Virginia Flaggers Foil Vandalism of Jeff Davis Monument

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Update: As of 05/12 inquiries have been made with the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Richmond Police. Mr. Rob Walker, who is the VCU student has also been contacted.  Again, as of today nothing has appeared in the Richmond news about this incident. With the following words hanging over these unanswered questions let’s hope we can resolve it and focus on the praise that this individual deserves:  We do not believe there are ANY coincidences or happenstance in what has transpired since we began our work 20 months ago.  There is no denying God’s hand in this… in bringing Rob to Monument Ave. last November, and then, miraculously again last night at the exact moment and time to prevent what could have been irreparable damage to one of our most treasured monuments AND facilitating the first arrest (that we are aware of) of these punk vandals that have no regard for the rule of law:  neither God’s nor man’s. – Susan Hathaway, Virginia Flaggers

Over the years I have made my position on the defacing of monuments quite clear. I have zero toleration for it.  So, you can imagine my surprise and relief when I learned that someone with very close ties to the Virginia Flaggers stopped a couple of vandals from defacing the Jefferson Davis Monument in Richmond on the evening of May 9.  The individual in question is a film student at VCU, who over the past few months has been chronicling the activities of the Flaggers.  You can read the following account, which has been circulated on numerous sites here, here, here, here, here and hereContinue reading “Virginia Flaggers Foil Vandalism of Jeff Davis Monument”

John C. Winsmith Names Names

deserter One of the things that I find particularly interesting about Winsmith’s letters home is the attention he gives to reporting on the conduct and overall well being of his men.  This is not surprising given his rank of captain and command of a unit raised in and around Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Winsmith clearly assumed responsibility for his men and understood that family and friends on the home front would be interested in their progress.  You find references to the men under his command who were wounded or killed in battle along with instructions on how to forward back pay to next of kin in the case of the latter.  Other times Winsmith asks family members to check in on families with loved ones in his unit.

While Winsmith highlighted the bravery and sacrifice of his men, more often than not, the references to his men are in connection to their desertion from the army.  From the beginning of the war Winsmith struggled to maintain the integrity of his company.  He had little patience with deserters or conduct that fell short of the discipline and sacrifice that was necessary to achieve independence.  At times the list of names is long and in some cases the names re-appear over the course of the war.

It should have been obvious to me from the beginning as to why Winsmith went out of his way to list these individual names in letters to his father, mother, and sister.  No doubt, Winsmith hoped that these names would be passed through the community and ultimately tip local authorities and/or shame the individual and family.  Following Jefferson Davis’s amnesty proclamation to deserters Winsmith had this to say.

Well, everything is yet going on quietly with us.  My deserters are doing very well, and I hope their conduct may have impressed a salutary lesson upon them.  Bill Taylor says he will do the thing that is right now.  I expect they will all be thankful to the President that he has offered them pardon.  I see that deserters at home, except Harrison have repented of their conduct, and will come back with Lt. Bearden.  (August 7, 1863)

And a few days later he had this to say.

You are right in supposing that the deserters will be pardoned under the President’s proclamation; i.e. all who return within 20 days. I learn from your letter that Arch Harrison has delivered himself up and would return voluntarily to camp.  I have heard that Bob Bogan has taken to the woods again.  Lt. Bearden has not written me one word whether he has arrested Thomas and Smith.  The only one he has arrested is Taylor.  (August 10, 1863)

Depending on how this project proceeds it may be helpful to map out where the men referenced in the letters lived in relationship to the Winsmith home at Camp Hill.  Muster records may also shed light on whether there was any causal connection between this form of public shaming and desertion in his unit specifically.  Finally, in reference to the names that appear regularly it may be interesting to know whether Winsmith judged between his parents and sister as to who was more closely connected to the individual and family in question.

On Jefferson Davis’s Capture

Yesterday I finished reading Yael Sternhell’s wonderful book, Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South, which explores various aspects of mobility in the Confederate South.  The author argues that what could be seen on the roads throughout the South tells us quite a bit about Confederate nationalism, the collapse of slavery and a strictly defined racial hierarchy, and defeat.

