Are Texas Confederates Heroes?

This week the Texas House Committee on Culture, Tourism and Recreation held a public forum on legislation that would remove “Confederate Heroes Day” and create a new holiday called, “Civil War Remembrance Day.” The sponsor of the bill is Jacob Hale, an eighth grader in Austin, who convinced his local representative to sponsor the bill. Coverage of the bill’s public discussion begins at the 2:42:50 mark.

While a few supporters of the bill spoke out that vast majority of people in attendance took a stand against it. What is so striking is that while the bill and at least the stated intent by the bill’s sponsor do not revolve around a concern over slavery, practically every speaker brought it up. The position against the bill turned into a collective attempt to get Confederates right on the issue of slavery. It was an admittance of the centrality of slavery and in the case of Texas they are absolutely right on target.

Of course, their approach was to completely distort their own state’s history by referencing the myth of the black Confederate soldier and anything else that would help their cause. Their defensiveness is somewhat justified. Listening to the interview with Hale convinces me that while he claims not to be concerned about the issue of slavery, it lingers in the background given the holiday’s proximity to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Why not just raise that issue directly?

The state of Texas certainly did in its Ordinance of Secession, which was issued on February 2, 1861. Its authors explain why Texas originally joined the union (or confederacy) and why it chose to leave.

She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time…

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color–a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States…

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

It goes on and on. Texans were very clear as to why they needed to leave the Union before Lincoln took office and join what became the Confederate States of America.

I appreciate the one speakers honesty in proclaiming all Texas Unionists as traitors. They betrayed the cause for which Texas fought. If the holiday is maintained a public reading of this secession document should be mandatory. After all, if these men were heroes than the cause for which they fought, as expressed by their own state government, ought to be honored as well.

Are the men who fought to make these goals a reality worthy of being called heroes? You decide.

16 comments… add one
  • I have urged people who claim that slavery had nothing, or very little, to do with the war to read the secession papers and the constitutions of the various states. For the most part I am convinced they do not and will not because to do so would burst the Gone With The Wind lense through which so many see the war.

    As someone who has done family history research since the 1960s I know that there are many who want to gloss over any sort of scandal or impropriety or criminal activity involving a relative. I am very open about the fact that there were slave holders on my mother’s side of my family. I do not glorify them. I am glad that those from who I am directly descended were pro-union, did not own slaves, and fought for the north. I support the type of bill introduced by an eight year old who seems far wiser than his elders.

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    • The United States represented to Texas that Texas would enter the union as a slave state. The abolitionists elected Lincoln in 1860, signaling that the United States would breach the agreement and abolish slavery. Based on the coming breach of agreement to be attempted by the United States, Texas rightfully left the union. Slavery, in 1860, was the basis for the South’s economy–and the US simply cared not. Texans are men of their word, and the Yankees were not. The mechanical cotton picker would have ended slavery. Undeniable.

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      • “The mechanical cotton picker would have ended slavery.”

        . . . when it was introduced in the 1940s?

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      • Can you please show me the primary sources where Lincoln was proposing to end slavery in Texas in 1860? I have never found a single one of them nor have I found any prior to Texas’ unconstitutional secession attempt.

        If you look, you will find where ending the expansion of slavery was what the majority of Americans both in the North and many in the South wanted. Look at California where southerners chose to reject slavery in the state. The slave owners in the South knew they had to control the federal government to protect slavery’s expansion. When they lost control of the federal government, they panicked and made a really bad decision.

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  • It’s interesting to note that slavery was also one of the reasons Texas wanted to leave Mexico.

    Back to your question, the word “hero” is a really subjective term that is thrown around a lot in this country. Much like the word “un-American.” It’s really no coincidence that the overwhelming majority of the Confederate Heritage shakers and movers are neo-Conservatives. These political opinions, in their minds, parallel the secession movement of 1860-61. Notice the rhetoric they use to describe the ‘enemy’ combatant. “Terrorists, traitors,” etc. Many of them go so far as to claim they rebelled against a federal government that grew in power and became tyrannical in nature; hence they broke to preserve the true principles of the Constitution. In Confederate Heritage advocates’ minds, Confederate soldiers fought to defend their homes and for ‘freedom.’ In that line of thought, those soldiers are heroes and I can see why they would think that. To engage in a bit of presentism, how many Americans today see current soldiers as heroes? How many of those people are willing to take into account the U.S.’s absurd foreign policy and situate that as the cause for which our modern ‘heroes’ fight?

