“No Hired Hessians or Negroes in the Southern Army”

In 1909 Philip K. Fall, Commander of the Dick Dowling Camp in Houston, welcomed the United Daughters of the Confederacy to their annual meeting. His brief welcome acknowledged the UDC’s crucial role in preserving and protecting the memory of the men who fought under the Confederate flag. Fall’s address also reflects the “limits of reconciliation” between North and South at the beginning of the twentieth century by framing the conflict as a defensive war against radical abolitionists fighting to carry out John Brown’s final mission. In the process Fall also shares a little nugget that is lost on those who depict the Confederate army as a racially integrated institution filled with loyal black soldiers.

Being notified only a day since, that our comrade was called away on an important matter and could not represent Dick Dowling Camp, the duty devolves upon me to greet you, on behalf of our Camp. Such short time leaves me ill prepared to do the occasion justice, but I know our good women will accept the will for the deed. The veterans of Houston welcome you, one and all, and we shall prove your humble and loving servants during your stay with us. Command us whenever necessary. As the years pass by we feel more and more the benefits accruing from your loving and valiant struggle in our behalf. Had you not thrown down the gauntlet and assumed the offensive for the old soldiers of the Confederacy, their names would have gone down in a partisan Northern history as rebels and traitors; who tried to disrupt what they call the greatest and best government on earth, when in fact, they in arbitrary, puritanical spirit, brought about the disruption, causing a war such as the world has never known, hiring nearly a million Hessians and nearly two hundred thousand Africans, to slaughter their brethren of the South. Nothing but a civil war could have ever satisfied the John Brown stripe of abolitionists, especially after their leader John Brown was hung.

The war was not the worst feature of the sixties. The myriads of carpet-baggers that flocked like buzzards, all eager to filch from the already impoverished and heartbroken whites, as well as from the poor deluded ex-slaves, what little was left, proved to be a carnival of misery, which can never be blotted from the memory of any who experienced the miserable rule of those Northern birds….

This is a statement of facts, which cannot be controverted. What few of the Southern veterans that yet live, glory in the fact that their noble women are now their protectors, as were they of the women in the long, long, ago. No soldier in the past or present ever received the homage of their women, as do those of Dixie Land. There were no hired Hessians or negroes in the Southern army. All fought for a principle they knew to be right and thousands upon thousands gave up their lives in defense of truth.

Fall is not suggesting that there were no blacks present in the army. Confederate soldiers encountered them performing myriad roles in camp, on the march, and on a wide range of military projects. What Fall is saying is something very different. He is remembering a war of white citizen soldiers defending their homes and a new nation from radical abolitionists and their immigrant and black hirelings. Fall is drawing a sharp distinction between what he believed constituted two very different societies. To suggest that blacks fought as soldiers would be to place the Confederacy on the same moral level as the United States. Fall is sharing his understanding of Confederate Exceptionalism.

It’s a memory of the war that was no doubt filtered through a concern that many Americans expressed at the time over the effects of continued immigration on the cultural and political identity of the nation.

Look, if there were black Confederate soldiers in the army, individuals like Fall would have said so.

Should These Men Be Prevented From Serving on Juries?

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Update: Leave it to Ta-Nehisi Coates to remind us of just how silly this project actually is.

Anti-Neo-Confederate crusader Edward Sebesta is best known for his push to petition President Obama to cease sending a wreath to the Confederate memorial at Arlington as well as his claim that the Museum of the Confederacy is mired in Lost Cause nostalgia.  Now Sebesta and Euan Hague are hoping to rid juries of racial bias by identifying Confederate/Lost Cause bias among potential jurorsContinue reading “Should These Men Be Prevented From Serving on Juries?”

Our Obsession With the Confederate Flag

My editor at the Atlantic asked me to revise a recent post on the DNC and the Confederate flag.  You can read it below or at the Atlantic.  I have no doubt that it will raise the usual cries of South/Confederate heritage bashing from the usual suspects.  What I find funny is that the posts I’ve written for the Atlantic that could be construed as Union bashing or whatever the equivalent is this side of the Mason-Dixon Line rarely receive any kind of condemnation.  Funny how that works.  Click here for the rest of the my Atlantic columns.

