We’ll Always Have the First National Flag

There is a reason why Confederate heritage groups like the Virginia Flaggers emphasize the public display of the battle flag. It’s not simply that the flag is widely understood as the soldiers’ flag, but that it is the most visible reminder of the Confederacy. It’s an iconic symbol. This is the flag that Confederate heritage advocates wrap themselves around. In recent years, however, that is becoming more and more difficult to do at least in public spaces throughout the South.

Last night in Escambia County, Florida the community decided that the battle flag ought not to be flown as part of a display outside the Pensacola Bay Center. What will be flown to connect the community to its Confederate past is the First National Flag or Stars and Bars. What’s that, you ask? Well, it was the first national flag of the Confederate nation, which was flown from March 1861 to May 1863. Continue reading “We’ll Always Have the First National Flag”

“With Malice Toward None, With Charity For All”

The spirit of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address is as far removed from an American president landing on an aircraft carrier and announcing “Mission Accomplished” as one can imagine. A profound humility courses throughout this speech. Lincoln expresses little in the way of blame for the war and if there is any celebration to be experienced in Union victory it must accommodate the immense feelings of loss and sadness throughout the nation. Celebration must be tempered by the realization that God, “gives to both North and South this terrible war.” It is this realization that must somehow guide a reunited nation forward.

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

This speech moves me every time I read it. It’s worth reading again on this its 150th anniversary.

Charlottesville, Virginia No Longer Celebrates Lee-Jackson Day

As of this evening my old home of Charlottesville, Virginia no longer celebrates Lee-Jackson Day. The city joins other communities throughout the Commonwealth that no longer publicly acknowledge this holiday.

The vote is not so much a declaration that Lee and Jackson no longer deserve the kind of reverence they once received, but a confirmation that the community crossed this line at some point in the past. Representatives of the city’s chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had every opportunity to voice their displeasure and chose not to do so. This paid city holiday will likely be rolled into one honoring all veterans. That leaves room for those who wish to single out Lee and Jackson or anyone else for that matter.

Looks like Susan Hathaway of the Virginia Flaggers attended tonight’s meeting to make a last-minute plea.

We should celebrate a city that allows people from outside the community to voice their opinion. It is unlikely that city councilors gave much thought to Hathaway and the other members of the group who attended the previous meeting. The group plans to find private property to raise one of their flags as a snub to the community. That is their right. It’s nothing more than an indication that their message has once again failed.

The only question that remains unanswered is whether cities like Charlottesville can find productive ways for members of the community to engage one another around such sensitive questions of how their collective past ought to be remembered.

Why We Must Remember the Lincoln of 1865 and Not 2015

While running for the presidency in 2008 Barack Obama made it a point to align himself and his campaign with what he viewed as Lincoln’s vision for the nation. For many, Obama was the heir to Lincoln’s legacy. Those connections were only reinforced following his victory. In that moment the Civil War and even Reconstruction made perfect sense and it felt good. Artist Ron English’s painting and popular print, “Abraham Obama,” beautifully captures this collapse of historical time. Look closely and it’s difficult to discern where one ended and the other began.

The promise of a post-racial society has all but collapsed with recent news stories of the shooting deaths of young black men by police and the overwhelming evidence that racial inequality is growing wider in the United States. Many Americans are disappointed in what they perceive to be a lack of attention to matters of race by the president himself. But if Obama disappoints, Lincoln is always available to point us in the direction of “the better angels of our nature.” As we approach the 150th anniversary of his assassination echoes of Lincoln’s role as our national moral compass will likely grow louder. We would do well to be cautious. Continue reading “Why We Must Remember the Lincoln of 1865 and Not 2015”

“The Port is Near, the Bells I Hear, the People all Exulting”

The sound of bells in the city of Charleston announced secession in December 1860. The tolling of bells served as a rallying point for Americans throughout the war. Soldiers marched off from their homes and some returned for final burial to the sound of bells. Bells marked important victories and the arrival of a slain president on his journey home.

Now the National Park Service wants to mark the end of the Civil War sesquicentennial with the ringing of bells throughout the nation.

In conjunction with a major event at Appomattox Court House National Historical Park, the National Park Service and its partners invite communities across the nation to join in this commemoration. The bells will ring first at Appomattox at 3:00 p.m. on April 9, 2015. The ringing will coincide with the moment the historic meeting between Grant and Lee in the McLean House at Appomattox Court House ended. While Lee’s surrender did not end the Civil War, the act is seen by most Americans as the symbolic end of four years of bloodshed.

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to mark the 150th anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox (which all but assured that our Union would be preserved) and the end of the sesquicentennial. Continue reading ““The Port is Near, the Bells I Hear, the People all Exulting””