Did Confederate Veterans Hate Confederate Heritage?

South Carolina Monument at ChickamaugaLooks like I missed a great deal of Virginia Flagger silliness while away on my Civil War road trip. The group of teachers I was with heard about their plans to place a large Confederate flag on I-95 to welcome people to Richmond (and here). I used the media attention to highlight the dynamics of Civil War memory while leading the group down Monument Avenue.

A few of the teachers immediately interpreted this story as evidence of a strong reactionary element in the South that will never move beyond the Lost Cause. I stressed that, if anything, these people represent a relatively small segment of the population. In the end, this is little more than a rear guard action or a reflection of just how marginalized these people have become in a city that has made great strides on the racial and Civil War memory fronts in recent years.

This obsession with the visibility of the Confederate flag on the part of the Flaggers stands in sharp contrast with its use during the height of monument dedications at the turn of the century. It should come as no surprise that Confederate veterans didn’t prance about or demand the flag be placed in locations simply so it could be seen for miles around. This is the flag they marched into battle with. It served a specific purpose. This plan on the part of the Flaggers has nothing to do with honoring the Confederate soldier and has everything to do with the desperate attempts on the part of Susan Hathaway, Tripp Lewis and others for media attention.

While touring the visitor center on the Chickamauga battlefield I came across a remarkable photograph of the unveiling of the South Carolina monument in 1901. I wish the image was clearer, but what stands out is the presence of the American flag front and center. I’ve found one photograph of what appears to be a veteran holding a small Confederate flag, but as far as I can tell it was not featured prominently in the ceremony.

Confederate veterans didn’t need to engage in “flagging” tactics to remind the nation of who they were and why they fought. Their history and heritage extended way beyond the public display of the Confederate flag. Ultimately, the vast majority of these men self identified as Americans first by the beginning of the twentieth century even if they never turned their backs on the cause for which they fought. I would suggest that the Virginia Flaggers lack any historical or political context with which to appreciate this photograph.

In fact, given their obsession with the display of the flag,  the Flaggers must view these men as having turned their backs on their Confederate past/heritage.

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52 thoughts on “Did Confederate Veterans Hate Confederate Heritage?

  1. Christopher Coleman

    I don’t remember whether I commented here or elsewhere before about the varying symbolism of the Confederate flag. Obviously the one’s you mention are trying to make a modern political statement; but the use of the Southern Cross flag (the Confederate Battle flag) means different things to different people. To African Americans it is obviously a symbol of oppression and racism; to many white southerners, however it conveys more the meaning “I’m a redneck” or “proud to be Southern.” Ironically, the Confederate National Flag–the Stars and Bars–doesn’t seem to raise people’s hackles so much, even though that was overtly a symbol of rebellion and treason. Go figure!

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Keep in mind that according to John Coski, who has written the best scholarly study on the subject, the Confederate flag did not become a become a popular cultural symbol before the 1940s. One of the points I tried to make in the post is that Confederate veterans would likely be just as appalled by the antics of the Virginia Flaggers as they would be by Dixie Outfitters and others who insist on plastering the flag on every object imaginable.

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    2. josephinesouthern

      Dear Christopher, let me explain it to you. The Confederate
      Battle Flag was not only the soldiers Flag but the peoples Flag. During the long dark days of reconstruction and rebuilding the people toiled and the Confederate Battle Flag gave them the courage to do their duty, and to do no less than the brave and fearless Southern Soldier in honor and memory of them.
      I know kevin will not give this the time of day and likely not even allow it to be printed; not a fit in his agenda, as he is a socialist progressive all the way and bent on genocide of our people and culture.

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      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Fascinating interpretation, Josephine. Perhaps one day you will do yourself and everyone else a favor and actually read a little history. Start with John Coski’s book.

