Confederate Army Strong? I Think Not

fort-sumter-bombardmentAttack on Ft Sumpter 

“THE CAUSE of the great War of the Rebellion against the United Status will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that “A state half slave and half free cannot exist.” All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.” ― Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs, Vol. 2

I have served my country, not just Red or Blue States or members of either major political party, or minor political party for 32 years. I have served and as a Chaplain have guarded the religious and free speech rights of Christians, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Atheists and Agnostics as a Chaplain for 21 of those years.

My family on my mother’s side came to the British Colonies in North America in  the 1680s or 1690s from England and France. My father’s family came in the 1740s from Scotland. During the War for Independence much of my family fought for the colonies or was neutral and some were Tories. One of my direct relatives lived in Philadelphia and worked as a supply officer for the Colonial Army throughout the war. He is buried not far from Benjamin Franklin and other heroes of the Revolution in the Christ Church Cemetery in Philadelphia, something that get’s me free admittance to the historic site anytime that I am in the city.

Those that were Tories ended up in  what is not Canada after the war. I even had distant relatives who were British Redcoats, one a Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Dundas, later Major General Sir Thomas Dundas commanded one of Lord Cornwallis’ brigades at Yorktown and was one of two British Officers who arranged the surrender at Yorktown.

Thus said my family has a long pedigree in this country and when the war of the Souther Slaveholder Rebellion broke out in 1861 I had family on both sides of the conflict. Most served in the Confederacy, though the part of Virginia they lived in seceded from the Commonwealth because Virginia seceded from the Union.

All this being said I can claim my heritage as a Son of the American Revolution or a Son of the Confederacy.


Today I saw something that made my blood boil. As I said I have served this country for 32 years in both the Army and the Navy. Part of my service has included time in both the Virginia and Texas Army National Guard. In my time in Virginia or Texas the units that I served traced their linage to either the 1st or 5 Texas Regiments of Hood’s Brigade or the 2nd or 17th Virginia Regiments which fought under Jackson or Pickett during that war.


As I was saying I saw something today that made my blood boil. I saw a bumper sticker on a pickup truck at the local Home Depot that looked a bit like the US Army “Army Strong” complete with the star featured on the Army bumper sticker. However this one was different. It said “Confederate Army Strong.” To be fair I have seen this sticker on a number of vehicles in Virginia over the past few years but this one got me. The man also has numerous other Confederate or neo-Confederate stickers as well as partisan political comments and conspiracy theory comments about 9-11 being an “inside job” as well as a sticker for the conspiracy theory nutcase Alex Jones’ “Info Wars” website.


What I find offensive about the “Confederate Army Strong” sticker is that it is a slap in the face to all who died to preserve the Union. Likewise it is the symbol of a political movement designed to promote, defend and expand an economic system built on slavery using the language of “States Rights.” That being said those states and their political leaders who claimed “States Rights” only cared about their own rights and in the decade leading up to the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion, now known as the Civil War used Federal statutes against non-slave States whenever they needed to and fought for tougher Federal laws to keep their “freedom” to maintain slavery.


Freed Union Prisoner at Andersonville

The fact is that the Confederate Army was responsible for the more deaths and other casualties than all other enemies of the United States before or after the War of the Slaveholders Rebellion. The real fact is that those “noble Confederates” like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and others that by the way included men from my family who owned slaves were rebels who when they did not like the result of an elected seceded from the Union and declared war on their fellow citizens in order to maintain their racist economic and political power. They were not about due process or the will of the people, but their will.

These were the same men who condoned the atrocities committed at places like Andersonville and Belle Isle and when they invaded non-slave states had no qualms about taking any black men, women and children from their homes and sending them to the South, even if the were Free Men and not escaped slaves.

However it is now impolitic to say this. But that is the case and whenever I see such displays of hatred against the country, constitution and citizens who I have sworn an oath to support and defend “against all enemies foreign and domestic” for 32 years I get angry.

I saw the man get into his vehicle and almost confronted him, but in the current climate had I done so I would have been the person condemned in the hate filled right wing media and blogosphere which wants nothing more than to have anyone connected to the Federal Government look like they are being intolerant. Such is the victim culture of many on the political right.

So I held back, took a picture of his stickers and went on my way. I have been far too busy trying to catch up on things left unattended by the past 7 years of service to this nation which has cost me much of my mind, my health and finances being away from home, deployed to Iraq or serving as a geographic bachelor, the latter alone which has cost me over $50,000 that I will never get back. Likewise I figured out that the last 17 years of my military career I have been away from home for 10 years. Since I returned from Iraq I have had to deal with the “Mad Cow” of PTSD.

