Yesterday’s post on the sparsely attended Jefferson Davis reenactment in Montgomery, Alabama generated a great deal of interest and comments. The Sons of Confederate Veterans, which hosted the event, has crafted a narrative that imagines itself as uniquely qualified to set the terms of how Confederate soldiers and the war as a whole ought to be remembered and commemorated. They fashion themselves as engaged in a gallant defense of a history that is supposedly under assault by various individuals and organizations. The zeal for their cause is wrapped up in the assumption that their lineage is both a necessary and sufficient condition for their preferred view; this functions to create a battle of us v. them. The war being waged is against vague notions of political correctness, “carpetbaggers” the liberal media, and, of course, academics engaged in revisionist history.
The strategy works well enough to define the ideological boundaries of the organization; however, it also reveals its limitations as well. The SCV doesn’t simply bring together descendants of Confederate soldiers, it brings them together around a set of shared beliefs that have little do with remembering individual soldiers. I say this as an outsider, but I can’t help but notice how little time is actually devoted to remembering the Confederate soldier as a dynamic historical agent. Instead we are bombarded with Confederate history month proclamations and Nathan Bedford Forrest vanity tags. Where is the common soldier? When was the last time the intellectual arm of the SCV organized a conference around the history of Confederate soldiers as opposed to trying to justify secession and highlight the evil intent of Abraham Lincoln? Even more disturbing is the impression that membership implies a certain belief about the legitimacy of the Confederate experiment, whether it has to do with secession and/or treason. Finally, yesterday’s ceremony reinforced the impression that the organization is concerned as much with contemporary politics as it is with heritage/history.
I can’t help but wonder how many proud descendants of Confederate soldiers are being left out as a result. Where do Robert Moore, Will Stoutamire, and Andy Hall fit in? If the mission of the SCV is to honor and commemorate the Confederate soldier, why does it choose to take stances on issues that detract from this mission? Here is what I believe:
- You can honor your Confederate ancestor and not believe that secession was constitutional.
- You can honor your Confederate ancestor and not believe in states rights.
- You can honor your Confederate ancestor and believe that Lincoln was one of this nation’s greatest presidents.
- You can honor your Confederate ancestor without believing that Lee and Jackson are worthy of adulation.
- You can honor your Confederate ancestor and be thankful that the Confederacy lost the Civil War.
- You can honor your Confederate ancestor and be a member of the Democratic Party.
- You can honor your Confederate ancestor and read books published by university presses.
Continue with the list as you wish. My point is that none of that really matters in the end. What matters is the individual’s identification with an ancestor that he/she may or may not know much of anything about. The goal of the organization ought to be to help one another to better understand what this generation experienced. I suspect that Andy, Robert, and Will represent a large constituency of folks, who would embrace such an organization. So, why does the SCV only represent some Confederate descendants?