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        1. Douglas Egerton

          Perhaps Josephine might also care to elaborate on why the Reconstruction era constituted “long dark days.” Thanks to the Reconstruction Act of 1867 and the Fourteenth Amendment, black Virginians, within a single decade, went from being the non-citizens Roger Taney declared them to be to citizens, voters, state assemblymen, and then in the case of Louisa County-born John Mercer Langston, members of the U.S. House. Josephine uses the term “southerner” as if all men and women in the South shared the same opinion of the Battle Flag and Reconstruction reforms, but I’m guessing Charleston-native Nat Gadsden, who served in the 34th U.S.C.T. and was a cook in Sherman’s army didn’t much regard the banner as “the people’s flag.”

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          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            I wouldn’t try to engage Josephine in a rational discussion. That’s what we call a lost cause. :-) BTW, thanks for the positive review of my book (along with pointing out the mistakes re: Turner and Gabriel) in the Journal of American Studies.

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        2. josephinesouthern

          Why don’t you Kevin read Dr. Michael R. Bradley who wrote the poem “I Am Their Flag”; You could show some respect for the Southern Point of View once in awhile, then you would appear more even handed. Dr. Bradley is Professor Emeritus, author and member of The Fort Donelson Civil War Round Table.
          http://www.clarksvilleonline.com/…/the-fort-donelson-civil-war-round-table-to…‎ Oct 15, 2011 – On October 20th at 7:00pm, the Fort Donelson Civil War Round Table speaker will be Dr. Michael Bradley. His topic will be his new book, …

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            1. josephinesouthern

              Kevin are you reading my mind now…..my o my you are one bag of distortion when u say I meant to include. you see that is my whole point you think you are a mind reader of present and past people and that you can interpret how they feel now and how they felt over 100 years ago. I am not surprised that you have that link handy to show your students and nary a peep would pass your lips about the esteemed Southern writer and professor, Dr. Michael R. Bradley. U have now tipped your hand Kevin and are looking not only ridiculous, but blasphemous as well.

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              1. Kevin Levin Post author

                Ms. Bass,

                I have no idea what point you are trying to make here. The link you included in your last comment did not work. I simply provided the correct link after doing a search that took all of 1.5 seconds. As always, thanks for reading, but this will be your last comment.

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        3. Betty Giragosian

          Kevin, I believe the Confederate Veteran always remembered, honoured and loved his Confederate Heritage and the Flag under which he fought. I also believe he was very proud to be an American and did as General Lee recommended: to be a good American. He loved his country, the USA!!!

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          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            Betty,

            In the end, it is impossible to generalize about what Confederate veterans felt. Their sentiments run a wide spectrum.

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            1. Betty Giragosian

              That is exactly what I was doing–speculating. But they raised their families to be good citizens and raised sons who never turned from their duty lo serve in the time of war.. I do not believe they turned against the CBF or their heritage. I speculate that they would not be out waving the CBF were they alive today. They were declared American citizens by the country from whom we seceded. I believe they were thankful. Just saying

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    3. Michael C. Lucas

      Let’s make this clear as long as there is anti-Confederate sentiment, contempt, distortion and bigotry manifested by historians and bloggers such as Kevin Levin, Brooks Simpson, Andy Hall, Corey Myers, and such etc…. including radical African American movements, the NAACP, Black Panthers, the SPLC, by the media, radical liberal left. You will see more Confederate flags rising, the south is rising, every time you distill your poison of insults and lies regarding the Confederacy twisting its meaning and what symbolism it should have. You Kevin Levin are a primer one of the very reasons ignorance abounds regarding this subject, you have personally fed this frenzy and are as much responsible for any hate or contempt that you presume to cast on others. Confederate descendants have the right to decide, demonstrate and celebrate their history, southern heritage in the face of the adversity which has been cast upon them, they are no different than any other group people. They are justified as much as American Indians, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and other oppressed cultures and people. For every Confederate monument that falls a thousand others will rise “Confederate Americans” are established and will fight to persevere, it is a part of our American diversity and has actually been so since 1861. You can argue with it all you want its not going to fade away, it has been blooded by war and suffering. Flags are rising and shall continue too. You need to broaden your perspective of what these people really stand for, it isn’t about hate, they do not desire to distort or manifest history or further bigotry. Do you ever consider their Civil Rights? They have the equal right to stand up against the adversity being placed upon them. Get off your high horse and walk a few miles in their shoes… Maybe if we all took the time to walk in other peoples shoes we might comprehend the equality in our sufferings and the humility we need to get along!