Thus when I see some old fat codger running around spouting hate who probably has not served a day in uniform, or if he did served an enlistment and then got out I get pissed off. To tell the truth I think that I have good reason. There are times that I think that maybe William Tecumseh Sherman was too gentle on the South and that maybe the Radical Reconstructionists like Thaddeus Stevens were right about the South and what needed to be done to eradicate slavery and restore the Union.

Now that is not me, I am more of a Lincoln “with malice toward none and with charity toward all” kind of person. As a soldier I can be gracious toward a defeated enemy.  But when I see that thrown back in my face by the neo-Confederates of my day I wonder if maybe I and men like Sherman, Grant, Hancock and Chamberlain were wrong. Maybe the rebels should have been tried, executed, exiled or imprisoned for their crimes against the Constitution and their fellow citizens.

That being said Grant noticed how the landed elites of the South not only enslaved the blacks but used poor whites who had nothing to gain from their economics or slavery. The sad thing is the descendants of those who enslaved blacks and used poor whites as their political and later military fodder are at it again. Grant noted:

“The great bulk of the legal voters of the South were men who owned no slaves; their homes were generally in the hills and poor country; their facilities for educating their children, even up to the point of reading and writing, were very limited; their interest in the contest was very meagre–what there was, if they had been capable of seeing it, was with the North; they too needed emancipation. Under the old regime they were looked down upon by those who controlled all the affairs in the interest of slave-owners, as poor white trash who were allowed the ballot so long as they cast it according to direction.”

It really is a sad state of affairs and I grieve for the United States. To think I swear on my life an honor to ensure that all citizens have their right to freedom of speech including the man with his message of hate. However I don’t think that he or others like him would  do the same for me.


Padre Steve+




Filed under civil war, History, national security, Political Commentary

4 responses to “Confederate Army Strong? I Think Not

  1. Padre,

    I am not sure how I feel about your post. First I agree that fat redneck guy waving the confederate flag makes me want to puke. So I am in total agreement with you on that.

    I also agree than the war was in large part about slavery. There is an argument that it was about state’s rights, but they wanted the right to have slaves. So it is a mute point.

    My issue is that I cannot advocate Sherman burning more of the South. Nor can I advocate treating the confederate Generals as war criminals. They were fighting for their way of life. But I do concede that the Anderson prison could be compared to anything the Nazi’s did. The south hardly had enough food to feed themselves, as a warrior you can understand taking care of your own before taking care of POWs.

    My reply would be that the prisons in the North were not the country club federal pens that exist today. Apples to apples, it was not a easy duty being a POW. In a different discussion, it makes Gitmo look different for sure.

    Also, it might have been worse way of life as a factory worker in Cleveland than a slave in Mississippi. The working conditions in the northern factories were severe to be fair. There is an argument that the slave owners were more compassionate in their treatment of the slaves than the owners of the factories were on the laborer. I’m not saying this is good, just saying that there is an argument to be made.

    My problem is that it doesn’t feel right. I acknowledge that my feelings are a direct result from my upbringing in Tennessee. No, my people were not slave owners, they were sharecroppers.

    Thank you for posting this discussion. I will think about this and let you know what I decide.

    • padresteve

      I understand your points and appreciate your comments and there are good answers to each. Unfortunately they are not pleasant and I had to face up to them a number of years ago.
      As I noted up front I am the descendant of the very people I am most critical of in this article. My family patriarch was a slave owner, a Confederate cavalry officer who when the war was over refused to sign the loyalty oath back to the United States. For many years until I started critically examining the war, its causes and consequences I was a proponent of the the nobility of the Lost Cause. I thought that I could draw a distinction between the soldiers and what they fought, but even otherwise honorable men, officers like me who had sworn an oath, abandoned their oath and understood that the war was about slavery. They then waged war against a legitimately elected government and were responsible for killing more American soldiers than any other nation this country has fought.

      To answer a couple of your points, as you noted slavery was a big part and I would say the primary reason for the war, as was the inability of southern slave holders to accept the legitimacy and results of an election, in a sense the war was also about their disrespect for our system of government, one that they tossed aside when it did not suit their economic aims and the continuation of the institution of slavery.
      As far as the comparison between the conditions of slaves versus factory workers in the North. It is true that many factory workers suffered terribly, however they were not slaves and through democratic process, labor unions and the later activist labor policies of the Theodore Roosevelt administration their conditions improved. Even before that many were able to work their way up, their children had public education and also the chance to improve their lot.

      Many immigrants themselves who worked in the factories and mines of the North became businessmen and entrepreneurs. This was impossible for the slave. Even if a slave escaped to a free state he could be hunted down using Federal laws that the South imposed on Northern states. If a slave won his freedom that was no guarantee that he was free because free blacks also were caught and sent to the South back to slavery. Likewise the immigrant factory workers came to this country of their own volition, not as slaves, property or chattel.

