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The Sanitized History of the Lost Cause

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am out tilting at windmills again and this one needs to be tilted at…

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It seems that the organization known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans is not happy with the fact that the most prominent symbol of the Confederacy is coming down. This has been very apparent at the group’s convention in Richmond this week. Their anger is not only directed at the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House, but at Supreme Court siding with Texas not to issue license plates with the Confederate flag on them, the decision of Virginia to eliminate the sons of Confederate Veteran plate which displays the battle flag, and moves to change the name of U.S. Highway One, known as the Jefferson Davis Highway to something other than that of the President of the Confederacy.

Frank Earnest, the former commander of the SCV’s Virginia division displayed the ignorance of years of sanitized history by telling the Richmond Times Dispatch that the removal of the flag and stripping highways of the names of Confederate leaders “It’s cultural genocide, everything about a four-year period where Virginia and other Southern states fought for their rights, we’re gonna eradicate any of that. That is something that’s done in dictatorial countries, not in the United States of America.”

For Earnest and those who think like him the war, and the sacrifice can be separated from the root cause of the war, which was White Supremacy and the expansion of slavery as well as the violence actions committed by the thousands of former Confederate soldiers who spearheaded the formation of terrorist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, the White Leagues, the White Liners and the Red Shirts. Sadly, to millions of school children brought up in the South from the end of the war and in some cases even today, these issues are ignored. It is sanitized history which denies that slavery was the major cause of the war, it denies the systematic racism of those who founded the Confederacy, it denies the fight of White Supremacists throughout the South for the century following the war and beyond used systematic violence to terrorize, kill, disenfranchise and impoverish African Americans throughout the South. In fact the new Texas history books do exactly that.

While it is not as systematized as it was there are still thousands across the South and even the rest of the country who believe that telling the truth about history is cultural genocide and this my friends needs to be confronted every day and every time that men like Earnest make these bold faced lies about history. Jefferson Davis does not deserve a highway named after him, nor does Henry Benning, the pro-slavery, pro-secession firebrand who worked to persuade other states to secede does not deserve Fort Benning George to be named after him. Perhaps it should be renamed for Confederate Lieutenant General James Longstreet, another Georgian who after Appomattox recanted his Confederate views, swore his loyalty to the Federal government, tried to stem violence against blacks during Reconstruct and who is treated like Judas Iscariot by the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other proponents of the Lost Cause.

My God, I am going to be writing more on this subject, but will pause for now.

Have a wonderful and thoughtful night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Confederate Sunset in South Carolina 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Historian George Santayana said “Loyalty to our ancestors does not include loyalty to their mistakes.” Today it appears that at least one legislature and governor has agreed with him.

This afternoon South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill passed by overwhelming majorities in the South Carolina Senate and House to remove the Confederate Battle flag from grounds of the South Carolina State Capital. The ceremonial lowering will occur at 10 AM tomorrow, July 10th 2015, when it is lowered it will be transferred to a museum, which is an appropriate place. 

This is important, I did not imagine that it would occur in my lifetime, and I expect to live a fair number of years. The sad thing is that it took the murder of nine innocent African American church members at Emmanuel African American Episcopal Church in Charleston by a young man named Dylan Roof, who harbored White Supremacist dreams of a race war to bring this about. It took the abject horror of people being murdered in church to do make people begin to realize that maybe, just maybe that continuing to display this symbol of the Confederacy on state grounds was not a good idea.

I know that there are many who defend that flag. I am not among them, although I once was as members of both sides of my family fought under it during the Confederate rebellion against the United States. But it does belong to history and what it stood for, not what it stands for in myth, but what it stood for the men who raised it in rebellion in order to defend and expand what they referred to as the “peculiar institution,” the political, social, religious and economic system known as slavery.  That is a fact, simply read Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephen’s Cornerstone Speech of 1861 where he said:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

In fact if you read every declaration of secession issued by the various states of the Confederacy, all insist that slavery was the main issue for which they seceded and for which they went to war. That did not change during the war and after the fighting was over, the flag of the Confederacy became the standard of White Supremacists throughout the South as they worked in the legislatures and in the courts to roll back the rights of blacks, using violence, intimidation and fraud to do so.

