Category Archives: Lost Cause

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I love this Amazon feature. You get a sense of the broader community of books that individual titles inhabit. I’ve looked at this feature a couple of times on my own book’s Amazon page. The best example that I’ve found is the Kennedy Brothers classic paean to the Lost Cause, The South Was Right (Pelican Press). You can probably predict the family of books that have been purchased in addition to The South Was Right as well as the assumptions being made about how to understand the cause, evolution and consequences of the Civil War.

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Envisioning Black Soldiers, Not Black Citizens

General Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves is often highlighted as an enlightened vision of racial progress in the Confederacy, which proves that slavery was incidental to the formation and maintenance of the Confederate nation. As David T. Gleeson explains in his new book, The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America (University of North Carolina Press, 2013), it’s a bit more complicated.

Cleburne may have been naive about the possibility of emancipation, but not in the importance of slave labor to the Confederacy. Cleburne’s vision was for black soldiers, not black citizens in the Confederacy. On the contrary, their “emancipation” was to be a limited one. While family relationships would be legalized, “wise legislation” would be needed to “compel [former slaves]. . . to labor for a living.” Somewhat ironically, Cleburne drew on the Irish experience he had fled from, concluding in one letter that “writing a man ‘free’ does not make him so, as the history of the Irish laborer shows.” Cleburne understood clearly then that the subordination of blacks would be a key element of the independent Confederacy that he continued to fight for with such gusto. Through his proposal, he believed that “we can control the negroes. . . and they will still be our laborers as much as they now are; and, to all intents and purposes will be our servants, at less cost than now.” To let the North win and the Confederacy be destroyed would, instead, lead to the dreaded racial “equality and amalgamation.” (p. 96)

That’s a pretty straightforward explanation of Cleburne’s proposal, but it got me thinking.

Just how different was the plan to enlist black soldiers in the United States army? Of course the crucial distinction is that freedom in the North was guaranteed by 1865 for all African Americans while Cleburne’s proposal called for a very limited emancipation. However, while African Americans clearly viewed military service as a stepping stone toward increased civil rights, it was certainly far from the majority view in the United States. Certainly, many white Northerners entertained some of the apocalyptic visions of their Southern neighbors regarding the political and social consequences of emancipation. There was nothing inevitable about the passage of the Reconstruction Amendments and we know the sad story of their enforcement throughout much of the country by the end of the nineteenth century.

Just as Cleburne hoped that the Confederacy would be able to maintain a strict racial hierarchy indefinitely even through the disruption caused by military service, it could be argued that much of the history of this country during the postwar period, in part, was a struggle to come to terms with the tension between emancipation/military service and a very deep commitment to white supremacy. Just a thought.

 

The Virginia Flaggers Have Overreached

Virginia Flaggers

Virginia Flagger founder, Susan Hathaway, defending Confederate heritage.

Update: Andy Hall is now weighing in on the Virginia Flaggers desperate bid for attention.

The I-95 project isn’t over-reach, but quite the opposite — it’s grabbing the low-hanging fruit. It’s confirmation that, for all their efforts to promote themselves as being in the vanguard of “restoring the honor” of Confederate veterans, the Virginia Flaggers are no more innovative or successful than a half-dozen SCV camps that have completed (or are working on) similar highway flag projects, from Florida to Texas. The I-95 project doesn’t challenge any institutional or powerful interests. It doesn’t require a successful challenge to authority or overturning any rule or regulation or city ordinance, and doesn’t require winning widespread public support. There are no great legal, administrative or public opinion obstacles to be overcome if your goal is limited to putting up a big-ass flag on private property — even in Lexington. The I-95 project just requires a relatively small amount of money and some willing supporters, both of which are easily obtained. It’s an easy and highly-visible accomplishment that, among the Flaggers’ supporters, will divert attention away from the resources invested in two high-profile disputes that have consumed thousands of volunteer hours and dollars, and have precious little to show for it – nor are ever likely to.

Yep. That pretty much says it all.

Brooks Simpson is spot on with his analysis of the decision on the part of the Virginia Flaggers to raise a large Confederate flag on I-95 and its likely consequences. This point, however, deserves a bit more attention.

Moreover, for all of the Flaggers’ talk about heritage, their choice of symbol and location leaves much to be desired, precisely because the flag is presented without context. Sure, Confederate heritage folks will see it as honoring the heritage they say so much about (although at times they are painfully vague about defining that heritage). However, other people will see it in different terms, and it will not help when some Flaggers make comments that define heritage in ways that others may find offensive.

This protest began over the removal by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts of the Confederate flag from the Soldiers’ Home chapel in Richmond roughly three years ago. Let’s ignore for now whether the museum was justified in changing the terms of the lease that allowed a local SCV chapter to continue to utilize the building, but without the display of the Confederate flag. From the beginning I’ve stated that a good case can be made for some kind of display of the Confederate flag. After all, the ground and building were utilized by Confederate veterans and the flag remained an important symbol of the Lost Cause. Any flag display could easily be historically contextualized. Of course, that might involve working with museum officials to come up with some kind of compromise, but from the beginning the Flaggers have chosen to parade in front of the VMFA, stage conflicts with security and cry that their heritage is being attacked. Continue reading

 

Charges Dropped Against Tripp Lewis

Many of you will remember this little incident involving Virginia Flagger, Tripp Lewis, back in January. It was a nice little piece of Flagger theatrics that garnered a good deal of attention and left his own child fearing for his father’s safety. Nice work dad. The Flaggers were able to organize a defense fund and, according to Lewis himself, all charges have been dropped. As far as I can tell after close to three years of “flagging” the VMFA this is there first major victory.

I for one could not be more pleased by this development. The Virginia Flaggers are much more entertaining with Lewis, Susan Hathaway and the rest of the gang all working together to remind all of us of just how much they love the Confederacy. We eagerly await Tripp Lewis’s planned “counter strike.”

 

Did Confederate Veterans Hate Confederate Heritage?

South Carolina Monument at ChickamaugaLooks like I missed a great deal of Virginia Flagger silliness while away on my Civil War road trip. The group of teachers I was with heard about their plans to place a large Confederate flag on I-95 to welcome people to Richmond (and here). I used the media attention to highlight the dynamics of Civil War memory while leading the group down Monument Avenue.

A few of the teachers immediately interpreted this story as evidence of a strong reactionary element in the South that will never move beyond the Lost Cause. I stressed that, if anything, these people represent a relatively small segment of the population. In the end, this is little more than a rear guard action or a reflection of just how marginalized these people have become in a city that has made great strides on the racial and Civil War memory fronts in recent years. Continue reading