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      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Well, this is a lot of hot air, but I agree with one point you made:

        Confederate descendants have the right to decide, demonstrate and celebrate their history, southern heritage in the face of the adversity which has been cast upon them, they are no different than any other group people.

        Of course, you have the right to commemorate, celebrate, etc. you Confederate ancestors. What you don’t have, however, is a monopoly on what that past means or how it should be interpreted by others.

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        1. Michael C. Lucas

          Thank goodness! I do not want a monopoly on history that would categorize me among the arrogance of the likes of yourself! History is not politically correct and when a historian, academic, chooses a path along that train of thought they lose all objectivity to comprehend the subject. History and social science is far more complex than to be generalized between the politically correct covers of your hypocrisy, such as those at the Atlantic!

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          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            What I find so striking is that in all of this you have not said anything about the content of the post. All I am suggesting in the post is that Confederate veterans were much more protective about the time and place in which flags were utilized than those today who claim to honor their service by calling for the display of the flag wherever they feel it is justified.

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            1. Michael C. Lucas

              Protective??? Why I wonder hmmmm? It’s likely there are many reasons for why so few openly displayed Confederate flags, particularly the oppression and reprisals under reconstruction for anything Confederate related was furled, closeted, while under occupation. Even Confederate and State buttons were removed or had to be covered, organizations were routinely over-watched, forcing Confederate Veterans and former advocates to create secret societies. There were plenty of Confederate flags displayed at reunions along with United States flags and that was understood and appreciated in the reunification. The policies against Confederate memory being set forth today however are divisive, intent on oppression against Confederate memory and Confederate descendants. This is particularly true regarding those who are White Southerners as well as African Americans who advocate Confederate memory. These actions are not within the ideals of reunification, peace and liberty which were expressed during the last reunions with the Veterans who fought that war.

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              1. Kevin Levin Post author

                No one is denying that Confederate veterans were prevented in some places from publicly displaying the flag during the years immediately following the war. The point I am making is that the veterans themselves were much more thoughtful about when their battle flag would be displayed. This stands in sharp contrast with the Virginia Flaggers and other heritage types who cry foul unless the flag is displayed in every public space they deem to be appropriate. The only reason why the public debate is more divisive in recent decades is because for a very long period of time a very narrow memory of the past was heard owing to a strict control of government by one race through disfranchisement. In the last few decades the face of local government in much of the country more accurately reflects the racial and ethnic profiles of the community and more voices are now being heard. What many refer to as an attack on Confederate heritage fail to see if for what it is: democracy in action.

                Sorry, Michael, but this notion that you and others are under attack is absurd.

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  2. CMcWhirter

    In my own research, I’ve uncovered examples of veterans resisting attempts by memorial organizations to use or alter Confederate symbols to promote the Lost Cause. The most obvious example was when they resisted the UDC’s attempt to officially change the words of “Dixie.” Make no mistake, former Confederate soldiers certainly wanted to portray their service in a positive light but, as you suggest above, they believed the historical record spoke for itself.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Christian. It’s very clear that this recent obsession with the visibility of the Confederate flag bears little resemblance to the history of how the veterans themselves utilized it.

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    2. Betty Giragosian

      This is news to me–I did not know that the UDC attempted to change the words of Dixie. Are you sure about this? I can tell you this, we sing it it with gusto and love, and at the end some of the more vocal ones give the Rebel Yell. I can see no reason to have changed the words. Anyway, we sing it as it was originally written. You should hear us at our conventions, when our numbers are greater. Sorry to get off the subject

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        1. Betty Giragosian

          Kevin, I have just ordered Christian’s book. I have several books of music of the era, but have never heard this story. I am willing for my mind to be improved. Thanks for the suggestion.

