How Should the Civil War Be Commemorated?

Or perhaps I should have asked what sorts of activities ought to be avoided over the course of the next few years.  I just came across the results of a Harris Poll of 2,566 adults surveyed online between January 17 and 24, 2011 concerning the commemoration of the American Civil War.  Judge for yourself:

“Some states, particularly those in the South, have announced plans to remember and commemorate national as well as specific local events surrounding the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. When asked, however, a majority of Americans say that a parade with a mock-swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy (68%), and parades and events to celebrate secession and the Confederacy are not appropriate (58%) ways to remember the Civil War. In addition, majorities say that flying the Confederate flag (61%) or designating a Confederate History Month (53%) are also not appropriate. Americans who live in states which were neither formed nor recognized during the Civil War are most critical of these ideas (between 59% and 74% say each is not appropriate), yet adults who live in states which were part of the Confederacy are opposed to them as well (between 51% and 69% say each is not appropriate). However, White adults living in the former Confederacy have a different mind regarding flying the Confederate flag and designating a Confederate History Month–at least half say each is appropriate (51% and 57%, respectively). Most Americans, including those in the South and the former Confederacy (91% for all) say that reading President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is, on the other hand, appropriate.”

Click through to the Online article and scroll down for the full report.  It is quite interesting.  Perhaps I will something to say about it once I’ve had a chance to think about it some more.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

36 comments… add one
  • Citadel Bulldog Apr 11, 2011 @ 18:28

    What those of you who are from off don’t understand is that we don’t care what you think about OUR Flag or THE CAUSE. Those of us who are educated know what it is our ancestors did and know that the Confederate States of America is the rightful holder of the form of government passed down to us by the Men who made this country. Those of you who are from the north have to live with the fact that your people committed terrible crimes against old men, women, children, and brought disgrace and dishonor to YOUR flag. Rape, robbery, 50,000 murdered civilians, anti-semitism as Army policy, forced evacuations of defenseless women, use of human shields, attempts to incite servile insurrection, the DELIBERATE cruelty to prisoners in a land of plenty, and many more that space will not allow. Yet some of you have the GALL to compare our Flag to the swastika! All of this talk of “preserving the union” is ridiculous. It is not a union when one section is pinned to the other with the bayonet.

  • Alison Hight Apr 3, 2011 @ 9:04

    I think the findings of this poll are really telling, but I’d be interested in seeing one just in the state of Virginia. I think people underestimate the differences in how the Civil War is remembered an taught within various regions of Virginia. For example, flying the Confederate flag and observance of “Lee-Jackson Day” are commonplace symbols (sometimes of heritage, sometimes of hate) in many areas of Southwest and Central Virginia, while in Northern Virginia–home of Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House–the Confederate flag tends to display a level of ignorance and nobody has ever even heard of “Lee-Jackson Day.” I’m sure most people will chalk this difference up to current political influences, but I think it goes deeper than that. Most people I know from Northern Virginia don’t even associate themsevles or their geographical location with the Confederacy–a sentiment that I think is indirectly reinforced in the schools. I don’t know exactly what to make of this, but I think it is a very interesting point, and a Virginia-only poll about the commemoration of the Civil War would show just how disconnected some of these state regions are.

  • Will Smith Apr 2, 2011 @ 17:13

    Unlike those polled, I have no problem with confederate commemorations. Now, this does not mean that I agree with those who wish the push a revisionist view of what the Confederacy was. The Confederacy was (and will always be) a dark stain on the history of the United States. Just because a majority of those polled believe that it should not be remembered doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t. But, I think the larger issue in the poll is that a majority of those polled still believe that the war was mainly about state’s rights for the South. Whatever your opinion what caused succession/ started the war, this reflects failure in Americans getting an accurate view of the war. So, any celebrations should attempt to emphasize that slavery was an important part of succession and the war. But, they should also emphasize that there were other issues involved too.