However, it was not until April 11th 1961 during the early days of the Civil Rights movement that the legislature of South Carolina voted to fly the Confederate Battle Flag over the state house in Columbia. This coincided with the centennial of the beginning of the Civil War when South Carolina troops on the orders of President Jefferson Davis opened fire on Fort Sumter. Ten years ago the flag was moved from the dome of the state house to a monument to Confederate veterans on the grounds of that complex.

Tomorrow morning that flag will come down, and I think that is a good thing for I do not believe that this symbol of rebellion and sadly white supremacy and racism should fly from any government building or complex. That being said if an individual chooses to fly the flag they should not be forbidden from doing so. I may object to that but I can only hope that with time and exposure to the truth that even these displays will come down. As to the people that fly these banners in order to display their racism, their hatred of other Americans and their desire for yet another rebellion, I am glad that they fly it so that I will know who they are, after all I favor truth in advertising and if I see this flag flying from a business I am sure that I will not spend my money in  those establishments.

As far as the people who honestly believe that in flying the flag they are honoring their heritage or ancestors, I can offer a measure of sympathy, but I encourage them not to sanitize history from facts. The fact is that the sacrifice and “heritage” our our ancestors, and I do include mine cannot be separated from the cause for which they fought, slavery, and for which those that came after them worked to ensure; racism, discrimination and even murder.

As gallant and even as chivalrous soldiers as many Confederate soldiers were, their sacrifice cannot be separated from the cause for which they fought, just like any other “honorable” soldiers who fought for evil causes. There are many such people that I admire for their soldierly qualities, while not espousing their cause.

Like Ulysses S. Grant I can mourn their sacrifice and admire the gallantry of soldiers even while acknowledging the injustice of the Confederate cause. After Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Grant wrote, “I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

It is time for this symbol of the Confederacy to come down forever and for the war that three quarters of a million American soldiers, Union and Confederates died, and for which millions of African Americans were enslaved and after the war thousands of freed blacks murdered or lynched, even as millions more were legally disenfranchised and discriminated against under Jim Crow. It is time for that to end, here and now. As far as me, I may honor my ancestors, but I will not honor the cause for which they fought.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Time for It to Come Down

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It has been 150 years since the revolt of the Confederate States of America officially ended. However, the flag of that revolt still flies over on the grounds of the South Carolina capitol, remains part of the state flags of a number of former Confederate states, and is displayed in many fashions by people with various motives. Some belief, even genuinely that in displaying it they are honoring the men who fought under it. For others it is a symbol of continued defiance against a government that they hate, while for others it is a potent symbol of their hatred of African Americans and their earnest longing for a racist past that they believe were the good times.

That flag in its various guises, the Confederate Battle Flag, the Confederate Naval Ensign, or the National Flag of the Confederacy, sometimes called the Stars and Bars is an important part of American history. As such it cannot be completely done away with, it should remain as a part of history and as such confined to museums and things like reenactments of the battles. That being said, it has no place being flown over statehouses and should also be removed from the state flags that still retain it.

That flag is a part of my family’s history. If I wanted to I could join the Son’s of Confederate Veterans in a heartbeat. I have ancestors on both sides of my family who volunteered to serve the Confederacy even as their neighbors were declaring for the Union in what was then the western part of Virginia, what is now West Virginia. They were small time slave owners as well as yeoman farmers and they chose to serve a regime that despised them almost as much as it did the blacks. As members of the 8th Virginia Cavalry they fought until 1865 and following the war, some were reconciled to the Union while others refused to be and continued their revolt in other ways. Only one thing could have caused them to fight for a flag that offered them so little and that was they, like so many Southerners of similar means believed that keeping the black down ensured that they were superior to someone. If that meant enslaving blacks and fighting for a regime that did so, so be it. In fact after the war the patriarch of my paternal side refused to sign the loyalty oath to the United States and lost his family’s lands and plantation in addition to the slaves that he had already lost.

There was a time when I was young and desiring some kind of American military heritage to be proud of took a type of pride in the purely military side of the family, no matter what it was, Revolutionary War, Civil War (North and South), the World Wars as well as the service of my own father in Vietnam. As such I turned a blind eye to the cause that my ancestors who served the South fought and in some cases died to not only defend but to expand, if need be by the overthrow of the Union through force of arms. That cause was slavery, and while so many want to clothe secession and the term “states rights” the one right for which the South seceded was the right to enslave blacks and to expand that institution to non-slave territories, and even force anti-slavery Northerners to cooperate with through laws such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott Decision.