    To paraphrase Clausewitz, war is politics by other means. It appears we recognize that in this thread. Perhaps Clausewitz should have added, and hero worshiping is politics through other means.

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    • I agree, Rob, as it” is a truth universally acknowledged ” that support for the Confederacy today still seems to coincide with right wing political views, at least IMO (and my apology to Jane Austen). As Gary Gallagher just commented on C-SPAN 3 and its coverage of the End of the Civil War symposium at Charlottesville, the southerners, regardless of whether they owned slaves or did not, had a stake in the system. The stake was a combination of economics and social control.

      In our current times, support for the old south seems to transcend place of birth and current place of resistance and be more of a reflection of an intense dislike of the federal government. But having said that, I don’t think it is a coincidence that much of this sentiment comes from Texas, Alabama, and other deep south states.

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    • You don’t seriously mean neo-cons? These people aren’t reading Commentary Magazine. These people are good old fashioned paleo-cons.

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  • Sam Houston remains among my heroes, and he was certainly not a Confederate.

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  • Just to add, I think the idealistic view of the Southern soldiers has been at the expense of the Union soldiers. The neo-Confederates tend to denigrate Union soldiers as though they were near-mercenaries unworthy of admiration, while southern soldiers are always seen as idealistic defenders of hearth and home. No wonder Confederate ancestors are seen as heroes to many.

    I had a 3rd GGF who enlisted at age 60 and fought at Wilson Creek and Pea Ridge. He was very anti-slavery, which resulted in a break with the members of his family who stayed in the south. His very elderly mother still owned slaves in 1850, per the Slave Schedules. I doubt that a 60 year old prosperous farmer joined up for mercenary reasons and took his sons with him, including a 2nd GGF of mine.

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  • Perhaps Hale was hoping to avoid having the bill bogged down by people trying to deny historical fact. I don’t lump all of the deniers together because there are some who are cynically trying to advance a modern political agenda through denial and there are some who are more reacting to what I’ve always called the false syllogism/reasoning (My great-great-granddaddy fought for the Confederacy. My great-granddaddy was a good man. Slavery is a bad thing. A good man would not have have fought for a bad thing. Therefore, slavery was not the cause of the Civil War.).

    The problem is, as you note, that, even though they started trying to cover their tracks when it became clear that the war was going to end in catastrophic defeat for the rebel states, they were very explicit about why they were doing what they did during the secession winterspring of 1860-1861

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  • I don’t think it’s a matter of heroes but of the cause for which the Confederacy fought. The myths of the Lost Cause have fallen by the wayside over the years, the success of the Civil Rights movement helped that. As a result we as a nation look at the war more objectively and with that look people are refuting the bromides of the Lost Cause.

    Slavery has taken center stage because it caused the war, without it the war wouldn’t have happened. As Kevin points out the Ordinances of Secession say that explicitly. There were contributing factors other than slavery but without it these states do not secede. A modern America has less and less patience accommodating the Confederacy.

    However, as A Jackson points out people have a deep and abiding love for rebel soldiers. The Lost Cause did a good job portraying US soldiers in the war as knaves, mercenaries, cowards and villains with no redeeming qualities. This portrayal is absolute, utter hogwash and is an insult to this country and to anyone who’s put themselves out there to defend it in the Armed Forces (myself included). Union soldiers were Americans too and they fought for a multitude of reasons, just as the rebels. Some were heroes, some weren’t. Just like the Confederates, to say otherwise is dishonest.

    That along with this country’s love of the underdog makes the confederate soldier a revered figure in our history. A Confederate Heroes day shows its manifestations in modern form. It’s dissonance, people abhor the rebel cause but revere the men who fought it.

    I personally don’t think Confederates were heroes on the whole, that’s my own opinion. That said Union soldiers, WW2 soldiers or today’s service men and women aren’t heroes on the whole either. Not everyone can be heroes, few are. Most any of us who served will say that. There are good and bad people who serve.

    Military service does not a hero make, I served and am in no way a hero. Heroes do not come in broad brush strokes. I knew guys in the Army who were heroic and admirable, at the same time I served with someone who’s serving life in prison for three murders. It’s the individual and not the whole that can be heroic. Large groups of people are all different and to give the collective a common title dilutes the meaning and is a bit lazy.

    To tie this long-winded dissertation together, Hale is absolutely correct in wanting the holiday changed. Remember the war as it was, not as certain people want to. The war wasn’t “Gone With the Wind,” it was a complicated, bitter process that in the end destroyed the system that started the war but did not fully ensure the future of those it liberated.