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  3. Karen L. Cox

    Monument unveilings always included the display of both the U.S. Flag and the Confederate flag, which reflected the belief among Confederate veterans and Lost Cause devotees that southerners were stalwart defenders of the Constitution (primarily the 10th amendment). In their eyes, this defense made them the most loyal Americans of any section. This photograph reveals a particular moment among many during a monument unveiling. It’s just as likely that just out of the view of the lens was a “living” Confederate battle flag made up of young children dressed in the appropriate colors.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Karen,

      Absolutely. My overall point is that these men didn’t need to place flags in every public place to remind the public of their service. Their flag served a particular function at a specific time and place. The other point that I want to reinforce is that it was the veterans themselves who made the most use of it during the postwar years. Only after the veterans died off did the flag become a a pop-culture icon. Thanks for the comment and clarification.

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      1. Karen L. Cox

        Veterans didn’t need to place flags in public places, because THEY were the flesh and bones reminders of their service. Plus, there’s also this little thing about being the defeated that makes it less likely that they would be the ones putting out flags. I’d disagree that it was the veterans that made the most use of the flag during the postwar years, though perhaps you can clarify which years. During Reconstruction, especially while there were Federal troops in the region, publicly placing the flag could be risky business. To your point about pop culture: there is a lot of late 19thc/early 20thc ephemera (before all vets died off) that suggests that flags were being used as icons of popular culture. The Confederate Veteran magazine is full of advertising for flags, pins, cigarettes, sheet music, etc. emblazoned with the battle flag pre-1913.

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        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          I completely agree with you re: the point about the veterans themselves functioning as living reminders of the past. I didn’t have any particular time frame in mind except for the period when the dedication of monuments was in full swing. I understand that to be between roughly 1885 and 1920. In a previous comment I mentioned that Reconstruction authorities made it very difficult to publicly display the flag. Coski suggests that there was a period of dormancy for the Confederate flag in public from the early 20th century to the 1940s before it emerged once again at Ole Miss football games, etc. Of course it then became central to Massive Resistance later on. Thanks for the correction.

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  4. William G. Barron

    Just a comment, the Confederate Veteran carried their flag with dignity and honor in all Confederate Veteran and Reunion Parades, Raphael Tuck Company produced at the turn of the 20th century Confederate Memorial postal cards depicting The Flags of the Confederacy. Deo Vindice.

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      No doubt. This post should not be interpreted as denying that Confederate veterans did not make use of the Confederate flag, at least those who fought under it, which is typically ignored. I still find it interesting that it is the American flag that is featured front and center in this particular ceremony.

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  5. Barb Gannon

    I am not going to speak for Confederate veterans, but I think that they had there battle flag at their reunions, an appropriate place. They might have been the same flags they fought under. There is a stark difference between people today who fly newly made battle flags who did not fight under the flags waving them as symbols, particularly since they seem to reject the notion that these flags are symbols of something else to others. Union veterans explained my view at a veterans meeting, They had no objection to CSA veterans waving their old flags, they objected to someone making new flags. Moreover, the Confederate Army(s) surrendered and, as required, they surrendered many of their flags. They were give remarkably generous terms as part of the surrender agreement. They were honorable men and likely understood that the Confederate flag should not be given precedence over the U.S. flag, particularly since so many, late in life, embraced their shared citizenship with Americans in other sections.

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    1. Josie

      When you are talking about the American Flag being front and center in a Confederate Display consider that it is respect and honor afforded to our ancestors of the !st War for our Independence when our ancestors won our freedom from Great Britain and foraged the documents and allegiance to THESE United States, a compact of states formed for the betterment of all. That Lincoln began a new government from the original compact with bayonet and gun into an empire called THE United States presents an entirely different USA Flag, especially if the Flag has Gold Braid.

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      1. Betty Giragosian

        I am a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. We never display any of the Five Flags of the Confederacy, unless the Flag of the United States has the place of honour. Our
        flag code requires that we do not ever leave the Flag of the United States out of any display of the Confederate flags.

