Brag Bowling Responds to Governor McDonnell

It didn’t take long for Brag Bowling, the commander of the Virginia division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, to respond to Gov. Robert McDonnell’s announcement that he would discontinue the practice of designating April as Confederate History Month. Instead, the governor has decided to create a new designation that he calls, Civil War in Virginia Month.  Unfortunately, Bowling’s response does little more than render his organization even more irrelevant on the eve of the Civil War Sesquicentennial:

“Our organization is terribly disappointed by this action,” Bowling told TPMmuckraker. “He succumbed to his critics, people who don’t support him anyway. And the vast majority of citizens of Virginia support Confederate History Month.”  He said he had spoken with the governor’s office and told them the same thing. He said “Civil War In Virginia Month” is a poor substitute.

“Nobody’s ever been able to reason with me and tell me why we’re honoring Yankees in Virginia,” Bowling said. “The only northerners in Virginia were the ones that came to Virginia and killed thousands of Virginia citizens when they invaded.” He also defended against the charges of racism.  “There was nothing racist about Confederate History Month. It was honoring Confederate soldiers who fought and died for their state,” he said, adding that the Sons will continue celebrating the month privately.

The problem with the criticism that the governor succumbed to his critics is that while it may apply to his initial retraction it doesn’t explain Friday’s announcement.  And the charge that the governor is honoring “Yankees in Virginia”  suggests that Bowling doesn’t understand an important aspect of Virginia Unionism.  Bowling also fails to deal with the substance of McDonnell’s announcement.  As I stated the other day, it was an incredibly thoughtful speech.  The governor has decided that Virginia should make room for multiple narratives of its Civil War experience.  The truth is that the change will not prevent the SCV or anyone from remembering the service and sacrifice of their Confederate ancestors.  What the governor has put forward is a proclamation that acknowledges the rich Civil War history of this state and which has placed him in line with the work of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission – a committee funded by Virginia taxpayers.

What I don’t understand is why the SCV doesn’t endorse McDonnell’s decision.  What harm could come of it?

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30 comments… add one
  • Andy Hall Oct 1, 2010 @ 14:50

    That’s a pretty simplistic way to divide up the past — “traitors” and “heroes.” Not much nuance there, I’m thinking.

  • Sherree Sep 30, 2010 @ 4:34

    Comrade Levin,

    I was going to make a comment, but after reading the latest comments on this post, I’ll pass. I would characterize these comments as surreal , but that is too flattering and suggests a level of sophistication that is not there. The comments are, instead, just plain weird. No wonder your writing and thinking changed quite a bit from your initial posts in the early days of 2006, 2007. (I have been reading some of your old posts) The question you posed (as I see the question) is an absolutely valid one, and the SCV should think about answering it. Why is an interpretation of the history of the Civil War that includes the history of all Virginians, black and white, free and enslaved, so threatening to some SCV members? If the answer is that it is not threatening, then the SCV should endorse the governor’s position. That would be a big step forward for everyone.

  • EarthTone Sep 30, 2010 @ 2:54

    I have two issues with Brag’s comments.

    First, he makes it seem like the Confederate partisan narrative is the only narrative that applies to Virginia. He would do well to note this:

    From that source:

    Richmond, Virginia, the capitol of the Confederate States of America fell to Union Forces on April 3, 1865. The following day, April 4, 1865 started early for Abraham Lincoln. He began the day with quiet resolve to personally walk the streets of the fallen rebel capitol… Crowds thronged the streets, and chief and eager among them were the emancipated, wishing to pay homage, and give thanks to their Great Emancipator.

    As Mr. Lincoln and his son walked the streets of Richmond, one group of newly freed slaves cried out, “Glory Hallelujah!”, and fell to their knees before Mr. Lincoln. It was here the President paused, and motioned for them to rise. “Don’t kneel to me,” he told them, “You must kneel only to God, and thank him for your freedom. Liberty is your birthright. God gave it to you as he gave it to others, and it is a sin that you have been deprived of it for so many years.”

    Brag and others are spreading the historically inaccurate narrative that there’s no “reason… why we’re honoring Yankees in Virginia.” The almost 500,000 slaves in the state during the war could give him plenty of reasons, but inexplicably, he totally ignores them.

    Second, it’s inaccurate to say that THE problem with Confederate History Month was the issue of race… which gives the impression that this was a blacks versus whites issue. THE issue was that there was no acknowledgment of the role of slavery in the Confederacy… how can one tell the story of the Confederacy without noting the role of the “institution?” That was the cause of the controversy.

    I would add that when McDonnell made his announcement of Civil War Month, many whites in audience applauded. The desire to get the history right is biracial.

    • Billy Bearden Feb 7, 2011 @ 7:36

      Since Virginia didn’t seceed and join the Confederacy over slavery, slavery was not the issue for Virginia, just as the war itself was not over slavery, thus no need to put a slavery mention in the SCV Proclamation as mandated by Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz and Douglas Wilder.

      Democrat Govs Bill Clinton and Roy Barnes issued such proclamations without the left experiencing a meltdown.

      • Kevin Levin Feb 7, 2011 @ 12:12

        Virginia may not have seceded in direct response to the issue of slavery, but it certainly was an issue in the first few months of 1861. Virginians throughout the state debated the importance of slavery. You may want to read William Freehling’s new book, _Showdown In Virginia_ which is an edited collection of the secession debates in Richmond.

        You don’t need to go out of the state to find opposition to the content of the governor’s original proclamation.

      • Andy Hall Feb 7, 2011 @ 12:17

        “Democrat” is a noun, not an adjective.

