I Am Their Flag (the extended mix)

I thought we might have a little fun in light of the lawsuit that was filed yesterday by the Sons of Confederate Veterans against the city of Lexington.  Many of you are no doubt familiar with Michael Bradley’s poem, “I Am Their Flag” as well as H.K. Edgerton’s powerful interpretation that he will be happy to deliver if the price is right.  I would like to see us expand on this great work.  Take a shot at writing your own stanza that places the flag at any point in time from Reconstruction through the present day.  What would the flag say in 1915, 1939, 1954, 1964, 1993, 2012?

“I Am Their Flag”

In 1861, when they perceived their rights to be threatened, when those who would alter the nature of the government of their fathers were placed in charge, when threatened with change they could not accept, the mighty men of valor began to gather. A band of brothers, native to the Southern soil, they pledged themselves to a cause: the cause of defending family, fireside, and faith. Between the desolation of war and their homes they interposed their bodies and they chose me for their symbol.

I Am Their Flag.

Their mothers, wives, and sweethearts took scissors and thimbles, needles and thread, and from silk or cotton or calico – whatever was the best they had – even from the fabric of their wedding dresses, they cut my pieces and stitched my seams.

I Am Their Flag.

On courthouse lawns, in picnic groves, at train stations across the South the men mustered and the women placed me in their hands. “Fight hard, win if possible, come back if you can; but, above all, maintain your honor. Here is your symbol,” they said.

I Am Their Flag.

They flocked to the training grounds and the drill fields. They felt the wrenching sadness of leaving home. They endured sickness, loneliness, boredom, bad food, and poor quarters. They looked to me for inspiration.

I Am Their Flag.

I was at Sumter when they began in jubilation. I was at Big Bethel when the infantry fired its first volley. I smelled the gun smoke along Bull Run in Virginia and at Belmont along the Mississippi. I was in the debacle at Fort Donelson; I led Jackson up the Valley. For Seven Days I flapped in the turgid air of the James River bottoms as McClellan ran from before Richmond. Sidney Johnston died for me at Shiloh as would thousands of others whose graves are marked “Sine Nomine,” – without a name – unknown.

I Am Their Flag.

With ammunition gone they defended me along the railroad bed at Manassas by throwing rocks. I saw the fields run red with blood at Sharpsburg. Brave men carried me across Doctor’s Creek at Perryville. I saw the blue bodies cover Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg and the Gray ones fall like leaves in the Round Forest at Stones River.

I Am Their Flag.

I was a shroud for the body of Stonewall after Chancellorsville. Men ate rats and mule meat to keep me flying over Vicksburg. I tramped across the wheat field with Kemper and Armistead and Garnett at Gettysburg. I know the thrill of victory, the misery of defeat, the bloody cost of both.

I Am Their Flag.

When Longstreet broke the line at Chickamauga, I was in the lead. I was the last off Lookout Mountain. Men died to rescue me at Missionary Ridge. I was singed by the wildfire that burned to death the wounded in the Wilderness. I was shot to tatters in the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. I was in it all from Dalton to Peachtree Creek, and no worse place did I ever see than Kennesaw and New Hope Church. They planted me over the trenches at Petersburg and there I stayed for many long months.

I Am Their Flag.

I was rolled in blood at Franklin; I was stiff with ice at Nashville. Many good men bade me farewell at Sayler’s Creek. When the end came at Appomattox, when the last Johnny Reb left Durham Station, many of them carried fragments of my fabric hidden on their bodies.

I Am Their Flag.

In the hard years of so-called “Reconstruction,” in the difficulty and despair of years that slowly passed, the veterans, their wives and sons and daughters, they loved me. They kept alive the tales of valor and the legends of bravery. They passed them on to the grandchildren and they to their children, and so they were passed to you.

I Am Their Flag.

