The War over the Confederate Flag

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Southern Heritage

Chamberlain at AppomattoxOnce again the forces of the left and other apologists for them have assailed the Confederate flag. With their philosophy of never let a crisis go to waste, they have used the deaths of nine Americans in church by a hate-filled individual to attack a symbol of Southern pride.

As a Yankee living in the Old Dominion I understand that white Southerners need to hold onto their symbol of four hard years of war. I also understand that flying the flag at state capital grounds and other official sites is offensive to black Southerners. This land belongs equally to both groups. And allow me to say that in my experience the Confederate flag is not used to stick it in the face of black Southerners.

There are vanity license plates with the Confederate flag throughout the South. Governor Terry McAuliffe of Virginia called for the removal of the Confederate flag from all state license plates. He also called for the reclaiming of those in circulation. It only requires the state’s Attorney General to petition the court that originally allowed it. The plate’s emblem is actually the logo of the Sons of Confederate Veterans who won a court case allowing it. A recent Supreme Court case ruling in a Texas case allows states to remove the emblem.

The issue is front-and-center in southern states right now. North Carolina’s governor said Tuesday he’ll ask the state legislature to remove the emblem from plates there, as did Tennessee’s. Georgia’s governor initially re-affirmed support for his state’s plates Tuesday, but said later in the day he’d support a redesign, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In addition, most Southern states have removed the Confederate flag on official grounds. They have placed them in museums and other non-official sites.

But some on the left have gone way too far. This is still the United States and the last time I looked the First Amendment was still in force. Forcing retailers to stop selling Confederate flag items it flat out ridiculous. When sites like Ebay and Amazon remove items that have the Confederate flag, well, that’s bridge too far for me. The height of this new prohibition is the cancellation of the Dukes of Hazzard reruns because their car, the General Lee, has the Confederate flag on the roof!

NASCAR has actually asked their fans to stop flying the Confederate flag. It’s a strange request from an organization that was founded in the South and whose membership is mostly from that region. Yet, with all of the shouting according to a recent CNN/ORC by a margin of 57% to 33% people saw the flag as a symbol of Southern pride rather than racism.

Among African-Americans, 72% see the Confederate flag as a symbol of racism, just 25% of whites agree. In the South, the racial divide is even broader. While 75% of Southern whites describe the flag as a symbol of pride and 18% call it a symbol of racism, those figures are almost exactly reversed among Southern African-Americans, with just 11% seeing it as a sign of pride and 75% viewing it as a symbol of racism.

A majority favors removing the Confederate flag from government property that isn’t part of a museum: 55% support that while 43% are opposed. And half support private companies choosing not to sell or manufacture items featuring the Confederate flag: 50% are in favor, 47% opposed.

But most oppose other efforts, including redesigning state flags that feature Confederate emblems or symbols to remove references to the Confederacy (57% oppose that), renaming streets and highways named after Confederate leaders (68% oppose that) and removing tributes to those who fought for the Confederacy from public places (71% oppose that).

Among African-Americans, however, most favor removing flags from government property (73%), private companies stopping the sale or manufacture of products featuring the flag (65%) and redesigning state flags that feature Confederate references to remove them (59%).

Let’s get serious now. The Confederate flag that we see today was actually the battle flag of General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Other units used different flags while the Confederacy had at least three different flags each with several variants during its brief four-year life. Some states used their state flags and added the ‘Stars and Bars’. Some of those state flags are still in use today.

In order to understand Southerners love of the Confederate flag allow me to quote Union General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain who was the officer designated by General Grant to accept the surrender of the infantry of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. General Chamberlain was wounded six times in the service of the Union. The officer commanding the Confederate infantry, General John Brown Gordon of Georgia was wounded seven times in the service of the Confederacy. The text is from General Chamberlain’s book The Passing of the Armies. It is well-worth reading.

Our earnest eyes scan the busy groups on the opposite slopes, breaking camp for the last time, taking down their little shelter-tents and folding them carefully as precious things, then slowly forming ranks as for unwelcome duty. And now they move. The dusky swarms forge forward into gray columns of march. On they come, with the old swinging route step and swaying battle- flags. In the van, the proud Confederate ensign — the great field of white with canton of star-strewn cross of blue on a field of red, the regimental battle-flags with the same escutcheon following on, crowded so thick, by thinning out of men, that the whole column seemed crowned with red. At the right of our line our little group mounted beneath our flags, the red Maltese cross on a field of white, erewhile so bravely borne through many a field more crimson than itself, its mystic meaning now ruling all.

The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond; — was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?

Instructions had been given ; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier’s salutation, from the “order arms” to the old “carry” — the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual, — honor answering honor.

On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum ; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead! As each successive division masks our own, it halts, the men face inward towards us across the road, twelve feet away; then carefully “dress” their line, each captain taking pains for the good appearance of his company, worn and half starved as they were. The field and staff take their positions in the intervals of regiments; generals in rear of their commands. They fix bayonets, stack arms; then, hesitatingly, remove cartridge-boxes and lay them down. Lastly, — reluctantly, with agony of expression, — they tenderly fold their flags, battle-worn and torn, blood-stained, heart -holding colors, and lay them down; some frenziedly rushing from the ranks, kneeling over them, clinging to them, pressing them to their lips with burning tears. And only the Flag of the Union greets the sky !


General Chamberlain had the opportunity to speak to several Confederate generals at the surrender:

There was opportunity for converse with several Confederate generals. Their bearing was, of course, serious, their spirits sad. What various misgivings mingled in their mood we could not but conjecture. Levying war against the United States was serious business. But one certain impression was received from them all; they were ready to accept for themselves and for the Confederacy any fate our Government should dictate. Lincoln’s magnanimity, as Grant’s thoughtfulness, had already impressed them much. They spoke like brave men who mean to stand upon their honor and accept the situation.

” General,” says one of them at the head of his corps, “this is deeply humiliating; but I console myself with the thought that the whole country will rejoice at this day’s business. ” “You astonish us, ” says another of equally high rank, “by your honorable and generous conduct. I fear we should not have done the same by you had the case been reversed. ” “I will go home, ‘ ‘ says a gallant officer from North Carolina, “and tell Joe Johnston we can’t fight such men as you. I will advise him to surrender.” “I went into that cause” says yet another of well-known name, “and I meant it. We had our choice of weapons and of ground, and we have lost. Now that is my flag (pointing to the flag of the Union), and I will prove myself as worthy as any of you. “

The War is over and has been for 150 years. What is taking place now will only ignite it again.




Series Navigation<< Renaming Army Forts in the SouthThe Confederate flag: That was then, This is now >>

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