(Reuters) - David O. Dodd is known as Arkansas' boy martyr of the Confederacy.
On Saturday, about 100 people gathered in the historic Mount Holly Cemetery to remember Dodd, who was 17 when the Union Army hanged him as a spy. Civil War re-enactors and history buffs have been holding the annual event for decades.
"We honor and respect him as an individual who had principles," said Danny Honnoll of Jonesboro, Ark., a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "How many of us have principles that we are willing to die for?"
Dodd is an Arkansas legend. His story has inspired poems, a 1915 silent Hollywood movie, monuments and more recently, a play and an in-the-works documentary. An elementary school in Little Rock is named in his memory.
For Ron Kelley, a history teacher and re-enactor from Watson Chapel, Ark., Dodd represents a romantic hero in a great American tragedy.
"He was steadfast in his belief and love," Kelley told Reuters. "This isn't so much about the Confederacy as it is about Arkansas history."
According to Civil War documents, Dodd, who knew Morse code, left Camden, Ark., and traveled by mule to Little Rock on business for his father on Christmas Eve in 1863. He had a pass from a Confederate general that would allow him to travel in Union territory.
On his way back to Camden, Union sentries took his pass as he was expected not to return. He stopped in southwest Little Rock to spend the night with his uncle. Resuming his journey, Dodd found himself behind Union lines.
Union soldiers asked for identification. Dodd showed a small leather notebook that contained his birth certificate and a page filled with Morse code dots and dashes.
A Union officer translated the code that contained information about Union strength in Little Rock. Dodd was arrested, convicted of being a spy and sentenced to execution by hanging. He could have been released if he had revealed the name of his informant. But Dodd refused.
He was buried in a plot donated by a Little Rock resident, with no music or words to mark the burial.
That was not the case at Saturday's service.
Re-enactors in period attire began their journey at the site of Dodd's hanging in downtown Little Rock. They marched one mile to the cemetery where spectators gathered to watch the ceremony.
A bagpipe player marched in front of the soldiers to the site of Dodd's grave, where women in hooped dresses held red roses.
After an invocation, Brent Carr, a member of a division of Sons of Confederate Veterans that is named for Dodd, told the story of the boy hero.
Carr said Dodd represented "faith, hope and ambition" that still rings true 147 years later.
Bobbie Barnett, clad head to toe in 1860s mourning dress with a veil covering her face, and her husband, Dale, also in Confederate attire, placed a bouquet on Dodd's grave.
Five other women followed them before a gun salute by the re-enactors. A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace." The soldiers led the crowd in a sing-along to "Dixie."
Barnett, a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, has been attending the Dodd annual event since 1994. She said that events like Saturday's do more than preserve Southern history.
"It encourages people to research their family tree," said Barnett, of Ravenden, Ark.
"Even if their family didn't fight in the war, someone in their family experienced hardship because of it."
(Editing by Corrie MacLaggan) Reuters