But this is not surprising, the revisionist historians of the Lost Cause triumphed in telling the story of the Civil War where force of arms failed. These people, including some historians managed to shift the focus of the war to the stories of the great soldiers who fought in the war, and to the lie that the war was about “constitutional” issues when in fact the South was winning almost every court and congressional battle regarding slavery in the decade and a half before secession. The South’s over-reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln, an election that they sabotaged for their cause by splitting their electoral votes between the candidacies of Stephen Douglas and John C. Breckenridge is to this day lost on them.

The fact is that the Confederate Flag in all of its forms is not a symbol of freedom, it is not a symbol of a heritage that any person, even descendants of Southern veterans should take pride in.

Instead it is a symbol of treason. It is the symbol of men who sworn to uphold the Constitution that Senators, Congressmen, military officers, and other Federal officers and officials callously abandoned when their side did not win an election.

It is a flag of a republic which Alexander Stephens its Vice President described in his Cornerstone Speech:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

It is the symbol of a rebellion that brought about a war that cost between 650,000 and 750,000 military deaths, many more wounded and billions of dollars of damage to the country.

It is the symbol of men who after they regained control of their states passed innumerable laws to prescribe slavery in all but name through “Black” and “Jim Crow” laws.

It is the symbol of the original American terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan that used violence and murder to oppress and kill blacks and their supporters for a hundred years after Appomattox.

It is the symbol that neo-Confederates, White Supremacists, neo-Nazis and other racist and hate-groups rally around.

It has also found a home in some parts of the Tea Party Movement and the current Republican Party.

Some Southerners and others have defended it and fought to keep it flying on various state capitol grounds, war memorials and state parks. It is flown or displayed by individuals over homes and on vehicles, even in states that shed thousands of lives to end the Confederate rebellion.

As for me, a career military officer and descendent of Confederate veterans I find the Confederate flags in all of its forms hateful, divisive and treasonous. When I see it displayed outside of museums and reenactments my blood boils, especially when I see it displayed as a political statement against a government and Constitution that I have committed my life to defend.

I believe that all Americans should oppose its display, especially on the grounds of government facilities. I find it little different in substance than the Swastika banner of the Nazi Party, which became the national flag of Germany. Both flags were the symbols of regimes that were based on the belief in a superior “master race” and which desired to expand their racial views to other lands. While there was a difference that the Nazis believed in exterminating as well as enslaving those that they deemed to be “sub-human” the ultimate goal of the Confederacy was to perpetuate slavery and expand it over a people that they also believed to be sub-human.

Now I do believe that the Confederate flag does have a place, and the proper place for it is in museums and historical reenactments. I think that it also can be legitimately displayed on the graves of men who fought under it. As for the men who died for that flag, despite their cause I have a measure of sympathy as one who has served in war. They were valiant and brave soldiers even if the cause that they served was evil. I agree with Ulysses S. Grant who at Appomattox stopped the cheers of his soldiers noting:

I felt…sad and depressed, at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people has fought.” He later noted: “The Confederates were now our countrymen, and we did not want to exult over their downfall.”

Apart from that I believe that displays of this flag only serve to show either historical ignorance or to display racist or anti-government attitudes that serve no constructive purpose and which only serve to encourage totalitarian enemies of freedom.

Thankfully, for the first time prominent Republican politicians beginning with Mitt Romney but now including South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham are calling for the removal of the flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol. Others need to as well. It is about time that the Confederate flag, and the racist ideology that it stands for comes down for good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Lost Cause Lives in Texas

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Over the past few years there has been an increase in Neo-Confederate propaganda, talk of secession and civil war coming from people who for the most part call themselves Christians. To be honest there is a reason for this, and that reason is because a Black Man was elected as President and all the underlying pent-up racism that never died despite the great advances that we have seen since the dawn of the Civil Rights Era. Doctor King may have a Holiday, but racism is not dead and often it is cloaked in the myth of the Lost Cause.