Her brief discussion of the capture of Jefferson Davis caught my attention:

On May 10, while camping outdoors in the piney woods near Irwinville, Georgia, Davis and his party were captured.  Two Union cavalry regiments, searching for the presidential party, raided their camp at daybreak with no specific knowledge of who was staying there.  In the confusion of the raid, Davis tried to escape from his tent and into the woods, but a Federal officer noticed him attempting to get away and called him to stop.  With a carbine gun pointed at him, Davis had no choice but to surrender.  Much has been made of the fabricated story that he was dressed as a woman when caught.  Yet the true significance of the circumstances of his capture lies in the fact that he was apprehended not only in flight, but in the woods.  Davis was forced to follow the ways of his former slaves and take refuge within the alternative geography they had used for generations to hide from the bloodhounds and armed patrollers who chased them without mercy.  The Civil War did not end with Robert E. Lee’s dignified surrender at Appomattox.  It ended with Jefferson Davis, in the forest, staring in fear at a group of white men who were coming to get him.  The war had reduced even the most elevated of masters, the Confederate president, to a desperate runaway. [p. 192]

This is one of the most insightful books I’ve read about the Confederacy this year.  I only wish I had this when writing my own essay on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Trayvon Martin and Civil War Memory

Outrage over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin last month in Sanford, Florida can now be seen in the form of graffiti on Civil War monuments in New Orleans.  It should come as no surprise.  Monuments to both Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were spray painted with the names of Martin and two other local African American men, who recently died as a result of violent clashes with city police.  The spray painted names are themselves a form of memory, but the use of the Davis and Lee monuments add meaning that go far beyond confronting random graffiti on the side of a building.

Irregardless of whether the graffiti can be traced to the black community, the act itself serves to remind the surrounding community that this violence is perceived to be racial in nature.  The use of these particular monuments not only points to the history of racial tension in the community, but to the institutions themselves that were responsible for creating these public spaces and largely responsible for legally enforcing inequities within the public sector.  The damage to these structures reflects a sense of alienation from the community and a rejection of the community’s values as represented in these monuments.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the decision to deface these particular monuments reflects the extent to which memory of the Civil War has been eclipsed or shaped by our collective memory of the civil rights movement.  It is likely that the perpetrators of this act know very little about Davis and Lee, but they know enough to connect them to the history of race in the United States during the past 150 years.  That is clearly a recent development.  The appropriation of the meaning of these sites as stamped with a history of racial injustice is itself an attack on the values and preferred Civil War memory of previous generations.

It is unlikely that the monuments will be cleaned in time for the “Final Four” showdown this weekend.  That’s OK for at least one person:

Pastor Shawn Anglim of First Grace United Methodist Church has a different take on the graffiti that has focused on the controversy surrounding the meanings.“Right now, it’s a need for conversation. And whether done in proper way or not, maybe it’s OK it’s up for a week or so. And it gets some people talking a little bit,” Anglim said.

If only we knew how to talk about such things.

Sons of Confederate Veterans Forced to the Back of the Bus

Even in the “Heart of Dixie” the Sons of Confederate Veterans can muster little more than a few hundred people from its ranks to commemorate the inauguration of Jefferson Davis.  Based on the YouTube clip below yesterday’s event sounded more like a political rally than a reenactment.  The speaker’s comparison of the SCV’s challenges with Harry Potter and Rosa Parks reflects an intellectual bankruptcy that is bound to continue to marginalize the organization throughout the sesquicentennial.

The news coverage of the event thus far has been minimal and anything but flattering.  [Consider the Associated Press’s coverage.]  Just about every article that I’ve read takes note of the Civil Rights history of Montgomery, the decision on the part of local and state officials not to participate, and the lack of interest among local business and civic leaders.  This stands in sharp contrast with the centennial commemoration of Davis’s inauguration.

There is something truly perverse about the SCV appropriating Rosa Parks and the memory of African Americans being forced to sit in the back of the bus.  African Americans were forced into the position of second class citizens by law and not of their own choosing.  At no time has the SCV operated under these conditions.  They have been free to make their case in the court of public opinion and in recent years they have failed miserably.  A partial list of recent SCV debacles include:

The most recent circus is centered on a proposal to offer a series of vanity license plates in Mississippi, one of which will feature Nathan Bedford Forrest.  Even the editorial board of the Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi thinks this is a bad idea.  “What is appropriate is a proposal in the Legislature to designate a Civil Rights Memorial Day as a counterbalance to the state’s Confederate Memorial Day. This would be in keeping with earlier legislation that combined observances of Robert E. Lee’s birthday with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s.”  Did they really have to propose Forrest?  Consider Robert Moore’s recent suggestion, which would have had my support and I suspect many others as well.

It goes without saying that bad history and a memory of the war that few people embrace is not a recipe for success.  Our next stop on the sesquicentennial tour will be Fort Sumter in April.  The SCV will be lucky if they arrive on the back of the bus.  At this point I am imagining something more along the lines of a Go-Kart.