All the brouhaha about the Confederate flag has prompted me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for years (decades, actually): join the Sons of Confederate Veterans. My great-great-grandfather was a 2nd lieutenant in the 4th Virginia Cavalry, so I definitely qualify for membership. My consanguineous connection to the Recent Unpleasantness is further reinforced by my great-great-granduncle, Brigadier General David Weisiger, who led the charge at the Battle of the Crater* during the siege of Petersburg in 1864.
The current controversy has not altered my longstanding position on the flag. I consider it an honorable symbol of men who deserve our respect for their valor and sacrifice. I would not display it in front of my home or on my car, however, because to do so would be impolite — the flag holds a different symbolic significance for my black neighbors.
What is commonly known as the “Confederate Flag” is actually the battle flag of the Confederacy. In its original form it was square, and bore a legend identifying the unit that carried it. I couldn’t find the flag for the 4th Virginia Cavalry, so I’ve headed this post with one for the 4th Infantry (part of the “Stonewall Brigade”) instead.
My great-great-grandfather fought in Second Manassas (or Second Bull Run, if you’re a Yankee). Officially, he was wounded there, but according to family lore he actually fell off his horse and broke his leg. After the break was set, he was strapped on his horse, which carried him home to his plantation led by his servant — that is, his slave.
The family plantation lay between Richmond and Petersburg. That area experienced an extensive incursion by Union troops near the end of the war, especially after Richmond fell and the siege of Petersburg was broken. Union soldiers arrived at the plantation and informed my great-great-grandfather that they were going to burn down the house and outbuildings. The family was given enough time to rescue some of their belongings, which according to the stories had to be lowered out of the windows.
Needless to say, the family was reduced to near-penury. They moved to Richmond and opened up a boarding house to eke out a living after the war. One of their tenants was a former Confederate officer who had fallen on hard times, like his landlord. When he moved out, he was unable to pay the back rent, so he left his hosts a set of side chairs — clunky old dark wood pieces upholstered in faded red brocade — as part payment. After passing through the hands of another branch of the family for more than a hundred years, those same chairs ended up at Schloss Bodissey. They’re too damaged and disreputable now to be used downstairs, so they’re stacked up here in the eyrie just a few feet away from where I’m typing these words.
Such are the connections between the April rains of 1865 and a steamy August night in 2015.
The above descriptions are drawn from family anecdotes. To elevate them to the status of “history” would require additional research. Old letters would provide an excellent source — I have some stashed away up here, and my cousins probably have more. Photographs would also be helpful. There’s one of my mother sitting on her great-grandfather’s lap when she was a toddler and he was very, very old.
A fully fleshed-out account of historical events is a worthy goal. But that’s not the way things are done here in the second decade of the 21st century. Thorough, accurate historical accounts are no longer welcome unless they support the Narrative. If such support is lacking, then appropriate historical descriptions are fabricated out of whole cloth (see: Carly Fiorina).
During the Sesquicentennial back in April I went to the Walmart in Appomattox. The store was packed with Civil War memorabilia, including many instances of the Confederate flag. Then the Charleston massacre intervened, and Walmart made the corporate decision to withdraw all Confederate flag merchandise. When I returned to the store last week, there was still a big display of Civil War items, but no sign of any Confederate flags. The Union flag was well-represented, however, as were pictures of Generals Grant and Lee.
I suspect that General Lee’s days are numbered, however. How long can the image of a “racist” slave-owning Confederate general be allowed to sully our public spaces?
After I left Walmart I paid a visit to the new western branch of the Museum of the Confederacy just outside of town. The museum doesn’t seem to have any problem with the battle flag — there were plenty of flags for sale in the gift shop, along with printed versions on books, cards, mugs, and other knick-knacks. Or maybe they just haven’t got the order yet from Richmond to pull all that stuff from the shelves. This time next year — who knows?
While I was there I went to the information desk and got the email address of the contact for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in the Camp (that’s what the local chapters are called) nearest me. I’ve downloaded the form from the SCV website and filled it out. I plan to attend the next Camp meeting to pay my fee and join my fellow Confederates.
The assault on the battle flag has awakened a spirit of defiance in me. Dymphna told me: “It got your Irish up.” But I don’t have much Irish blood, so it’s more likely to be Scots. The Scots are known on both sides of the Atlantic for their independent spirit and fierce defiance of any outside interference.
