Why Threading the Needle Between Soldier and Cause is Doomed to Fail

The call to remove Confederate monuments shows no signs of letting up. Many people who supported the removal of the Confederate flag from the state house grounds in Columbia have articulated positions holding the line on removing monuments. For some monuments offer educational opportunities and function as important reminders of the community’s collective past. Others have staked a position around the claim that Confederate soldier monuments can be understood apart from the broader cause of the Confederate nation. In other words, we can honor the memory of the soldier, along with his bravery and strong sense of duty, without having to deal with the baggage of race and slavery.

What follows ought not to be interpreted in support of the removal of Confederate soldier monuments nor should it be interpreted as an attempt to demonize the common soldier or anyone else for that matter. My position on these matters has been consistent. Continue reading “Why Threading the Needle Between Soldier and Cause is Doomed to Fail”

J. Tracy Power on the Confederate Flag and Civil War Memory

If you are a serious student of the Confederate army than you have read, and probably re-read, J. Tracy Power’s book, Lee’s Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox (1998). In my mind it is one of the finest scholarly studies ever published about Lee’s army. My hardcover copy is now held together with two rubber bands. Lee’s Miserables was indispensable to me during the writing of my book on the battle of the Crater.

As many of you know for a number of years Dr. Power worked for the South Carolina Department of Archives and History, but he recently took a teaching position at Newberry College. This transition has made it easier for Dr. Power to share his views on the ongoing debate about the Confederate flag, which he did in the form of a short essay published on his academia.edu page last month. I only noticed it earlier this evening. Continue reading “J. Tracy Power on the Confederate Flag and Civil War Memory”

54th Massachusetts Called to Duty Once Again

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”

Gettysburg’s Lutheran Seminary Takes Courageous Stand on Confederate Flag

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.

Following the Charleston shootings the seminary issued a statement banning the display of Confederate flags that features the St. Andrews Cross on the grounds. This directly impacts living history events sponsored by the museum. In fact, it impacts an event that is taking place this weekend. You can read the announcement on their website. Continue reading “Gettysburg’s Lutheran Seminary Takes Courageous Stand on Confederate Flag”

About That Confederate Ancestor of Yours

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.

I don’t mean to belittle such beliefs, but there is a problem. Continue reading “About That Confederate Ancestor of Yours”