I came across an episode of “The Outer Limits” that deals with Civil War reenacting and the battle of Gettysburg. Many of you are no doubt familiar with what I like to describe as the poor cousin of the “Twilight Zone”, which ran from 1963-1965 and than again from 1995-2002. This particular episode features the singer, Meatloaf, as one Confederate Colonel Devine, and tells the story of two young men who are preparing to take part in a reenactment of Gettysburg. The episode reflects many of our popular beliefs about the Civil War, including the assumption surrounding the decisiveness of the battle itself and our love of counterfactuals. Both men are transported back to July 1863 for the purposes of carrying out a mission – a mission that they learn early on will challenge the notion of historical determinism. While the Union reenactor is quite concerned about their predicament, his Confederate friend fully embraces the opportunity to fight for states rights and against big government along with its long lines of “welfare recipients”. For him, this stroke of good luck is a chance to meet and fight alongside his Confederate ancestor for values that he believes they both must share. What is striking is that the viewer learns next to nothing about why the Union reenactor embraces the hobby. I have to wonder whether this is just another example of our inability to fully embrace the importance that so many attached to the preservation of the Union.
As the two friends work to figure out their mission the campaign and battle develop. Of course, since they come from the future they know how the battle will unfold and try desperately to steer it in a different direction. When it is announced in camp on July 1 that J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry will arrive shortly they announce that he is off on a “Glory seeing raid” and will not arrive in time. And, of course, they try to prevent “Pickett’s Charge” from taking place, which the producers mistakenly place on July 2. At one point the two friends end up on the battlefield with the Confederate reenactor’s ancestor, who they find is a coward and shares none of his descendant’s reasons for reenacting. For this ancestor the goal is simply to stay alive and is void of anything connected to principle. The encounter raises the suggestion that reenacting is as much (if not more) about our own perceptions of the past and/or cultural values than it is about the men who actually fought in it.
The episode takes a number of kooky twists before the real mission is finally revealed. Without ruining the plot, let’s just say that their goal is to prevent an assassination that would take place in 2013 on the Gettysburg battlefield. And let’s just say that with the election of our first black president this episode, which originally aired in 1995, is rendered that much more interesting.
Well, not that commander-in-chief. One of my readers was kind enough to forward an email sent to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans from their commander-in-chief, Chuck McMichael, who expresses concern over the misuse and abuse of the Confederate flag by its own members. What follows is McMichael’s directive:
I have never been a fan of “novelty or specialty” flags that incorporate the use of our Battle Flag; I would think you all know the ones I refer to. It might be festooned with the likeness of a musical artist, some slogan or an image of popular culture, or any icon not part of the original flags carried by our Confederate forebears. These distasteful designs demean the accuracy and dignity of the flag. Can you think of anything that one could add to a Confederate Battle Flag that improves it? I cannot. Recently, a picture was circulated through email servers of purported SCV members with a flag that features the CBF on one part and the image of the President-elect on the other. The display of any modern politician or other individuals, integrated into the design of the Confederate Battle Flag, regardless of political affiliation, is undeserved and highly inappropriate
Directive from the Commander in Chief:
All Compatriots, Camps and Division should always display Confederate Flags in a respectful manner. Novelty flags that make use of our Battle Flag should have no place at an SCV function of any type. We should not sell these, display them or allowed them to be displayed at any SCV function. This does not include a Camp or Division Flag that incorporates an original CSA design, or reproduction flags that carry battle honours.
I find it interesting that McMichael’s directive only addresses flags, but says nothing about the wide range of products sold, which include the image of the Confederate flag. Perhaps it is worth browsing the SCV’s store once it goes back online. My guess is that there is probably too much money to be made from the sale of such products to warrant such an outcry. The fact that the top dog in the SCV had to scold its own members for improperly displaying the flag in such a blatant manner is quite telling. First, I have to wonder what percentage of SCV members tend to think of the flag primarily as a political symbol rather than as the flag that their forebears carried into battle. From another perspective, the use of the flag in contemporary politics falls easily within the history of the last 60 years. This is a history which saw Confederate flags raised above statehouses in response to the federal government’s support of civil rights in the 1950s and its more general use as a symbol of “Massive Resistance.” Perhaps McMichaels is the one who needs to read his history.
You get a celebration of Southern heritage. I assume most people will watch this video with a sense of pride as the South’s favorite son brings the Confederate flag and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” to stages around the world. What they probably don’t know, however, is that Kid Rock was born in Romeo, Michigan in 1971. Even more interesting is the fact that a native of Michigan is singing a song composed by an Alabama-based band, which was written in response to Canadian, Neil Young, and his song, “Southern Man” – a song critical of race relations in the South.
On this day in 1864 William T. Sherman secured the city of Savannah, Georgia after marching his army 300 miles across the state. Upon arrival he wired the president the following: “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 100 and 50 guns and plenty of ammunition, also about 25,000 bales of cotton.” Lincoln responded: “Many, many thanks for your Christmas gift – the capture of Savannah. When you were leaving Atlanta for the Atlantic coast, I was anxious, if not fearful; but feeling that you were the better judge, and remembering that ‘nothing risked, nothing gained’ I did not interfere. Now, the undertaking being a success, the honour is all yours; for I believe none of us went farther than to acquiesce. And taking the work of Gen. Thomas into the count, as it should be taken, it is indeed a great success. Not only does it afford the obvious and immediate military advantage; but, in showing to the world that your army could be divided, putting the stronger part to an important new service, and yet leaving enough to vanquish the old opposing force of the whole – Hood’s army – it brings those who sat in darkness, to see a great light. But what next? I suppose it will be safer if I leave Gen. Grant and yourself to decide. Please make my grateful acknowledgements to your whole army – officers and men.”