Over the past few weeks down in Orange Texas, the Local Sons of the Confederate Veterans chapter have decided to spruce up the monument to the Texas Confederate dead. Now I have lived throughout the South and in most of the former Confederate states there are monuments to the Confederate war dead, and it seems that almost every town has one. They are a part of history and those I vehemently disagree with what those men fought for and would have fought against them, such monument are a part of our history. Monuments to fallen soldiers are part of every almost every western culture and a way for families and communities to remember those who died.

However, the kerfuffle in Orange is a bit different. The monument has been there a long time and truthfully, the Sons of Confederate Veterans own it and the land that it is on. It not on public property actually, if the monument has fallen into disrepair I have no problem with them doing that. However, what they are doing is different. They are erecting flagpoles for 32 Confederate flags. Eight of them are various renditions of the flags of the Confederacy itself and twenty-four are going to be replicas of the flags of Texas Regiments that fought in the war.

Now I do understand that those flags do have some historical meaning and significance, at the same time that historical meaning and significance is connected to a cause that was about the rights of states to promote White Supremacy and slavery. The supporters of the Confederate flag project in Orange are saying that this was not the case.

“David Moore, Lieutenant Division Commander of the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans, told The Post that Southern states did not fight the Civil War to defend slavery, but instead to defend state’s rights after they were “invaded by Northern troops.” He said the monument in Orange honors the ancestors of the 2,600 members of Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans.” [1]

My feeling is if the Sons of Confederate Veterans wanted to honor their ancestors and remember the military organizations they could place plaques with the regimental histories and the names of those killed in action. They could actually try to make it somewhat reverent and at the same time educational, but this, the display of so many flags looks more like a display designed to incite division and make current the Lost Cause.

A couple of years ago washed up rocker, draft dodger and professional muckraker Ted Nugent made the comment that he wondered if it would have been better that the South had won the Civil War. Nugent’s statements, like those of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Texas are blatant examples of the enduring influence of the Lost Cause Myth, and show the revisionism and dishonest “scholarship” of the Neo-Confederates. The dishonesty and lack of truth in this quote, which is typical of the movement finds its genus in the discredited myth of the Lost Cause.

Sadly, a lot of the proponents of this are leaders in the radical, theocratic movement known as Christian Dominionism. This movement and its leaders believe that it is the duty of Christians to claim all of culture, politics and economics for God, and to disenfranchise or even kill those who do not agree. Many times their rhetoric is tinged with violence, racism, xenophobia and frankly paranoid and conspiratorial views of anyone that does not agree with them. Leaders of this movement are closely connected to, and often are advisers to prominent current and former Republican elected officials including Rand and Ron Paul, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal and Sam Brownback.

One of the most troubling things about this movement is its growing ties to and sympathy for neo-Confederate movements and the myth of the Lost Cause.

I have written about the ideological and religious roots of the American Civil War. While I was researching that article I began to see just who closely the language of this allegedly Christian movement parallels that of those who led the South to disaster in the Civil War and then to cover their crimes and to justify their actions.

These people are part of a growing fringe movement which advocates all the ideas espoused by the leaders of the Confederacy: secession, nullification, White Supremacy and some advocate violence and insurrection. Many of these despise Abraham Lincoln; they use state legislatures to pass Jim Crow like voting restrictions that particularly impact the poor, the elderly and minorities, and they use the cover of their religious rights to establish laws that allow the open discrimination against Gays. They favor an oligarchy of the rich and corporations that is very similar in its philosophy and ideology to that of the Southern elites and the plantation owners. People who not only enslaved blacks, but used their economic power to keep poor whites in their place.

Some of the Dominionists echo the words of the defenders of slavery. Douglas Wilson, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of America in Idaho and apologist for Confederate views wrote: “slavery produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.” Wilson also wrote that “There has never been, a multi-racial society that has existed with such mutual intimacy and harmony in the history of the world.” Of course there is no truth in that statement whatsoever as any actual student of the ante-bellum South would know. It is fiction and lies being propertied as truth by a Christian pastor in an established denomination.

The cause of the Civil War to the Christian neo-Confederates was not slavery, not economics or even Constitutional issues or anything else that real historians debate but rather a theological myth, as Steven Wilkins explained: “the cause of the Civil War was theological incompatibility between North and South, the former having ‘rejected Biblical Calvinism…“there was radical hatred of Scripture and the old theology [and] Northern radicals were trying to throw off this Biblical culture and turn the country in a different direction….” 