Next month’s Democratic National Convention and the nomination of the nation’s first black president for a second term in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina, will provide an ideal backdrop for those looking to assess the region’s progress on the racial front. At front and center for many sits the Confederate flag.

Reports are likely to resemble this recent article from The Charlotte Observer, written by Elizabeth Leland, who believes that “remnants of the Old South linger in our region — and none as divisive as the Confederate flag.” Such articles follow a well-worn pattern that includes interviews with one or two white southern men who fly the flag on their property or pickup truck and believe it represents “heritage, not hate.” (As an auto mechanic quoted in Leland’s story puts it, “I’ve lived here since I was a little rascal and my daddy always had an American flag and a Confederate flag, and I do, too.”)

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Whose Confederate Heritage?

This story out of Haywood County, North Carolina about the display of the Confederate flag on public ground is perfect for helping us to move beyond the popular narratives of North v. South and black v. white.  It’s a fairly straightforward story:

For years, David Crook had been making monthly rounds past the Confederate Memorial on the lawn of the historic courthouse and tucking a tiny flag into the ground at its base. And for years, an anonymous person who felt the flag carried negative symbolism had been pulling them up.  “They kept disappearing,” said Thomas Shepard, whose own ancestors fought for the South. “So we kept replacing them.”  The flag tug-of-war gradually ramped up, with a new one being put down and pulled up almost daily.  The county was forced to wade into the fray in June, when a local attorney complained about the tiny flag display and asked the county to intervene.

County officials decided to remove the flags for good and this enraged those who see the flag as central to their understanding of the Southern/Confederate past.  What I find interesting is the way in which this debate has been framed by the local newspaper.  They refer to flag advocates as “Confederate supporters” but this tells us very little about the wide range of views held by white Southerners re: their past.

Despite the heated emotions on display in the comments section of the article no one in this dispute has a monopoly on Confederate heritage.  It turns out that not all (perhaps not even a majority) of white Southerners have a deep need to see the Confederate flag on public property.  This does not imply that they hate their past or are ashamed of it in any way.  It doesn’t even necessarily imply that they have a problem with the Confederate flag.  Are we really going to argue that the UDC has turned its back on standing up for a meaningful Confederate past simply because it refuses to press the issue on the Confederate flag?  The UDC is the organization responsible for placing the marker on courthouse grounds in 1940.  Does anyone else not see the UDC as the last line of defense against the trivialization of the Confederate flag by its so-called “supporters.”  It must be upsetting to some that they can’t frame this debate along racial lines or even as a legacy of those meddling carpetbaggers.  Even H.K. Edgerton and his fancy t-shirts seem just a little out of place here.

This is just another example of why extreme flag advocates have become gradually more marginalized in the South.  It’s not because they are victims or because they are being discriminated against or even because others will not learn their history.  Their mistake is in their assumption that the flag means the same thing to all people (even white Southerners) and that it is indispensable to maintaining a meaningful connection to the past.

Civil War Memory Starts With the Children

Will Moredock has a wonderful editorial in today’s Charleston City Paper that provides some sense of why a Robert Smalls Weekend is so significant.  All too often the study of Civil War memory seems like an abstract exercise, but in this case it is grounded in something that all of us can relate to: history textbooks.  If you want to explain why the city of Charleston is now in a position to commemorate Smalls look no further than the pages of your child’s history textbook.  Not too long ago many of them were filled with all kinds of myths and distortions about black Americans and slavery.  Moredock shares excerpts from Mary C. Simms Oliphant, The History of South Carolina, which was used in the state as late as the mid-1980s.  Oliphant was indeed the granddaughter of William Gilmore Simms, but what Moredock does not mention is that her 1917 textbook was a revised version of Simms’s own history of the state written in 1860.

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