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  6. Tom Ward

    The battle flag did make its first “revival” in the 1890s, when Mississippi and Georgia incorporated it into their state flags–as a show of defiance to the Reconstruction constitutions that they were then rewriting (along with the creation of Jim Crow laws)–and did appear with many of the UDC monuments of that first Lost Cause era.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the comment. Keep in mind that the other factor at work here is that in many places, including Richmond, veterans were not allowed to parade in uniform with their flags during Reconstruction. Again, I hope no one is interpreting this post in a way that denies that veterans were not interested in their flag. Quite the opposite. They were deeply invested in their battle flags as a tangible connection to their past, which is why I suspect they would not be the biggest fans of the goals of the Virginia Flaggers.

      I found the image interesting given the prominence of the American flag in the ceremony and in no way meant to suggest that it was evidence that Confederate veterans utilized it as some kind of surrogate.

      Reply
  7. William G. Barron

    I fly the Bonnie Blue on a daily basis in honor of a great grandfather and two great great grandfathers as well as great granfather’s brother killed at Franklin. It is flown today for that reason, Heritage of my Family, Our County, State and Region. As long as I live and have mind, that Southern Heritage will not be forgotten. I make no apology to anyone for that flag nor do I make an apology for the U.S. Flag flown in honor of those of my family serving in The Revolutionary War, War of 1812, WWII, and Korea. Political Correctness is killing this once great country.

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  8. Eric A. Jacobson

    What follows is from a speech by Woodrow Wilson at the 27th Annual UCV Convention which was held in Washington, D. C., and reprinted in the Confederate Veteran magazine. Talk about a look into Civil War memory. I cannot imagine the SCV or some hardline heritage folks ever agreeing to reprint such blasphemy. :)

    “These are days of oblivion as well as of memory, for we are forgetting the things that once held us asunder. Not only that, but they are days of rejoicing, because we now at last see why this great nation was kept united, for we are beginning to see the great world purpose which it was meant to serve.”

    “Many men, I know, particularly of your own generation, have wondered at some of the dealings of Providence: but the wise heart never questions the dealings of Providence, because the great, long plan as it unfolds has a majesty about it and a definiteness of purpose, an elevation of ideal, which we were incapable of conceiving as we tried to work things out with our own short sight and weak strength. And now that we see ourselves part of a nation united, powerful, great in spirit and in purpose, we know the great ends which God in his mysterious providence wrought through our instrumentality, because at the heart of the men of the North and of the South there was the same love of self-government and of liberty, and now we are to be an instrument in the hands of God to see that liberty is made secure for mankind. At the day of our greatest division there was one common passion among us, and that was the passion for human freedom.”

    “We did not know that God was working out in his own way the method by which we should best serve human freedom— by making this Union a great united, indivisible, indestructible instrument in his hands for the accomplishment of these great things.”

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  9. Eric A. Jacobson

    Even better is a report on the parade from the same UCV convention. Note how the battle flag was on display, and Dixie was played, but the Confederate Veteran magazine stated unequivocally “the Stars and Stripes forever.” Let me say it again – Confederate Veteran magazine, which was the voice of Southern veterans. So it is clear those who had actually fought the war understood matters far better than some folks do today. Frankly, the SCV and hardcore heritage types have largely abandoned what the UCV stood for and morphed into a group of folks who simply squawk every time they are offended, and then cry foul when others are likewise offended. Anyway, here is the official Confederate report on the parade:

    “Washington was in expectancy about the parade and was not disappointed, for the Confederate veterans staged a pageant more moving than had ever appeared on its streets, and the like of which will never be seen there, again. Down historic Pennsylvania Avenue, where the victorious army in blue had passed in review before President Lincoln more than fifty years ago, the veterans of the Confederacy now marched, a pathetic remnant of a once glorious army. Not in the consciousness of defeat, but with faith still in the right, they followed proudly their old banners waving by the Stars and Stripes and were none the less loyal to the one that another was now their flag—the Stars and Stripes forever. Such a sight was never before seen and could hardly be repeated in the history of the world. It was a moving spectacle, pathetic and inspiring. The Confederate veterans, marching to the music of “Dixie” and other thrilling Southern airs, aroused enthusiasm that had never before been stirred by the magnificent spectacles of the capital city.”