      As far as the poor Southerner who did not own slaves they too were victims of the slave economy which depressed wages and prevented many of the industrial and transportation advances that took place in the North, which improved living conditions for people. Poor whites in the South likewise had no protections and few educational opportunities, this resulted in many going west to Texas, the midwest and later California.

      Regardless of their situation or where they lived white citizens could vote and have a say in their political future while slaves, they never got that and as soon as reconstruction was over they had Jim Crow to ensure that did not have that right. Sherman in every state his Army liberated noted the difficult state of affairs for Southern whites and the way that they were treated by the rich slave owners. He noted that as well when he lived and traveled in the South in the years before the war.

      Regarding prisons both sides were pretty grim, but Andersonville and Belle Isle were not only harsh but something that shocked even many Southerners. It was not just a lack of food in the south but the deliberate attempt of the commanders of those prisons to do this.

      Likewise the actions of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troops at Ft Pillow would be classified as a war crime in anyone’s book, it was the slaughter of unarmed and surrendered soldiers, mostly blacks. In a just society Forrest would have been tried and executed for War Crimes, but he became a hero after the war and then went on to found the KKK.

      When Lee went North his troops confiscated people’s property albeit paying for it it worthless Confederate script. His troops also had standing orders to capture escaped slaves and did so in his 1862 invasion of Maryland and 1863 invasion of Pennsylvania.

      At Vicksburg Sherman and Grant were appalled at the conditions when the city surrendered. People were eating rats to survive because speculators and merchants hoarded food in well guarded warehouses and squeezing the last cent out of the citizens and soldiers of the city. When the city was liberated Federal troops gave of their own supplies to their former enemies and also opened the warehouses by force, feeding the staving population and breaking the speculators who had denied their own people food during the siege. That was not an isolated incident. It happened many other places.

      As far as Sherman’s campaign in Georgia and the march to the sea, it was harsh, but that being said he never massacred his enemies and he punished his troops who committed crimes against Southerners believing that their actions hurt the Union cause. However, he also noted quite honestly that the Southern States, especially South Carolina had brought this on themselves and that only reaping the harvest of their rebellion would they understand. Sherman was a tough enemy but he never committed a massacre. His victories were won by maneuver and as a result cost both sides far fewer casualties than the war waged between Lee and his various opponents in Virginia.

      Anyway, I do appreciate the chance to engage you in thought and ideas. Your comments and questions force me to put down things at I have only before thought about.



  2. Padre,

    Thank you for the wonderfully detailed and thoughtful response. I relish the opportunity to publically state thoughts with you in a safe accepting environment that you have created.

    I am not sure if you are aware of this fact about my family. My son is African-American and was adopted by my wife and I when he was a week old. I have always thought about how I would present the history of the Civil War to him. I think the only way to present it is to give it to him straight and honestly. The history of America is not as glamorous as we like to pretend. You so eloquently proved that fact.

    Without ranting about the country that I love, but we are some messed up people. Our treatment of minority people is disgusting. Native Americans, African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and now so called “Illegals”. I am sad that we haven’t learned how to better treat people.

    But I am proud that just 50 years ago, my son would have had to sit on the back of the bus, drink from a separate water fountain, and I would probably not be allowed to even adopt him. In that respect, I am proud and I am so happy that we have figured it out.

    Back to the Civil War, you make so many great points that I find it tough to argue anything. I must admit that Sherman’s March is the textbook way to prosecute a war. Total and complete devastation is the quickest and most humane tactic to end a war. It is something that people (including most Generals) don’t understand but had we fought this type of battle in Afghanistan or Iraq, I believe there would be a different result in those countries.

    To me one of the most troubling aspects of the Civil War is this. How many Officers of the Army defected to fight against the Union. I know it was a tough time for everyone, but I shudder to think that so many Officers defected to the confederacy. I wonder if the situation arose today, how many Officers like yourself would make the same choices.

    Thank you for your thoughtful posts and in-depth comments. It is a pleasure to engage in these discussions. And thank you for your service to both the Nation and to Christ.

    • padresteve


      Very few from the North went South, a minuscule amount. The biggest name was Pemberton who defended Vicksburg. He had a Southern wife. Funny he was considered suspect by most Confederate politicians and officers because of his northern roots, whereas men like George Thomas, a Virginia who remained true to his oath and commanded the Army of the Cumberland under Sherman was not treated that way.

      It is amazon how many things our in our national “closet” that many even today do not want to acknowledge. Sad thing is that in some parts of our country and among some political groups your son would not be welcome even today despite how far we have come in so many ways.

      Anyway, more later it has been a long day.



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