  • Allison Munter Mar 31, 2011 @ 18:26

    I am from the the city of Chesapeake in the Tidewater region of Virginia, and every year our public library hosts Civil War days, an event that reenacts life during the Civil War era. There are many fun events including making candles and wooden tops which were very exciting and fun when I was younger, but now when I visit, I realize that very little attention is given to the issue of slavery. The information that is presented generally has more to do with life for whites, including what clothes a woman would wear, or what a soldier might have in his tent, with no mention of what might have been different for Union or Confederate soldiers. I have been to Civil War Days at least twelve times, and I cannot remember seeing a single African-American working at the event and providing the perspective of a slave during the war. Because the event seems to be based on entertaining the public with fun events and interesting details, it creates a fun atmosphere that misses the big picture of the Civil War, the issue of slavery. I believe that by ignoring this possibly controversial topic, the Civil War Days does a poor job of educating the public about the war. I believe that if you are going to commemorate the Civil War in such a way, it needs to be done so that the public can view all perspectives and gain an accurate knowledge of the war and the main cause of it.

    • Kevin Levin Apr 1, 2011 @ 2:55

      HI Allison,

      Thanks for the comment. No doubt, many of these changes are slow in coming depending on where you live.

    • Billy Bearden Apr 1, 2011 @ 5:32

      The ‘Civil War’ was not about slavery. Some of the states that seceeded used slavery as an issue to seceed, not all – especially your home state of Virginia, which had tried many times to avoid the war, and even voted once to remain in the Union. Secession does not mean war. One of the end results of the war was the end of slavery, but the war itself was not over slavery.

      • Kevin Levin Apr 1, 2011 @ 5:36


        There is quite a difference between stating that the Civil War was not about slavery and looking closely at why individual states secededed. Even in Virginia, much of the debate leading up to that decision was focused on slavery. Just take a look at William Freehling’s new edited collection of the speeches made during Virginia’s secession conventions. Clearly, slavery became a central issue of the war by 1863, but even before that the slaves themselves took steps to place the issue at center stage. I agree with you that secession itself did not have to lead to war. Lincoln could have allowed the states to leave peacefully and perhaps a decision on the part of South Carolina to leave Sumter intact could have averted war. It’s an interesting question.

    • Alison Hight Apr 3, 2011 @ 9:07

      From a cynical standpoint, one reason for this lack of focus on the issue of slavery–whether conscious or not–could be due to the fact that the Virginia Tidewater area was a fairly substantial slave-trade port back in the day. But then again, maybe I’m reading too much into it…

      • Kevin Levin Apr 3, 2011 @ 9:10

        Thanks for the comment, Alison. I tend to think that the distinctions are generational rather than regional. I also believe that economics has something to do with it as well. I’ve done a number of workshops with history teachers from around the state and I can tell you that their response to specific interpretive points and exercises can be traced to the quality of the resources that they have available. I saw this first hand when working with teachers from South Boston as opposed to Virginia Beach.

  • Joey Gee Mar 31, 2011 @ 8:35

    I think reenactments of important moments in Civil War history(Confederate included) are good teaching tools. The Inauguration of Jeff Davis(properly done) , speeches from politicians, secession conventions, life on the home front programs, and military themed programs (not festival battles). As long as you read the history, understand it and interpret it properly it can be a real rewarding program. However where it ends up being a joke is when you allow people to take a program that should be purely educational and make it into something else completely. A good example is the recent Jeff Davis program. It looked more like a KKK rally than it did anything else historical. It felt more like an “ F You” than a reenactment of a historical event.

    • Billy Bearden Apr 1, 2011 @ 5:24

      “It looked more like a KKK rally than it did anything else historical.”

      Obviously it wasn’t, if not but for the fact that the official KKK flag was not present – the United States Stars and Stripes.

      • Joey Gee Apr 1, 2011 @ 10:57

        I know it wasn’t but that’s why I said “looked like” one. Look at some of the pics fromt he 20’s and the 60’s of rallies and you will see similarities.

  • Lewis Garrett Mar 30, 2011 @ 20:42

    I seem to be in that majority of Americans who believe that certain Confederate commemorations are inappropriate. I was born and raised in Virginia and I don’t understand why so many people still want to remember the Confederacy. The Confederacy has always struck me as a dark side of the United States and nothing more. Coming from a rural town in southwest Virginia, I have constantly been witness to at least a few Confederate flags that people fly claiming “heritage not hate.” As a white southern male, I believe that the Confederate flag only symbolizes hate and enslavement and should not be flown by anyone. There are only a few exceptions where I believe that the Confederate flag can be flown, i. e. in a museum or during a reenactment. The flag is part of American history but the flag’s symbolization of hate and enslavement should not allow it to be flown today.