These thoughts are reiterated in many parts of the Dominionist movement in the writings of its godfather R. J. Rushdoony who through his own writings and the continued work of his son-in-law Gary North influence both Ron and his son U.S. Senator and now Republican Presidential Candidate Rand Paul as well as many others in the so called “Christian Right.”

So I have decided to post just a bit of my research on the Lost Cause here, just to show some of the similarities of thought.

As the Southern States seceded, the Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon in December of 1860: “Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.” [2]

The people who drove the nation to war incited secession, not for just any “state’s rights” but for White Supremacy and slavery. Henry Benning of Georgia was a strong Separatist, as proponents of secession were known in Georgia. He led the debate for secession at the Georgia convention, and spoke as a representative at the Virginia secession debate. At both debates the fiery justice proclaimed the disaster that would befall the South under Republican rule: In Virginia he presented a nearly apocalyptic vision of Republican rule:

“On the “not distant” day when the South contains “the only slave States,” climaxed Benning, “The North will have the power to amend the Constitution” and declare “slavery…abolished.” Then the master who “refuses to yield” will doubtless be hung.” Race “war will break out everywhere, like hidden fire from the earth. Eventually “our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds.” And “as far as our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate.” [3]

He closed his speech with the prediction that under Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” that: “We will be completely exterminated…and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks…” [4]

When you read the words of many of the Dominionist and the Christian neo-Confederate leaders you see a similar cry of victimhood and an apocalyptic vision that is best described as paranoia run rampant. This is only a sample, my research on the Lost Cause, the ante-Bellum South and the contemporary Neo-Confederate Christians connection with the Dominionists continues. What follows here is just a sample of the research that his going into my Civil War and Gettysburg texts plus some additional commentary.

When Edmund Ruffin pulled the lanyard of the cannon that fired the first shot at Fort Sumter it marked the end of an era and despite Ruffin, Stephens and Davis’ plans gave birth to what Lincoln would describe as “a new birth of freedom.”

When the war ended with the Confederacy defeated and the south in ruins, Ruffin still could not abide the result. In a carefully crafted suicide note he sent to his son the bitter and hate filled old man wrote on June 14th 1865:

“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule- to all political, social and business connections with the Yankees and to the Yankee race. Would that I could impress these sentiments, in their full force, on every living Southerner and bequeath them to every one yet to be born! May such sentiments be held universally in the outraged and down trodden South, though in silence and stillness, until the now far-distant day shall arrive for just retribution for Yankee usurpation, oppression and outrages, and for deliverance and vengeance for the now ruined, subjugated and enslaved Southern States! … And now with my latest writing and utterance, and with what will be near my last breath, I here repeat and would willingly proclaim my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule — to all political, social and business connections with Yankees, and the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race.” [5]

Though Ruffin was dead in the coming years the southern states would again find themselves under the governance of former secessionists who were unabashed white supremacists. Former secessionist firebrands who had boldly proclaimed slavery to be the deciding issue when the war changed their story. Instead of slavery being the primary cause of Southern secession and the war, it was “trivialized as the cause of the war in favor of such things as tariff disputes, control of investment banking and the means of wealth, cultural differences, and the conflict between industrial and agricultural societies.” [6]

Alexander Stephens who had authored the infamous1861 Cornerstone Speech that “that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition” argued after the war that the war was not about slavery at all, that it:

“had its origins in opposing principles….It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation on the other.” He concluded “that the American Civil War “represented a struggle between “the friends of Constitutional liberty” and “the Demon of Centralism, Absolutism, [and] Despotism!” [7]

Jefferson Davis, who had masterfully crafted “moderate” language which radicals in the South used to their advantage regarding the expansion and protection of the rights of slave owners in the late 1850s to mollify Northern Democrats, and who wrote in October 1860 that: “The recent declarations of the Black Republican party…must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it where it is, not where it is not.” [8]

After the war a revisionist Davis wrote:

“The Southern States and Southern people have been sedulously represented as “propagandists” of slavery, and the Northern as the champions of universal freedom…” and “the attentive reader…will already found enough evidence to discern the falsehood of these representations, and to perceive that, to whatever extent the question of slavery may have served as an occasion, it was far from being the cause for the conflict.” [9]