In any case, it’s a Celtic thing.
This wholesale rewriting of history to reinforce the Narrative is a growing trend. It’s been around for decades — Diana West has chronicled the phenomenon at length, and paid the price for doing so. But the process seems to be accelerating, now that there is a dumbed-down, sedated, and infotainment-addled populace ready to fall for any sort of claptrap that blares at it from a screen.
And history is not the only casualty. Take Christian doctrine, for example. The mainstream Protestant denominations have jumped onboard the gay-marriage branch of the Narrative, but in order to do so they have to rewrite their own scriptures — or, at the very least, ignore them. There is no way the epistles of St. Paul can be made compatible with pastorally-sanctioned homosexual marriage unless the meanings of the words are changed, or the appropriate passages reinterpreted to make them “relevant”. Like the post-modern Constitution, the New Testament must become a “living document”.
So let’s discuss the reality of the Civil War while we still can, before the underlying matrix of facts and occurrences becomes too damaged to have any further meaning. It will eventually be dismantled and replaced with the Narrative, but for the time being we still have the resources to examine it.
First of all: yes, the war really was about slavery. If the Peculiar Institution had not been under threat, there would have been no war.
But it was about much more than slavery, especially after the first few months of the conflict.
Federal troops crossed the Potomac and invaded the Valley of Virginia, burning crops and barns, requisitioning livestock, taking hostages, and threatening the local population with starvation. If you were a loyal, patriotic Virginian, how would you react to such aggression?
Many thousands of ordinary Southerners owned no slaves and joined the Confederate army anyway, not to keep the black man in chains, but to defend their homes. Stonewall Jackson, the greatest general of the Confederacy (and one of the greatest generals of all time) was a staunch Presbyterian who detested the institution of slavery. But he loved his homeland, so he threw himself into its service and died defending it.
The same cause was what made so many of those Scots-Irish mountain boys come down out of the hills and join the battle against the aggressor. Many of them had never seen a Negro, much less owned one. Many of them came from the counties that eventually seceded from Virginia to become West Virginia. Nevertheless, they understood what aggression was, and they knew how to shoot, so they picked up their guns and joined the army.
None of that fits the Narrative.
According to the Narrative, Southerners were racists who ignited the war to maintain the evil of slavery. Anyone who looks back on their Confederate heritage with anything but repugnance is also a racist. All images and symbols of the Confederacy are inherently racist. And any account of what happened between 1861 and 1865 that treats the South with respect is dismissed as racist apologetics.
Yet to view the period through the lens of race is to engage in “presentism” — the imposition of present-day standards and concepts on a time that knew nothing of them. From a 21st-century standpoint, virtually every white American in the 1860s was a “racist”, even Abraham Lincoln. Northerners who considered slavery an abomination still viewed Africans as a lesser race that deserved compassion and needed to be taken care of.
The argument over slavery was not whether a Negro was the equal of a white man, but whether he could be treated as property. The North and the South were at each other’s throats over that issue, but they were in broad agreement that blacks were inferior.
In other words, they were all racists.
No, that doesn’t fit the Narrative.
It’s the same with Margaret Sanger’s enthusiasm for Eugenics and Hitler’s status as a committed Socialist ideologue. Those don’t fit the Narrative, either, so down the memory hole with them!
The truth is no longer considered valuable or useful in Modern Multicultural America.
Let the April rains wash history away! Who needs it?
|*||The Crater is a fascinating topic, one that could provide enough material for its own post.
In the summer of 1864, one of the Union commanders decided to dig under the Confederate earthworks to the east of Petersburg and detonate a charge beneath the enemy’s defensive line. Welsh miners — who had the greatest expertise in the engineering of mines, and probably still do — were brought in from Pennsylvania to do the job. The mine tunnel ran for 500 feet from the Union lines to a chamber fifty feet below the Confederate earthworks. When it detonated at 5 o’clock on a July morning, Lee and his troops were taken completely by surprise. Dozens of soldiers were killed instantly in the huge blast, and the resulting crater made a wide gap in the Confederate lines.
Gen. Grant’s troops failed to exploit their opportunity in a timely fashion, however. The Confederates were able to regroup and charge before the enemy could get behind their lines. Gen. Weisiger was one of the commanders who led the charge.
The title of this post is a reference to the poem “Sayler’s Creek”, which was posted here to commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the surrender at Appomattox on April 9th, 1865.