These days all things Confederate are under fire. This last week at Gettysburg illustrated to me that would-be Rebels are making yet another stand – this time to preserve what they insist is nothing more than their heritage. Though the controversy has captured America’s attention for the time being (the Kardashians are having a slow week) I would like to point out that attacks on Confederate symbolism are nothing new.
At the base of the Virginia State Memorial on Seminary Ridge is a weather-beaten plaque admonishing potential vandals who might try and stick a proverbial bayonet in the still-defiant Confederacy. Though there are other southern monuments on the field (few in comparison to Union monuments and with only a couple of exceptions, all state memorials) this is the only warning sign. And judging by its aged appearance, it looks to have been there a while.
This suggests to me that both in a modern context and for quite a while, Virginia – and by extension, Robert E. Lee, whose likeness (and Traveller’s) sit atop the monument, specifically represent the Confederate nation and its ideological underpinnings. Why else would this particular monument – as opposed to North Carolina’s or Alabama’s – be singled out for potential vandalism? The Virginian Lee is Confederate ideology and nationalism personified. This was true in the 1860s and has been true ever since. Those who choose to attack physically Confederate ideology (particularly racial oppression in the form of chattel slavery) would naturally set their sights on the nation’s most salient symbols: Lee and the Old Dominion – and thus the Virginia memorial seems in especial danger…and has been for some time.
“After four years of arduous service marked by unsurpassed courage and fortitude, the Army of Northern Virginia has been compelled to yield to overwhelming numbers and resources.
I need not tell the survivors of so many hard fought battles, who have remained steadfast to the last, that I have consented to the result from no distrust of them.
But feeling that valour and devotion could accomplish nothing that could compensate for the loss that must have attended the continuance of the contest, I have determined to avoid the useless sacrifice of those whose past services have endeared them to their countrymen.
By the terms of the agreement, officers and men can return to their homes and remain until exchanged. You will take with you the satisfaction that proceeds from the consciousness of duty faithfully performed, and I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you his blessing and protection.
With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your Country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration for myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.”
I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet looking for interesting things to discuss. For example, Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, writes on reflections of the South, memory, and the racial legacies of yes, you guessed it, the Civil War. You can expect a post about her work coming up in the near future…just as soon as I have had a closer look at her poetry.
But my point today is meant to be a service for all of those in cyberspace who identify the various Confederate flags incorrectly. Many refer to the “Stars and Bars” when they actually mean something else, and this practice is something of a pet peeve of mine…I know, it’s the little things. But anyway, in an altruistic spirit of education, I offer the flags…and their proper names. (PS – the title of this post is an obscure reference that has nothing to do with Confederate flags but everything to do with an 80s pop band from Santa Barbara – guess who they are and get a shout out).
First Confederate National Flag aka “The Stars and Bars”
Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag
Second National Confederate Flag aka “The Stainless Banner”
Third National Confederate Flag (note stain)
Confederate Navy Jack
Confederate flag of significance from Appomattox (sorry…I just couldn’t help myself.
Appomattox Day, in case you’re wondering…was yesterday, April 9th, 2014. Not many really “celebrate” this day anymore – though it is often commemorated – especially owing to its clear reconciliationist overtones. But not too terribly long ago, this day was celebrated with great joy and truimphalism by Union veterans – particularly those who fought with the Army of the Potomac – as the day the forces of the United States suppressed a domestic rebellion.
Not for nothin’ my fellow citizens – happy (belated) Appomattox Day!