It didn’t take long for Brag Bowling, the commander of the Virginia division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, to respond to Gov. Robert McDonnell’s announcement that he would discontinue the practice of designating April as Confederate History Month. Instead, the governor has decided to create a new designation that he calls, Civil War in Virginia Month. Unfortunately, Bowling’s response does little more than render his organization even more irrelevant on the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial:
“Our organization is terribly disappointed by this action,” Bowling told TPMmuckraker. “He succumbed to his critics, people who don’t support him anyway. And the vast majority of citizens of Virginia support Confederate History Month.” He said he had spoken with the governor’s office and told them the same thing. He said “Civil War In Virginia Month” is a poor substitute.
“Nobody’s ever been able to reason with me and tell me why we’re honoring Yankees in Virginia,” Bowling said. “The only northerners in Virginia were the ones that came to Virginia and killed thousands of Virginia citizens when they invaded.” He also defended against the charges of racism. “There was nothing racist about Confederate History Month. It was honoring Confederate soldiers who fought and died for their state,” he said, adding that the Sons will continue celebrating the month privately.
The problem with the criticism that the governor succumbed to his critics is that while it may apply to his initial retraction it doesn’t explain Friday’s announcement. And the charge that the governor is honoring “Yankees in Virginia” suggests that Bowling doesn’t understand an important aspect of Virginia Unionism. Bowling also fails to deal with the substance of McDonnell’s announcement. As I stated the other day, it was an incredibly thoughtful speech. The governor has decided that Virginia should make room for multiple narratives of its Civil War experience. The truth is that the change will not prevent the SCV or anyone from remembering the service and sacrifice of their Confederate ancestors. What the governor has put forward is a proclamation that acknowledges the rich Civil War history of this state and which has placed him in line with the work of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission – a committee funded by Virginia taxpayers.
What I don’t understand is why the SCV doesn’t endorse McDonnell’s decision. What harm could come of it?