashore near Capetown, South Africa.  (July-August 1992 Confederate Veteran)  Admiral Raphael Semmes, Commander of the CSS Alabama, ordered that Lt. Cummings be buried in a private cemetery on Kliprug Farm, at Saldanha Bay near the spot where he was killed.

In keeping with the American tradition of bringing our war dead home from the battlefield, it was decided by the Executive Council of the Military Order of the Stars & Bars to enter into negotiations with the government, of the Republic of South Africa, for the return of Lt. Cummings’ remains.

In January of this year compatriot J. Street Brewer of Charlotte, North Carolina, contact the General Headquarters with an offer to assist in the recover of Lt. Cummings.  Compatriot Brewer informed the General Headquarters that he would be traveling to Capetown, where he owns a private residence, and offered to initiate a contact with the South African Government.  After arriving in Capetown compatriot Brewer obtained the assistance of Mr. Kerry Capstick-Dale, a South African businessman who made the proper connections with the government and was able to secure approval for the exhumation of Lt. Cummings. 

            On May 1st, the Commander-in-Chief, authorized the Executive Director to travel to South Africa to effect the exhumation of Lt. Cummings, and to take legal possession of his remains on behalf of the SCV and MOS&B.  He was also directed to secure a licensed funeral director and archaeologist to insure a complete and proper exhumation and to escort his remains home to Columbia, Tennessee.

            The exhumation of Lt. Cumming’s grave began at 10:00 am on May 4th, in the presence of the Executive Director, compatriot J. Street Brewer, the family of Mr. Paul Johannes Pienaar and several South African Naval Officers and dignitaries.  The opening of Lt. Cummings grave revealed a complete and intact skeleton and several artifacts to include the shotgun pellets which killed the Lieutenant in August of 1863.  Lt. Cummings’ remains were carefully placed in a period casket made of South African pine, and the Confederate Naval Ensign was placed on his coffin, for the trip back to Capetown.

On May 9th, with a South African Naval Honor Guard and pallbearers. Lt. Cummings was afforded full military honors in a ceremony held at the international airport in Capetown.  After the ceremony the Honor Guard carried Lt. Cummings’ casket to the aircraft that would, after 131 years, bring him home to Dixie.   

Lt. Cumming’s remains were placed in the care of the Oaks & Nichols Funeral home in Columbia, Tennessee, until arrangements could be made for his re-interment.  The Commander-in-Chief notified the Executive Director the Lt. Cummings would be re-interred on the grounds, of the General Headquarter, at Elm Springs, on Memorial Day, May 30th, 1994. 

Re-enactors from across the country began to assemble at Elm Springs, on Sunday May 29th, to participate in the 3.5 mile funeral procession that would escort Lt. Cummings to Elm Springs.  Confederate States Marines consisting of the officers and men of company F of the 48th Tennessee Regiment of Infantry served as pallbearers while units of the 48th, 34th, and 4th “Alabama, 5th and 6th Florida, 18th Mississippi, 5th Missouri, Croft’s Battery and the Marion Light Artillery served as honor guars and escort.

            At 7:00 pm the Confederate Marine Honor Guard placed Lt. Cummings’ flag draped casket on a horse drawn wagon. And SCV real son, Mr. Fred Kennedy gave the order to march. 

The funeral procession consisted of several hundred re-enactors both military and civilian as well as SCV and MOS&B national officers and members from as far away as California and Michigan,  Along the procession route, local business owners had changed their company signs to read “Welcome Home Lt. Cummings, CSN.” 

            Hundreds of citizens of Columbia, Tennessee turned out to show their respect while traffic stopped in both directions to allow the solemn procession to pass.  The Vietnam Veterans Association came to attention and saluted as Lt. Cumming passed, and members of the Maury County Fire Department stood at attention, in front of their trucks with lights flashing to show their reverence for a fallen hero.  When the procession arrived at Elm Springs over a thousand people had gathered on the lawn to pay their respects. 

Lt. Cummings was placed in the main hall, at Elm springs, with its black draped mirrors of mourning and numerous funeral wreaths.  An Honor Guard stood watch over the casket, as hundreds of mourners passed in review. 

            The following mourning the Confederate Marine Honor Guard placed Lt. Cumming’ casket on the front steps of Elm Springs.  With major TV and newspaper coverage, nearly 1,000 people had gathered for the 12:0 noon re-interment ceremony.  SCV Chaplain-in-Chief, Dr. Chares Baker began the ceremony with the invocation.  MOS&B Commander-in-Chief recognized Mr. Kerry Capstick-Dale, David Johnson, and Stan Lambrick of Capetown, South Africa who were present representing the Mayor of Capetown,  The Honorable Patricia Kreiner,  Also in attendance were the Honorable Larry Smithson, Mayor of Columbia, Colonel Ashley Brown, representing the Governor of Tennessee and Brigadier General Austin Shofner, USMC, retired.

Between those in attendance singing What a Friend We Have in Jesus and the playing of Amazing Grace, ON THE BAGPIPES, SCV Commander-in-Chief, Robert L. Hawkins, III, presented a sketch, on the life of Lt. Simeon W. Cummings.  At the conclusion of the funeral address by MOS&B Chaplain General, Rev. John W. Killian, Captain James Coy Anderson called the Honor Guard to attention and proceeded with Lt. Cummings’ casket-to the cemetery on the south lawn, of the General Headquarters.  Dr. Charles Baker led the procession reading from the Episcopal Burial Service.

            As the Marine pallbearers folded the Confederate Naval Ensign, a 21 gun artillery and musket salute was fired and Taps sounded, as Lt. Cummings was slowly lowered to his final resting place.

            Concerning Lt. Cummings, his shipmate, Lt. Arthur Sinclair wrote the following, Cummings, though of northern birth, was an enthusiastic and faithful follower of the case he had espoused, and deserves more credit in that his determination was taken and carried out in spite of the protest of his immediate family, resulting in his having their sympathy and love withdrawn.  Cummings was a most capable engineer officer, cool and collected in hours of danger, a true friend…He served the flag of his adoption with all the ardor of his great soul, and our cause and ship suffered a great loss in his sudden taking off.   

Confederate Veteran Magazine July/August 1994 Pgs. 12-13

 

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