Lee-Jackson Day is a Lost Cause

There are a number of observations that one can make about our nation’s Civil War memory as it has taken shape during the sesquicentennial and where it might be headed. The most obvious is that the public display of the Confederate flag is in full retreat in the South. There are numerous examples that I could sight to support this claim.

Increasingly, in the past few years, Lee-Jackson Day has fallen under increased suspicion in the South. Let’s face it, the holiday currently exists in many Southern states in name only. Public offices might be closed, but very few people formally acknowledge the day in any significant way. Even in Lexington, Virginia, where both Lee and Jackson are buried, it takes people from outside the community ‘to remind residents that it’s that time of year again. And in places where Lee-Jackson Day falls on Martin Luther King Day the latter almost always attracts more attention.

Last week the state of Arkansas debated and ultimately decided not to discontinue honoring Lee on MLK Day. [The law would also have brought to an end the public recognition of June 3 as the birthday of Jefferson Davis.] Charlottesville’s city council will soon decide whether to continue recognizing Lee-Jackson Day. You can find plenty of stories out of other parts of the South where the holiday has caused public protest.

Of course, this represents a very small number of communities, but you should fully expect these calls to increase in the next few years, along with decisions that reflect the South’s changing demographic and distance from the men, who were once believed to represent all Southerners.

12 comments add yours

  1. The link should read Arkansas, not Missouri. Missouri does not recognize Lee on MLK Day or any other for that matter. In fact, the Conderate flag is not flown outside, other than at the cemetery at the Old Confederate Home SHS at Higginsville, Mo on Conferate Memorial Day. It is displayed in context in museums at state historic sites. There used to be a private observation of Lee’s birthday aboard the R.E. Lee floating restaurant (a mock stern wheeler) on the St. Louis Riverfront, but that hasn’t been done for decades.

  2. Texas recognizes both Confederate Heroes Day and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, both this year on January 19. However, the official holiday policy from the state auditor’s office is, “when two holidays fall on the same day, only one holiday will be observed. All state agencies will be closed on January 19, 2015 in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.” That kinda defuses it as a public issue here.

  3. I remember the discussion of Lee-Jackson Day last year and someone mentioned how it used to be celebrated in Richmond, KY.

    I did my undergrad there before and after my time on active duty in the Army and never at any point was the day commemorated. MLK Day was always celebrated, but never Lee-Jackson. That goes for my youth in Frankfort, KY as well.

    Since my youth I’ve seen a decrease in focus on the Confederacy in Kentucky. It’s still prominent but not nearly to the level it once approached. The thing is that this was a slave state that didn’t secede and sent three soldiers to the US for every one CS. But the confederacy always got much more attention.

    There are reasons for that, but it seems the Centennial was the high water mark of the Lost Cause in Kentucky. Since then there’s been a gradual switch in focus onto Lincoln and slavery.

    Camp Nelson was a major recruiting center for USCTs and became a home for many former slaves during the war. It’s received a lot of attention in the last decade and it’s highly important story is finally being told. This wouldn’t have happened 30 or so years ago.

    The Sesquicentennial exhibit at the state history center was a balanced representation of the war. It didn’t emphasize the Lost Cause but told a more complete and comprehensive view of the war.

    Just recently a politician called for the removal of the statue of Jefferson Davis from the Capitol rotunda. That would’ve been political suicide years ago. Now, it is not really too terribly news worthy. People have either softened their views or don’t care.

    This is gradual and has a bit of a way to go but it is promising. There are things still to do, as I think there need to be more monuments to the Union and slave experiences here but it takes small steps. There’ll be a day when the war can be looked on an even plane and not have holidays celebrating confederate leaders.

    I think this is a trend in some parts of the south and border states though certainly not all. It will accelerate further once the influence of people who advocate for the confederate experience decreases.

    The South is moving on and as you said with the changing demographics this will continue. It’s noticeable in my lifetime and it will continue.

    I hope these are relevant to your post but these are observations from someone in a somewhat southern state.

  4. I was slightly taken aback by Mr. Hoskins’ remarks about omissions regarding General Lee in Missouri, never dreaming that the floating restaurant bearing Lee’s name which sat long shuttered and unused and then burned years ago somehow reflected poorly on the General. However, if you cast your eyes from that spot southward some yards to the bottom of the steps beneath the Gateway Arch, you’ll see a longstanding memorial to this same Robert E. Lee for his engineering feats in 1847-48 which literally saved the St. Louis riverfront.

