A Good Week for the SCV and Virginia Flaggers

Brooks Simpson is having some fun with what he has dubbed the 2013 Confederate Heritage Follies Countdown. Lord knows he’s got plenty of material to work with. I suspect that the SCV and/or Virginia Flaggers will crack the top five.

I’ve been known to have a good laugh at the expense of both organizations, but it is worth acknowledging that every so often the Virginia Flaggers and Sons of Confederate Veterans manage to do something that actually advances the cause of Confederate heritage and history. This past week the planets must have been properly aligned because both organizations hit the mark in the same week. Continue reading “A Good Week for the SCV and Virginia Flaggers”

Why Does Hollywood Cemetery Need a Michael Shaara Memorial Bench?

Michael Shaara Memorial Bench - Memorial CemeteryHollywood Cemetery is a very special place.  This is the second year that I’ve brought students to this cemetery and I do so because it is rich in history and memory.  Every time I walk up Confederate Avenue I still get a little lump in my stomach as the Confederate obelisk comes into view as well as the countless Confederate graves – many of them unidentified.  Today I talked quite a bit about the steps that the Hollywood LMA took to bring the Gettysburg dead to Richmond in the early 1870s.  My students were visibly moved as they acknowledged the young ages indicated on many of the markers and the dates of death which connected them to the battle of Gettysburg.

As we walked around the loop to where George Pickett is buried one of my student pointed to a bench located next to the grave.  At first I couldn’t identify it, but within a few seconds I burst out laughing after reading the inscription.  The bench is a memorial to Michael Shaara and was dedicated this past July by the Pickett Society of Richmond.  Before proceeding, can someone tell me why the hell we need a Pickett Society?  Exactly what did this man do that was so special other than take part in a battle that for any number of reasons became immortalized as the great turning point of the war?  As I was saying, the bench is dedicated to Michael Shaara and was funded with the help of actor Stephen Lang, who played Pickett in the movie “Gettysburg” and who serves on the society’s board of directors with Ron Maxwell.  The inscription on the bench reads as follows:

Dedicated to Michael Shaara, Author, who so poignantly reminded us of the mortal sacrifice made by the soldiers who valiantly fought at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, July 1st – 3rd, 1863 Presented to The Pickett Society by Stephen Lang, Board Member, Thespian & Playwright

I honestly don’t know where to begin with this ridiculous piece of commemoration.  The inscription has nothing whatsoever to do with Pickett other than to acknowledge one of the most popular works of historical fiction and its author.  More disturbing is that this organization is essentially acknowledging that their own identification with the general has little to do with serious history and has everything to do with a work of fiction and accompanying movie. In short, history and pop culture have become blurred.  The organization itself seems to have only started in 2000 which connects it directly to both the popularity of the movie and, in turn, Shaara’s book.

This bench has no business being on the grounds of Hollywood Cemetery and it certainly has no place in the Confederate section within feet of the remains of thousands of men who fought and died.  I honestly cannot fathom what the Pickett Society was thinking nor do I understand how the good people who manage HC could have allowed this to happen.  This bench is a piece of trash and ought to be removed immediately out of respect to the people who are buried there.

These people need to rename their organization to the Michael Shaara Society.

Hooray for Hollywood

Today was the kind of day that I live for as a teacher.  My students and I had a wonderful time on our trip to Richmond. It was a bit cold, but we managed.  The highlight of the trip was the Lee statue along Monument Avenue.  We spent quite a bit of time looking at it from various angles and discussing both the pose of Lee as well as a Traveler.  It is indeed a beautiful monument.  I was also surprised by the interest expressed in the Jefferson Davis Monument.  It’s the perfect contrast with the reconciliationist message of the Lee statue.  There is nothing apologetic about the Davis statue and its assertion of states rights as well as other bits of Lost Cause symbolism.  From there we headed on over to the Arthur Ashe monument to discuss the fierce debate that ensued over its placement on the same avenue as Lee, Davis, Stuart, and Jackson.  As I was talking a passerby yelled from his car, “Tear it down.”  A few of the students were surprised and a bit disappointed, but it was the perfect reinforcement to my commentary, which emphasized the continued divisiveness over Civil War memory and who can claim rightful ownership of certain public spaces.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to hit the Lincoln-Tad statue at Tredegar, but we did take quite a hike through Hollywood Cemetery, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  All in all it was a great day and this particular group of students made it extra special.  Here are a few pictures from the trip followed by a poem that one of my students composed from each site.  All of the photographs can be found on my flickr page.


A General today still a symbol to many, ever proud and tall, he instills pride in any.  The cause disputed, different to all, and perhaps there’s still shock at the Confederacy’s “fall”.

An elaborate wall built to vindicate, the man in front, leader of states.  Praise to his army and written law of the land his hand opened up, he asks for respect yet remorse or apologies one should never expect.

Controversy caused by a monument to one, he fought his disease, a battle not conquered.  Yet instead of looking back at segregation, he fought to show his path towards a new kind of nation.

A river to one side with roads to the next, nestled between thousands laid to their rest.  Winding roads, past blocks of stone, bodies of many who fought for their homes.  Some fought in the East, and some in the West now all are together here laid to their rest.  Dates rubbed away and names never known, sacrifice, though, still not forgotten.

Reconciliation at Hollywood Cemetery

Confederate Soldier Monument at TredegarI’ve been browsing Hollywood Cemetery’s website in preparation for tomorrow’s class trip and I am struck by the reconciliationist tone used to describe the various sites.  Consider the following brief description of the Confederate pyramid memorial, which was designed by Charles Dimmock and dedicated in 1869:

“Hollywood’s ninety foot granite pyramid, completed in 1869, is a monument to 18,000 Confederate enlisted men buried nearby.  They went into battle for what then seemed a noble cause of protecting their homes from northern aggression.  When the pryramid was erected, Southerns still called the war “The Lost Cause.”  Now we know that the cause was not a lost one.  These men’s lives, together with those of their norther counterparts, were given to forge a single and better nation. Their blood, shed in battle, gave birth to a new America, one that in another century would restore and protect freedom around the world.  Because so many whose sacrifice refined America lie here in Hollywood Cemetery’s sacred ground.”

I am going to quote the above passage tomorrow as part of my interpretation of this site to get at the continued influence of the Lost Cause and the overall theme of reconciliation in our collective memory of the war.