    Remember the admirable men and women on both sides, remember the not-so-admirable. Tell the bad and good, but tell the truth. Let’s drop the falsehoods and the myths. Let’s teach the war as it was, not how certain heritage elements want. Drop the mythmaking and keep the truth.

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  • I’ve never had a problem with Confederate Memorial Day here in Mississippi, but I wouldn’t go so far as to use the term hero in the title. My personal view is Confederate Memorial Day is, or should be, a day to reflect upon how far our nation has come since the war, how the war came to be, and to remember family who fought in that war in a dignified manner. These “heritage groups” do more harm than good, and I dare say they bring more shame upon the South than honor. It’s also interesting to note how the men who fought in the Civil War showed much more mutual respect toward each other than these heritage groups display. I can’t help but think of the old veterans shaking hands and reminiscing at the various battle reunions or Joseph Johnston’s close relationship with William Tecumseh Sherman after the war.

    From Wikipedia: “… Johnston, like Lee, never forgot the magnanimity of the man to whom he surrendered, and would not allow an unkind word to be said about Sherman in his presence. Sherman and Johnston corresponded frequently and they met for friendly dinners in Washington whenever Johnston traveled there. When Sherman died, Johnston served as an honorary pallbearer at his funeral; during the procession in New York City on February 19, 1891, he kept his hat off as a sign of respect in the cold, rainy weather. Someone with concern for the old general’s health asked him to put on his hat, to which Johnston replied “If I were in his place and he were standing here in mine, he would not put on his hat.” He caught a cold that day, which developed into pneumonia, and he died several weeks later …”

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  • Kevin, I’m impressed how you took into account several touchy considerations and still made a sharp point. I always think of something similar when I see some “heritage” group claiming that they’re honoring their Confederate ancestors for abstract virtues like Courage, Honor and Love Of Home. How does it honor the memory of their ancestors if you do it by making up a pretty lie about the cause they fought for and in which they presumably actually believed? Thanks for following up on this story.

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  • No mention of the slaughter of German (pro-Union) settlers being slaughtered en route to Mexico, trying to escape their “heroic” neighbors? There were many brave men in the Confederacy, but fighting for the wrong cause makes them losers, not heroes.

    On a side note: the History Channel program Texas Rising (premiering during the Memorial Day weekend) is already making me wary based on the previews. It looks like a case may be made that blacks had some kind of hope in Texas other than that of being slaves.

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  • I just heard Texas Rep. Ted Poe’s sanitized version of Texas history about San Jacinto Day. He did not mention the issue of Texas slavery once. “Due to the extremely low population for such territorial extension (estimated at 12 million during 1824), Mexico relaxed its immigration policies, thus allowing American settlers to help populate the northern territories. The conditions to settle were simple: 1) to pledge allegiance to Mexico and 2) observe the Mexican Law and customs. In 1830, these laws incorporated the banning of slavery. Due to the fact that many American settlers in such territories were slave owners, they looked for any pretext to break up with Mexico. Later, Mexican President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna took measures to transform Mexico from a Federal Republic to a Centralist Republic. This move prompted Yucatan and Texas to secede from Mexico. Santa Anna’s government invaded both republics; while Yucatan was regained, Texas was lost. The Texas Revolution ended after the Battle of San Jacinto, but Mexico did not officially recognize the independence of Texas until after the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) as part of the Guadalupe-Hidalgo treaty.”
    Texas Rep Ted Poe went on about the Texian desire for freedom and independence. In his own revisionist version of PC, he also mentioned that blacks had fought for independence at the Alamo and San Jacinto. “SO THEY WERE WILLING TO GIVE THEIR LIVES FOR FREEDOM. IT’S NOT A TRITE STATEMENT. WE HAVE HAD PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE UNITED STATES THAT HAVE DONE THAT, HAVE FOUGHT FOR AMERICA, FOR FREEDOM AND FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO SACRIFICE THEIR LIVES SO OTHER PEOPLE CAN ENJOY THAT WORD THAT MOST PEOPLE HAVE NEVER ENJOYED, FREEDOM AND LIBERTY”. How does that comport with the Texas Ordinance of Secession, “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable”.
    It has always been the fundamental flaw in the Confederate cause, the misguided irony of fighting for the freedom to take freedom away from others. No Texas Confederates are not heroes, they were in fact enemies of the United States.

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