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Yes it Was About Slavery

slavescars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have began to write about racism in regard to the Confederate Flag controversy and what I call the “sanitized history” of organizations such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans which in their revisionist history seek to divorce the actions of Confederate soldiers from the cause for which they fought. As a disclaimer, I could be a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans based on the service of members of both sides of my family in the Confederate army. Likewise, if I was a real white Supremacist I could boast of my family’s slave owning past in the western part of Virginia, the land now known as West Virginia. Yes, my family were slave owners who fought for the Confederacy. At one time in my young life I was proud of that. but as a historian who is all for “unsanitized” history I have to admit that the sanitized history of the Lost Cause is not history, it is at best a romantic myth, but more correctly a bold faced lie. 

So tonight I post a section of my Civil War and Gettysburg text. I hope that it is both challenging and thought provoking. You can expect a number of posts dealing with this issue in the coming days.

Have a nice and thoughtful night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

If we are to really understand the Civil War we have to understand the ideological clash between Abolitionists in the North, and Southern proponents of slavery. Both the ideologies of the Abolitionists who believed that African Americans were created by God and had the same rights as whites, as well as the arguments of Southern political leaders that blacks were inferior and slavery was a positive good, were buttressed by profoundly religious arguments which were related directly to a divergence in values. These diverging values crept into every aspect of life and as such it was this “conflict of values, rather than a conflict of interests or a conflict of cultures, lay at the root of the sectional schism.” [1]

Slavery was the key issue that permeated all aspects of the Civil War to include the cultural, the economic and the ideological. David M. Potter summed up this understanding of the connection between the ideological, cultural and economic aspects of the conflict and just how the issue of slavery connected all three realms in the American Civil War:

“These three explanations – cultural, economic and ideological – have long been the standard formulas for explaining the sectional conflict. Each has been defended as though it were necessarily incompatible with the other two. But culture, economic interest, and values may all reflect the same fundamental forces at work in a society, in which case each will appear as an aspect of the other. Diversity of culture may produce both diversity of interests and diversity of values. Further, the differences between a slaveholding and a nonslaveholding society would be reflected in all three aspects. Slavery represented an inescapable ethical question which precipitated a sharp conflict of values.” [2]

Sadly this is something that those who study the war from a purely military perspective tend to miss, or even willingly gloss over in order make the war more palatable to their own prejudice tend to “blur the reality that slavery was at the heart of the matter, ignore the baser realities of the brutal fighting, romanticize our own home-grown terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan, and distort the consequences of the Civil War that still intrude on our national life.” [3] For many people it is far easier not to deal with the harsh reality that slavery and racism was at the heart of the issue and escape to the bloodless romanticism which even ignores the human cost of the war, approximately 750,000 military dead alone. If we extrapolate the percentage of the population that that 750,000 represents and compared it to today’s census that number would be the equivalent of 7.5 million Americans dead. This is a fact that many Civil War buffs tend to ignore.

The political ends of the Civil War grew out of the growing cultural, economic, ideological and religious differences between the North and South that had been widening since the 1830s. However, slavery was the one issue which helped produce this conflict in values and it was “basic to the cultural divergence of the North and South, because it was inextricably fused into the key elements of southern life – the staple crop of the plantation system, the social and political ascendency of the planter class, the authoritarian system of social control.” [4] Without slavery and the Southern commitment to an economy based on slave labor, the southern economy would have most likely undergone a similar transformation as what happened in the North; thus the economic divergence between North and South would “been less clear cut, and would have not met in such head-on collision.” [5] But slavery was much more than an economic policy for Southerners; it was a key component of their religious, racial and philosophic worldview.