Instead of being about slavery the Confederate cause was mythologized by those promoting the false history of the “Lost Cause” a term coined by William Pollard in 1866, which “touching almost every aspect of the struggle, originated in Southern rationalizations of the war.” [10] By 1877 many southerners were taking as much pride in the “Lost Cause” as Northerners took in Appomattox. [11] Alan Nolen notes: “Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization.” [12]

The Lost Cause was elevated by some to the level of a religion. In September 1906, Lawrence Griffith speaking to a meeting of the United Confederate Veterans stated that when the Confederates returned home to their devastated lands, “there was born in the South a new religion.” [13] The mentality of the Lost Cause took on “the proportions of a heroic legend, a Southern Götterdämmerung with Robert E. Lee as a latter day Siegfried.” [14]

This new religion that Griffith referenced was replete with signs, symbols and ritual:

“this worship of the Immortal Confederacy, had its foundation in myth of the Lost Cause. Conceived in the ashes of a defeated and broken Dixie, this powerful, pervasive idea claimed the devotion of countless Confederates and their counterparts. When it reached fruition in the 1880s its votaries not only pledged their allegiance to the Lost Cause, but they also elevated it above the realm of common patriotic impulse, making it perform a clearly religious function….The Stars and Bars, “Dixie,” and the army’s gray jacket became religious emblems, symbolic of a holy cause and of the sacrifices made on its behalf. Confederate heroes also functioned as sacred symbols: Lee and Davis emerged as Christ figures, the common soldier attained sainthood, and Southern women became Marys who guarded the tomb of the Confederacy and heralded its resurrection.” [15]

Jefferson Davis became an incarnational figure for the adherents of this new religion. A Christ figure who Confederates believed “was the sacrifice selected-by the North or by Providence- as the price for Southern atonement. Pastors theologized about his “passion” and described Davis as a “vicarious victim”…who stood mute as Northerners “laid on him the falsely alleged iniquities of us all.” [16]

In 1923 a song about Davis repeated this theme:

Jefferson Davis! Still we honor thee! Our Lamb victorious, who for us endur’d A cross of martyrdom, a crown of thorns, soul’s Gethsemane, a nation’s hate, A dungeon’s gloom! Another God in chains!” [17]

The myth also painted another picture, that of slavery being a benevolent institution which has carried forth into our own time. The contention of Southern politicians, teachers, preachers and journalists was that slaves liked their status; they echoed the words of slave owner Hiram Tibbetts to his brother in 1842 “If only the abolitionists could see how happy our people are…..The idea of unhappiness would never enter the mind of any one witnessing their enjoyments” [18] as well as Jefferson Davis who in response to the Emancipation Proclamation called the slaves “peaceful and contented laborers.” [19]

The images of the Lost Cause, was conveyed by numerous writers and Hollywood producers including Thomas Dixon Jr. whose play and novel The Clansman became D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a groundbreaking part of American cinematography which was released in 1915; Margaret Mitchell who penned the epic Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gone With the Wind which in its 1939 film form won ten academy awards immortalized the good old days of the old South with images of faithful slaves, a theme which found its way into Walt Disney’s famed 1946 animated Song of the South.

The Lost Cause helped buttress the myths that both comforted and inspired many Southerners following the war. “It defended the old order, including slavery (on the grounds of white supremacy), and in Pollard’s case even predicted that the superior virtues of cause it to rise ineluctably from the ashes of its unworthy defeat.” [20] The myth helped pave the way to nearly a hundred more years of effective second class citizenship for now free blacks who were often deprived of the vote and forced into “separate but equal” public and private facilities, schools and recreational activities. The Ku Klux Klan and other violent organizations harassed, intimidated, persecuted and used violence against blacks.

“From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” [21] Lynching was common and even churches were not safe. It would not be until the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that blacks would finally begin to gain the same rights enjoyed by whites in most of the South.

