GAINESVILLE, Ga.- Every week or so, visitors to Confederate Gen. James Longstreet's Gainesville grave leave behind an item of some kind, perhaps a cigar or a candle.
The Longstreet Society, which aims to preserve the Civil War leader's history and legacy, even has some of the items on display at the Piedmont Hotel, property owned by the general until his 1904 death and now the society's Maple Street headquarters.
For those wishing to pay respects as part of an organized ceremony, the Dahlonega-based Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1860, Blue Ridge Rifles is planning an annual memorial service today at Longstreet's Alta Vista Cemetery grave site.
If it rains, the service will be held at the cemetery's mausoleum.
"We have years when 100 or so folks show up, and then there are years when maybe four show up," said Joe Whitaker, Longstreet Society treasurer and a Camp 1860 member. "It all depends on the weather."
Longstreet, who was born 190 years ago, died on Jan. 2, 1904, in Gainesville. Known as Gen. Robert E. Lee's "Old War Horse," he lost popularity in the South as he became a Republican and advocated civil rights for blacks.
The annual ceremony was started a decade or so ago by Tim Ragland, who was commander of Camp 1418 in Cleveland, and Mike Freeman, who was adjutant for the Cleveland and Dahlonega camps at the time.
"Mike and I both had an interest in Gen. Longstreet," Ragland said, explaining how the event began. "We have one of the top, key people for the Confederacy ... who resided and was buried in Gainesville. That is just extremely unique."
Also, "ever since the Battle of Gettysburg, there has been a lot of negative press toward Longstreet, and we wanted to kind of change people's attitudes about that," Ragland said.
"As far as I know, there never has been an annual or any kind of major observance of the general until we started this," he added.
The service features remarks by Ragland, a placement of cigars (a favorite of Longstreet's) and a wreath at the grave and an honor guard that will fire a salute.
Whitaker said the hope is other camps will attend the service, along with United Daughters of the Confederacy and Longstreet Society members.
After the service, the public is invited to an open house at the Piedmont Hotel, where refreshments will be served.