  • Dan Wright Mar 30, 2011 @ 16:43

    I’m not big on reenactments. I’ve only been to one and I thought it was dreadful.
    I’d much rather see a good documentary, listen to a presentation by McPherson, Blight, or someone with some real expertise, read a good book or this blog and some other blogs.
    Pretty low key commemoration, but it works for me.

    • Scott Manning Mar 30, 2011 @ 17:18

      Dan, no offense to you or the mentioned authors, but that sounds like the most boring commemoration ever. What about visiting battlefields minus the reenactments?

  • James Kabala Mar 30, 2011 @ 15:59

    It’s interesting to see the relatively high support for Confederate-favorable commemorations in “the East” (I assume this means N.E., N.Y., N.J., and Pa. – I wonder if the border states of Del. and Md. are included) – for some questions higher than for the South (although not the white South). That would probably surprise both modern liberals and proponents of the “evil Yankees” idea popular in some Southern heritage circles.

  • Billy Bearden Mar 30, 2011 @ 6:37

    Polls – about Confederate stuff. Either a massive landslide in society’s beliefs has occured – for the worse, or this latest poll from New York has some bias involved. And besides, who cares what a Vermonter, Oregonian, or soon to be Bostonian thinks about how I pay tribute to my GGGrandfather’s military service

    From 2001

    From 2003

    From 2004

    From 2005
    “How do you see the Confederate Flag”
    STATE 60% 29% 4% 7%

    From April 6th, 2010
    Should Virginia and other states recognize ‘Confederate History Month’? 61% yes 38% No

    From April 26th 2010

    • Kevin Levin Mar 30, 2011 @ 9:16

      Thanks for the links; unfortunately, they do not constitute an argument against the present poll.

      • Billy Bearden Mar 31, 2011 @ 5:31

        I believe it does. An established pattern of polling data that shows support for the symbols over a decade, suddenly to be drastically changed by 1 poll less than a year later? Yeah, it is a clear argument against it – especially being from NY.

        But as with polls, they can be worded and/or sampled to achieve whatever result one desires. But since the subject is a Harris poll –

        • Kevin Levin Mar 31, 2011 @ 5:49

          Do you have a link to the actual results or were they included in your last comment?

          • Billy Bearden Apr 1, 2011 @ 5:48

            No, I have scoured the internet, just this story.

    • John Buchanan Apr 1, 2011 @ 7:19

      Mr Bearden

      We don’t care how you honor your ancestors. But keep in mind 2 things:

      Don’t foist off historical fantasy on me and call it accurate.

      As for those of us of a Northern persuasion….we can certainly have a rememberance of our ancestors who fought and died to restore the Union.

      • Billy Bearden Apr 1, 2011 @ 9:55

        Mr Buchanan

        While I disagree that the ‘Union’ was in need of restoration (It still existed, just fewer members and loads less taxes for DC coffers…oh ok I see why Lincoln wanted us back never mind – the old loathing the Confederates but fearing the bankers issue) I am right there with you on honoring / remembering your ancestors.

  • Scott Manning Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:30

    I’m not quite sure what I meant by “from.”

    I assume you had no issues with the descendants of the USCT that marched through Harrisburg last November to commemorate the Grand Review of their ancestors. Is there anything along those lines or outside of those lines that you find appropriate for descendants of Confederates to perform in commemoration? I mean, I know how you felt about the Secession Ball and the swearing in of Jefferson Davis, but what, if anything, can these guys do that would be “appropriate”?

    • Kevin Levin Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:47

      I tend to favor events and projects that focus on education.

      • Scott Manning Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:58

        So you would have been fine with a reenactment of Jefferson Davis’ inauguration, if it was accurate (e.g., minus the gray suits, stars and bars, and Harry Potter references)?

        • Kevin Levin Mar 29, 2011 @ 17:07

          I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with a reenactment of Davis’s inauguration if it is done accurately and for the purposes of education.

  • Scott Manning Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:11

    I would be curious to know what you would find appropriate for commemoration, especially from the Confederate side.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 29, 2011 @ 16:17

      I am not quite sure what you mean by “Confederate side.”

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