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  10. travis

    To many of us, any version of the confederate flag is a reminder of the folks who felt blacks were not human. Instead they were items like cows or pigs – that could be bought, sold, mistreated or killed with impunity. That many southerners owned no slaves does not mean their soldiers were not fighting to preserve this way of life. Many probably dreamed of buying their own slaves after the war. That was the way of thinking back then. But most proud remembrances of confederate symbols have been used by racists groups to remind us that some people still resent that blacks have been elevated above chattel, and long for the ‘old days’. I would have respect for someone who wore a T-Shirt stating ‘I am not racist – but I’m proud of my ancestors who fought for the confederacy’. I would be very interested in finding out the family history that they could convey regardless of the sentiment back then. But without that disclaimer – those who fly confederate symbols seem to wish to go back to a very dark time most of us don’t want to revisit.

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  11. London John

    As I remember, until not more than 20 years ago unreconstructed white Southerners had their own version of Lincoln; their line was basically “if Lincoln had lived we wouldn’t have had that nasty Reconstruction”. It was also quite commonly claimed that the Civil Rights Act was contrary to what Lincoln stood for.
    Incidentally, wasn’t it actually (the first) President Johnson who took the salute of the “victorious army in blue”?

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  12. gjvhe

    This is not hard to comprehend. After the Civil War and after reconstruction, the veterans of the South did reflect on what they lost. Their standard of living went down. Family, fortune, fame, were all gone. I can imagine they did not want to bring anything bad down on their heads so flag waving did not give them anything and the surrender did say no flags and no uniforms. The South was very strong in supporting the Spanish American War. Fitz Lee was made a general in the USV, so was Gen Wheeler. There was other political trading between the North and South that resulted in abandoning the African American efforts for equality to keep the South’s effort for unification. Today, there is a pay off to waving the Confederate flag. Americans do not genuflect unless there is a cause to it and a purpose. Time will tell.

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  13. travis

    I’ve enjoyed reading all of the history here, but I think some of it misses the point. If it were seen only as a reminder of history, there would be no controversy. But I probably know more Confederate history than 80% of the people with large rebel flag decals on the windows of their trucks. If it were solely about heritage, wouldn’t there be more Confederate symbols on the Mercedes, Bentleys and Cadillacs driven by the descendants of those who inherited enormous wealth? There should be a Jefferson Davis bus with a large decal; a Confederate blimp; or TV ads sponsored by the wealthy families who most profited from eslaving blacks and brainwashing most poor whites. Those who display the symbol that are not wealthy do so for three reasons.
    1) As a reminder of white dominance of the past.
    2) As a reminder that white dominance still reigns in the present.
    3) As a reminder of intent that white dominance continue into the future.

    It’s not chic to wear a white hood these days, but a Confederate decal is a similar show of solidarity.
    I really wish I didn’t feel this way – but it is what it is. As a nation we’ve fought a few wars.
    Which other one produced a symbol that was so divisive? That symbol is not very welcome in America, but the two groups are finding common ground.

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  14. Jack Adkins

    I have often wondered why so many Northerners are so obsessed over the South and its display of the Army of Northern Virginia’s battle flag. After much thought, I can only conclude that for 150 years the Northerners have enjoyed looking down their noses at Southerners. Now that Southerners have begun openly displaying their pride in being Southern, jealousy and fear have prompted Northerners to lash out at this resurgence in Southern pride. Being as how most Southerners are Scots Irish with a mix of American Indian, I can’t help but wonder if there is a cultural hatred also. So, just what is at the root of your obsession with trying to grind down Southerners?

    Reply

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