I have shrouded the bodies of heroes, I have been laved with the blood of martyrs, I am enshrined in the hearts of millions, living and dead. Salute me with affection and reverence. Keep undying devotion in your hearts. I am history. I am heritage, not hate. I am the inspiration of valor from the past. I I Am Their Flag.

17 thoughts on “I Am Their Flag (the extended mix)

  1. Michael Lynch

    I am on bumper stickers and shot glasses. I have adorned the cabs of countless tractor-trailers. I have been featured on more tasteless t-shirts and bikinis than any other symbol in history. The men who carried me into battle would probably be less than thrilled by all this, but nobody really asked them.

    –ML

    Reply
  2. Aaron Kidd

    I am degraded hated and distorted by those who don’t unt\derstand the truth that I represent. I am loved,honored and defended by My Boys’ Children.
    I am their flag.

    Reply
    1. Will Hickox

      The men who fought under me generally had a better appreciation for humor than my modern-day self-styled defenders.

      Reply
      1. Lindsay

        I may be wrong but I get the feeling that a lot of the negative comments regarding I Am Their Flag are not made in “humor.”

        Reply
          1. Lindsay

            Agreed, but some of these comments don’t sound like perspective they seem like attempts to belittle and bash. I am all for constructive discussion or serious thoughtful responses (and yes, even a little humor) but as an attempt at “humor,” these comments fall flat.

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              I think some people will be offended, but I would suggest that the language is quite mild compared to what you will find on many internet sites. The emotion comes with territory. Some people no doubt believe that the post itself is offensive, but it’s just another way to make the point that the Confederate flag is a divisive symbol, whose history is incredibly rich.

              Reply
              1. Lindsay

                I would wholeheartedly agree with your last comment – and I do hate that many times real conversations cannot happen because of the language and responses used on BOTH sides of the argument. It seems like more and more of that is going on which isn’t productive for either group (in the humble opinion of someone who is relatively new to the historical blogging scene.)

                However, from my viewpoint, the Confederate flag has become more and more of an opportunity for those in opposition to it to take shots and throw insults. Not everyone who looks at the flag in remembrance is looking back at it honoring the slavery that was undeniably a part of it, but that is many times the assumption. We should be able to acknowledge the negative aspects of a period of history while realizing that not everything it represents was bad and there may indeed be a part worth remembering.

                On another note, I picked up Civil War Times yesterday and read your article – it seems from my uninformed perspective that there is much to be learned regarding Silas Chandler and his service regarding the Confederate Army. What a fascinating story both during his lifetime and after. If this isn’t a classic example of how a picture is worth a thousand words…and fuels a thousand different stories, I don’t know what is!

                Reply
                1. Kevin Levin Post author

                  Like I said before, the debate is fueled by passion on all sides. I completely agree with you that the overwhelming majority of people who identify with the Confederate flag do so without any racial intent, but that in and of itself does not exhaust the flag’s meaning. The flag is still used as a symbol of racism as it has been throughout its history. The flag was flown by an army that functioned as an extension of a government that was created to protect slavery. There is no way around it. In the 1950s and 60s it was used by white Americans as a symbol of “massive resistance” against the civil rights movement. People have a right and good reason to be emotional about it.

                  Thanks for the kind words re: the article. My co-author and I will be doing a radio interview tomorrow at noon about the article. I would only caution you to note that Silas’s “service” was not to the Confederate army or government, but to the man who owned him. :-) Thanks again, Lindsay.

                  Reply
                  1. Lindsay

                    Understood, but just out of curiosity…because he served Andrew, a Confederate soldier, wasn’t his “service” to the Confederate Army? Maybe my usage of the word “service” is different than yours.

                    Reply
                    1. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Hi Lindsay,

                      I think we have to be very careful here. In the strictest sense Silas chandler served his master by virtue of being his property. He was present with the Confederate army as a result of his status as property. Enlisted soldiers served the Confederate government by virtue of their status as citizens, which slaves were certainly not. Hope that helps.

Join the Conversation