Update: I totally called it. The Confederate flag was intended to honor the men of the 54th Massachusetts and was not a pro-Confederate statement.
Late last night a Confederate flag was discovered displayed on the Shaw Memorial on Beacon Street across the street from the Massachusetts State House. The flag remained displayed for a couple of hours before police arrived. While it is unknown who placed the flag on the monument or for what purpose it does not appear to be a pro-Confederate flag message. The flag is clearly dangling from Colonel Shaw’s sword. It certainly does make for a powerful image.
Most people know the story of the 54th Massachusetts from the movie “Glory”. The movie’s narrative ends with the regiment’s failed assault at Battery Wagner, outside of Charleston, South Carolina in July 1863. What often goes unnoticed, however, is the crucial role the regiment – along with its sister regiment, the 55th Mass. – played during the immediate postwar period. Both regiments were stationed in South Carolina from April through August 1865. Their responsibilities included managing relationships between former slaves and owners to ensure the arrival of a new crop and safeguarding government buildings and supplies. Most importantly, the two regiments played a vital role in protecting former slaves from their former masters who hoped to rebuild white supremacy on a new foundation. Continue reading “54th Massachusetts Called to Duty Once Again”→
Last week I attended the Civil War Institute’s annual conference at Gettysburg College. At the end of the first evening Peter Carmichael sat down for a conversation with James McPherson. Pete chose to open with questions about the recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina and about its implications for how we think about the Civil War and our nation’s long painful history of race. I don’t know if McPherson was entirely comfortable with the questions and I certainly didn’t anticipate such a move on Pete’s part, but I couldn’t be more pleased that he did. It is one of the things that makes CWI such a unique experience.
Pete understands that historians have an obligation to weigh in during moments of national crisis, especially when those moments are tangled up in our collective past. The conversation served as a reminder that when it comes to our civil war it is often difficult to delineate between the present and the past. And even when we can pinpoint that past, coming to terms with its complexity can be a daunting task. In the wake of the Charleston shootings Americans sought out some of our best historians to help untangle the past from the present and provide some sense of meaning. Continue reading “Historians Help a Nation Understand Charleston and Civil War Memory”→
During my recent trip to Gettysburg I made time to visit the Seminary Ridge Museum, which is located on the campus of the Lutheran Theological Seminary. It’s a wonderful museum and I highly recommend a visit given the important role it played during the battle and for what you will see and learn inside.
A constant refrain heard over the past week is that the Confederate battle flag is a revered symbol for the descendants of the men who fought under it between 1861 and 1865. If so, for how many descendants? The Sons of Confederate Veterans certainly embrace the spirit of this claim. According to Wikipedia membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans numbered just over 29,000 in 2014 – an incredibly small number by any estimation. Certainly, one does not have to be a member of the SCV to claim a strong ancestral connection with an ancestor who fought. Perhaps there are many more outside of the SCV who identify the flag with a Confederate ancestor. Perhaps that number is far outstripped by descendants of Confederate soldiers who have never given their ancestor much thought at all.
But what exactly are we acknowledging when the Confederate flag is embraced by a descendant of a soldier who fought and to what extent ought the rest of us acknowledge this as a legitimate interpretation of the flag’s meaning? The embrace of the flag by descendants of Confederate soldiers usually comes with claims about the bravery and steadfastness of their ancestor as well as vague claims about the defense of home and family.
This morning Bree Newsome scaled the gate around the Confederate flag in Columbia, South Carolina and removed it. She was aided by an individual, who apparently disguised himself as a maintenance worker.
I assume a legal fund will be created on her behalf and I hope lawyers will step up to the plate and take on her case pro bono.
What a wonderful example of our long history of peaceful protest.