That radical thought is still out there. The League of the South posted this on its website:

This 14th of April will mark the 150th anniversary of John Wilkes Booth’s execution of the tyrant Abraham Lincoln. The League will, in some form or fashion, celebrate this event. We remember Booth’s diary entry: “Our country owed all her troubles to him, and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment.” A century and a half after the fact, The League of the South thanks Mr. Booth for his service to the South and to humanity. [22]

Michael Hill, the co-founder of this organization wrote:

“As a traditional Christian Southerner, I want no part of “America.” I’m not talking about a particular piece of land in the western hemisphere; rather, I am talking about an idea, a proposition, a regime, a way of life. I am a Southerner, an old-fashioned Christian. The status of “American” is my antithesis.

Now before you tell me to “Love it or leave it” and pack up and move somewhere else, let me explain. The South, Alabama in particular, is my home. It is also a captive colony of this American monstrosity. Yes, many of our citizens have, wittingly or unwittingly, embraced Americanism for either survival or profit. I have not, and I intend to convince my fellow Southerners to join my side. I do not intend to leave Alabama or the South. Nor do I intend to leave them in the clutches of America. I intend to fight, and if necessary kill and die, for their survival, well-being, and independence.” [23]

William Ruffin outlived Lincoln who was killed by the assassin John Wilkes Booth on April 14th 1864. However the difference between the two men was marked. In his Second Inaugural Address Lincoln spoke in a different manner than Ruffin. He concluded that address with these thoughts:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” [24]

I have ancestors on both sides of my family who fought for the Confederacy. While they are my ancestors I cannot subscribe to or honor the cause for which they fought, and for which at least one died. The Confederate flag, though a part of American history is a symbol of White Supremacy, hatred and rebellion. The only reason that I can think that any group would want to fly thirty-two of them is to proclaim that their cause still lives and that they have not abandoned the ideology and beliefs of their ancestors. This is not about displaying history. It is all about promoting White-Christian Supremacy and to again elevate the myth of the Lost Cause as truth.

For me, the words and actions as well as the symbols of the old and new Confederates stand in stark contrast to those support and defend. I sincerely hope that they and their cause eventually fade away to insignificance without again bringing us to civil war.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Notes

[1] Holley, Peter These Texas rebels say the American flag is more racist than the Confederate flag Washington Post 8 April 2015 retrieved 10 April 2015 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/04/08/these-texas-rebels-say-the-american-flag-is-more-racist-than-the-confederate-flag/?tid=sm_fb

 

[2] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.511

[3] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.511

[4] Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville and London 2001 p.67

[5] Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865). Diary entry, June 18, 1865. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress Retrieved from http://blogs.loc.gov/civil-war-voices/about/edmund-ruffin/ 24 March 2014

[6] Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan Alan T. editors The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.15

[7] Dew, Charles Apostles of Disunion p.16

[8] Catton, Bruce The Coming Fury p.104

[9] Davis, Jefferson The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government Volume One of Two, A public Domain Book, Amazon Kindle edition pp.76-77

 

[10] Gallagher, Gary and Nolan, Alan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[11] Millet Allen R and Maslowski, Peter. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, a division of McMillan Publishers, New York 1984 p.230

[12] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.12

[13] Hunter, Lloyd The Immortal Confederacy: Another Look at the Lost Cause Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.185

[14] McPherson, James The Battle Cry of Freedom p.854

[15] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.186

[16] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[17] Ibid. Hunter The Immortal Confederacy Religion in Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War p.198

[18] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free p.106

[19] Ibid. Gallagher and Nolan The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History p.16

[20] Guelzo, Allen Fateful Lightening p.525

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.526

[22] Hill, Michael Honoring John Wilkes Booth League of the South Website http://leagueofthesouth.com/honoring-john-wilkes-booth569/ retrieved 10 April 2015

[23] Hill, Michael. Why I am Not an American League of the South Website http://leagueofthesouth.com/why-i-am-not-an-american-566/ retrieved 10 April 2015

[24] Ibid. Lincoln Second Inaugural Address

 

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Reflecting on the High Water Mark of the Confederacy and the Importance of Our Union

Yesterday was the 148th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is the spot close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lo Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas and my great, great grandfather joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When it ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union and had his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia confiscated and sold by the Federal Government.  He was a believer in the “Lost Cause” that romantic and confused idea about the rightness of the South in its war against what they called “Northern aggression.”