  • Jay Blair Sep 29, 2010 @ 20:13

    Who’s confederate history month proclamation was it? I thought it was the SCV’s, and they asked the governor to read it ! How come everyone else gets to rewrite it ? It was for my ancestor’s who fought died for Virginia, not the slaves not the union troops but for my confederate ancestors! Why don’t they go and write their own proclamation and have the governor read theirs. But I guess we are not allow to honor our confederate ancestor, they were terrorist, traitors, they were trying to take over the government. Why would you want to honor that. The state of Virginia call upon my ancestors to help Virginia when it needed help and they did and Virginia should honor them. That was an SCV proclamation and everybody took it and blew it all out of proportion. Go write your own and have it read.

    • Andy Hall Sep 30, 2010 @ 4:13

      The proclamation was made in the name of Virginia and its citizens, not the SCV. You asked, “how come everyone else gets to rewrite it?” My question in response would be, since when does the SCV presume to speak on behalf of all Virginia and its citizens?

      The SCV ≠ Virginia or the South
      The Confederacy ≠ Virginia or the South
      Southern and Virginia History > The Civil War

      No one’s suggesting you or the SCV shouldn’t honor your ancestors as you deem appropriate. By all means, do. But in the future, perhaps the SCV should issue its own proclamations.

  • J. Westbrook Sep 29, 2010 @ 19:27

    No Mr. Levin yours is a intolerance for an agenda.

    You and the Governor can proclaim your politically correct “NAACP” version of history as acceptable and moderate, It is your ignorance on display but pretending the word “Confederate” does not exist isn’t going to make them go away. Now or later. While you attempt to sovietize history is that you can’t kill truth. Never have, never will.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 30, 2010 @ 1:11

      J. and Jay,

      I think you hit the nail on the head. It seems to me that in changing the designation the governor is saying that Confederate History Month no longer reflects Virginia’s collective memory of itself. Still, it seems to me there is nothing preventing the SCV from remembering and commemorating the service of Confederate soldiers; in fact, I continue to believe that it is a worthy goal when done respectfully and without ignoring history. Tomorrow I take my Civil War class to a local Confederate cemetery. The SCV has been working to place headstones for all of the men buried there and it is a project that I fully support.

      I love the phrase, to “sovietize history.” That’s a good one. 😀

  • D B Cooper Sep 29, 2010 @ 14:53

    I want to hear from SCV members who support the governor’s decision.

    Kevin Darling,

    Im sure you will be hearing from the SCV. Maybe not supporting the Governor, but I am sure you will be hearing from them.
    You attack a man and don’t even know what position he holds within the SCV. So much for your flaunted research.

    OH !! ” Unfortunate name? Great point, Dick!” BRAVO! 🙂


    • Kevin Levin Sep 29, 2010 @ 14:57

      Denise, Darling, I responded to specific points made by Brag Bowling, who continues to speak for the SCV. What research do I need to do beyond this? Get a grip.

  • Robert Moore Sep 27, 2010 @ 23:42

    I don’t know why some sources list his as the Virginia Div. Commander. He hasn’t held that post since 2004.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 28, 2010 @ 1:10

      Thanks for the correction, Robert.

      • Robert Moore Sep 28, 2010 @ 1:25

        Not a problem. Just makes me think more about false relevance, and how some may be presenting a “representative voice” that may be representing but a fraction of the membership.

        • Kevin Levin Sep 28, 2010 @ 1:28

          This raises the question of why the Virginia SCV continues to allow him to speak for the organization. What is his current position/responsibilities?

          • Robert Moore Sep 28, 2010 @ 4:08

            He was last the Commander of the Army of No. VA. (a title that I believe is way overblown). He was listed as PAO at one time, for the National org., but not sure about now. Anyway, frankly I think until the full membership takes a real interest in who takes charge in senior leadership (present, or those who appear to “linger” from past leadership) this is just going to continue… and attribute to the overall decline in the historical validity of the organization.

            • Ken Noe Sep 28, 2010 @ 4:54

              What’s not clear from the article is who sought out whom. The media always seems to turn to a “go-to” spokesman at these moments, especially if they’re seeking a pithy quotation. Hence the same talking heads always on the news.

              • Kevin Levin Sep 28, 2010 @ 4:56

                It’s a good question, Ken. Given Bowling’s presence on mainstream news last April I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that TPM initiated the contact.

  • Toby Sep 27, 2010 @ 8:44

    It is good that the Governor has redeemed himself.

    • Denise Sep 27, 2010 @ 9:31

      Mr Bowling’s strong need to hang on to his view of history will never allow recognition of the validity of another”s experience and conveyed interpretation of the same events. That is sad.

      • Brooks D. Simpson Sep 27, 2010 @ 20:51

        This is simply a case of “heritage correctness.” ™ 🙂

  • Colin Woodward Sep 27, 2010 @ 7:28

    I’m gaining more respect for McDonnell by the day.

    • Kevin Levin Sep 27, 2010 @ 7:31

      I want to hear from SCV members who support the governor’s decision.

      • Margaret D. Blough Sep 27, 2010 @ 8:49

        Kevin-Brag Bowling has long been one of the more radical hard-core neo-Confederates. A lot of more moderate SCV members left or were even kicked out when the pro-League of the South faction gained control of the national organization.

      • Tracy Clary Sep 30, 2010 @ 10:21

        Support Back-Peddling Bob ??? Not in a million years!!!! How in God’s name could ANYONE belong to the Sons of Confederate Veterans and agree with his, or your version of history, is beyond me !!! Ole Back-Peddling Bob MacDonald is just another politically correct politician pandering for a vote or favor, anywhere he can get it.

  • Dick Stanley Sep 27, 2010 @ 7:22

    Brag Bowling. What an unfortunate name. I thought at first glance you were writing about a bowling alley.

  • Nat Turners Son Sep 27, 2010 @ 7:22

    I agree this this is putting the SCV in a worst light then they have been in.

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