    Each year, there are multiple Lee/Jackson banquets in Missouri. I have attended more than twenty myself, including one in the early 1980s at the Haden House in Boone County when the wind chill was reported at 43 degrees below zero – and yet people came. Oh, and there is still a school nearby the University of Missouri named for the General ( http://www.greatschools.org/missouri/columbia/74-Robert-E.-Lee-Elementary-School/). Four or five years ago, on a trek across northern Missouri, I noted the display of the battle flag in four or five places, in Lexington, Boonville, Louisiana, Hannibal and in rural Shelby County.

    The less said about the flag at Higginsville, the better. In the appropriate occasions, the graves in the memorial cemetery there will each bear a small battle flag, and no one will remember the limitations began when Governor Holden was trying to plug a potentially embarassing inconsistency in what even the most stalwart Democrat will now gigglingly refer to as the Dick Gephardt Presidential Campaign.

    But then pandering to present day political orthodoxy isn’t helpful when actually assessing history for – gold your breath – some truth or meaning it might offer. Some might wish to look into a mirror once a day and repeat that. Or more often, who knows.

  5. After Virginia’s bizarre experiment with Lee-Jackson-King Day (1984-2000), the holidays were split with Lee-Jackson Day occurring on the Friday before MLK Day. I thought the holiday had been dropped entirely until I saw a sign at the Dumfries Town Hall two weeks ago stating it was closing at noon for Lee-Jackson Day. Sounds like it is nothing more than an excuse for a long weekend now.

  6. As a Kentuckian, a graduate of the State school in Lexington and one who also grew up in Frankfort, I wholeheartedly disagree with Mr. Sudduth’s assertions.

    Of course, Kentucky did not secede; there were strong practical and emotional reasons to stay in the Union. It must be acknowledged, however, that the Lincoln Administration, in its treatment of Kentuckians, seemed not to notice that the State had not seceded. To the number of Kentuckians in blue as against Kentuckians in gray, the ratio was more 5:4, rather than 3:1.

    Concerning the current level of pro-Confederate sentiment in Kentucky, from my experience at Civil War Round Tables, re-enactments, and events where opinions from the audience are expressed, the regard for the South in the Civil War is as high now as it was at the time of the Centennial. True, Kentucky does not celebrate a Lee-Jackson Day—nor does it celebrate Lincoln’s birthday. The Kentucky media have not reported any groundswells for changing the Rebel mascots of many of Kentucky’s high schools. And, there was no great outcry—pro or con—over the proposal to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis from the capitol rotunda; but, the statue remains, and there’s been not a whisper of any plan to ship him off. In this not “somewhat,” but truly, Southern State, the preference for the gray over the blue has not diminished.

    And, indeed, please read Professor Marshall’s excellent book!

    • Civil War Trust says that:
      “In total, about 100,000 Kentuckians served in the Union Army. After April 1864, when the Union Army began recruiting African American soldiers in Kentucky, almost 24,000 joined to fight for their freedom. For the Confederacy, between 25,000 and 40,000 Kentuckians answered the call of duty. ”
      http://www.civilwar.org/hallowed-ground-magazine/spring-2010/civil-war-kentucky.html

      Battles and Leaders places the number of Union troops furnished by Kentucky at approximately 76,000. Vol. IV p. 767.

      • Pat, I attended the University of Kentucky in the early 1980s–I used to walk past Don Carlos Buell Armory every day–and studied Kentucky for much of my career. I’ve never seen anyone claim a 5:4 ratio. The 3:1 figure is standard because available service records support it. And people knew it at the time. Various ballots in 1861 made it clear to both sides that support for secession among white Kentuckians was not only in the minority but fading away. John Hunt Morgan and the Kentucky Lobby in Richmond did manage to convince various Confederate leaders in 1862 that pro-secession sentiments were rising again under harsh military occupation. Morgan promised that Confederate armies would find tens of thousands of willing recruits if they moved into the state. But he was wrong. Kirby Smith ‘s men complained that only the women seemed to welcome them. Bragg found so few recruits that he persuaded the CS state government to extend the draft. After Perryville, many of his men concluded that Kentucky men had betrayed them. After Murfreesboro, John C. Breckinridge was convinced that Bragg had tried to murder the Orphan Brigade on January 2 because of his new-found hatred for the state. As a fine Kentucky historian once told me, Kentucky was a Union state that only “joined” the Confederacy in 1865, largely because of emancipation and race, a notion that Anne Marshall has more recently confirmed.

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.