Because he served I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. However it is something that I cannot do.  There are some that do this as a means to honor their relatives that served in the war and I do not make light of their devotion to their family, but there are some that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people now days like to reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument is “states rights” or “economic freedom” and those that make these arguments romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield but conveniently ignore or obscure the evil of the Southern economic system. The “rights” and the “economic freedom” were based upon the enslavement and exploitation of the Black man to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton.  Arguments which try to place the blame on the North, especially arguments that attempt to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners only serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because the “cause” is greater.

The fact is that the longer the South relied solely on its agriculture which was supported by the institution of slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress, the same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. The south lagged in all industrial areas as well as transportation infrastructure. The majority of non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line and only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them on the sociological and economic hierarchy.  The South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the country. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law even raising troops and threatened a revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners, with the exception of those that owned the land and the slaves. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even the southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture.  Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians would all break away from their parent denominations regarding slavery.

This does not mean that I think that the average Confederate soldier or officers were dishonorable men. Many officers who had served in the United States Army hated the breakup of the Union but served the South because it was the land that they were from. It was the home of their families and part of who they were.  To judge them as wanting 150 years later when we have almost no connection to family or home in a post industrial world is to impose the standards of a world that they did not know upon them. For those that gave up everything to serve one can feel a measure of sympathy.  So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of that “cause” one has to wonder just why the political and religious leaders of the South were willing to maintain such an inadequate and evil economic system one that hurt poor Southern whites nearly as much as it did blacks.

The war devastated the South and the radicals that ran “Reconstruction” ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization that even gives the appearance of supporting the “cause” even if doing so would allow me to “honor” an ancestor who raised his hand against the country that I serve.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I have served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are often used as a symbol of either racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by white Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s. Some of this is based in libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business, some based social policies which are against their religious beliefs and some sadly to say based in an almost xenophobic racial hatred.  The scary thing as that the divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War with neither side willing to do anything that might lessen their political or economic power even if it means the ruin of the country.

In recent weeks I have seen the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance.  Tomorrow is July 4th and it seems to me that the flag that should be most prominently displayed is not a Confederate banner, nor even the Gadsen flag, a flag from the Revolutionary War which is used as a rallying symbol for many in the Tea Party movement but the Stars and Stripes.  Somehow I find the flag flown in rebellion to the country that I serve displayed in such an arrogant manner

For many of these people it is the Federal Government which is the enemy. Now I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance.  While it is true that the Federal Government has taken upon itself many powers some never envisioned by those that crafted the Constitution, it has done so because leaders of both political parties have consented to it and even worked to strengthen the Federal Government with the consent of the American people that elect them again and again.

Despite this much of this has been accomplished by the Federal Government has been for the good for the country and people no matter what the critics say. Many of the things that we enjoy today are the result of the work of the Federal Government and not business as much as those that deify big corporations want to believe. There are the National Parks, laws against child labor and for safe workplaces brought about by Teddy Roosevelt, the infrastructure built in the 1930s and 1940s by the Franklin Roosevelt administration. The Roosevelt administration also brought about Social Security and banking regulations to protect Americans from corporations and banks that violated the public trust. The Eisenhower administration began the Interstate Highway system which is the backbone of our transportation system.  Likewise the Space Program and yes even the military have led the way in technological, scientific and medical innovation including that thing that we all take for granted today the Internet.

Today quite a few people are calling for revolt or secession if they do not get what they want be it socially, politically or economically. For years politicians on both sides have fought to minimize such talk and enact compromises with the usual discontent that comes with compromise.  Unfortunately many of those compromises have had the effect of widening the political divide much as the various compromises on the road to the Civil War.  Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion where those with almost no historical understanding and whose history is often based on myth stake claims and promote ideas that will destroy this Union if they continue. Unfortunately we have not yet reached the high water mark of this movement yet and I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as both radical on the right and left prepare for conflict.

Tomorrow we celebrate the 235th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.  It is a remarkable occasion. It is the anniversary that free people as well as those oppressed around the world look to as a beacon of liberty. It has been paid for time and time again, especially during that cruel Civil War which killed more American soldiers than any other war that we have fought.

A few months after Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln a man much reviled by those that have romanticized the Cause and who is demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today as a “tyrant” made these brief remarks at the site of the battle:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Today with so many radicals on both the political right and political left doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s word and rededicate ourselves to this Union, this remarkable Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked today:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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