The issue of slavery even divided the ante-bellum United States on what the words freedom and liberty meant. The dispute can be seen in the writings of many before the war, with each side emphasizing their particular understanding of these concepts. In the South, freedom was reserved for those who occupied the positions of economic power; slavery was key to that from not only an economic point of view but as a social philosophy. The concept of human equality, which was so much a part of the Declaration of Independence was downplayed George Fitzhugh, a planter and slave owner in eastern Virginia commented that that concept “is practically impossible, and directly conflicts with all government, all separate property, and all social existence.” [6]

The political philosophy such as Fitzhugh’s, which was quite common, was buttressed by a profound religious belief that it was the South’s God ordained mission to maintain and expand slavery. One Methodist preacher in his justification of slavery wrote, “God as he is infinitely wise, just and holy never could authorize the practice of moral evil. But God has authorized the practice of slavery, not only by bare permission of his providence, but by the express permission of his word.” [7] Buttressed by such scriptural arguments Southerners increasingly felt that they were the only people following God. The Northern abolitionists as well as those who advocated for the concept of human equality and free labor were heretics to be damned. As such the “South’s ideological isolation within an increasingly antislavery world was not a stigma or a source of guilt but a badge of righteousness and a foundation for national identity and pride.” [8]

Speaking of the necessity for slavery, as well as limitations on the equality of human beings no matter what their race or sex, Fitzhugh penned words that explained that human relationships were not to be seen in terms of individual liberty, “but in relations of strict domination and subordination. Successful societies were those whose members acknowledged their places within that hierarchy.” [9]

Fitzhugh was quite caustic when he discussed the real implications of his philosophy:

“We conclude that about nineteen out of twenty individuals have “a natural and inalienable right” to be taken care of and protected, to have guardians, trustees, husbands or masters; in other words they have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves. The one in twenty are clearly born or educated in some way fitted for command and liberty.” [10]

Fitzhugh’s chilling conclusion was summarized in the words “Liberty for the few – slavery in every form, for the mass.” [11]

But many Southerners, including many poor whites, especially the Yeoman farmers who were the backbone of the Southern populace did not see or understand the limitations that were placed on their own liberty by the slavery system and instead saw slavery as the guarantee of their economic freedom. John C. Calhoun said to the Senate in 1848 that “With us, the two great divisions of society are not the rich and poor, but white and black; and all of the former, the poor as well as the rich, belong to the upper class, and are respected and treated as equals.” [12] Calhoun’s racial distinction is important if we are to understand why poor whites would fight and die for a social and economic idea that did not benefit them or their families.

But it was Abraham Lincoln, who cut to the heart of the matter when he noted the difference between his understanding of liberty and that of Calhoun and others in the South who defended slavery and the privileges of the Southern oligarchs:

“We all declare for liberty” but “in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men and the product of other men’s labor.” [13]

The growing economic disparity between the Slave and Free states became more about the expansion of slavery in federal territories as disunion and war approached; for a number of often competing reasons. These differences, amplified by the issue of slavery led to the substitution of stereotypes of each other and had the “effect of changing men’s attitudes toward the disagreements which are always certain to arise in politics: ordinary, resolvable disputes were converted into questions of principle, involving rigid, unnegotiable dogma.” [14] The Charleston Mercury noted in 1858 “on the subject of slavery…the North and the South…are not only two peoples, but they are rival, hostile peoples.” [15]

This was driven both by the South’s insistence on both maintaining slavery where it was already legal and expanding it into new territories which was set against the vocal abolitionist movement. But Southern exponents of expanding slavery were fighting an even more powerful enemy than the abolitionists, who despite their vocal protests were not yet in a position to influence policy. They were now fighting Northern industrialists who were not as idealistic as the abolitionists who were much more concerned with “economic policy designed to secure Northern domination of Western lands than the initial step in a broad plan to end slavery.” [16]

This competition between the regions not only affected politics, it affected religion and culture. In the South it produced a growing culture of victimhood, which was manifest in the words of Robert Toombs who authored Georgia’s declaration of causes for secession:

“For twenty years past, the Abolitionists and their allies in the Northern states, have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions, and to excite insurrection and servile war among us…” whose “avowed purpose is to subject our society, subject us, not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives and our children, and the dissolution of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.” [17]

As the social, economic, cultural and religious differences between the two regions grew wider and the people of the South became ever more closed off from the North. “More than other Americans, Southerners developed a sectional identity outside the national mainstream. The Southern life style tended to contradict the national norm in ways that life styles of other sections did not.” [18]

The complex relationship of Southern society where “Southern bodies social, economic, intellectual, and political were decidedly commingled” [19] came to embrace the need for slavery and its importance to Southern society. This occurred despite the fact that the system did not benefit poor whites in the South and actually harmed them economically. The Southern: “system of subordination reached out still further to require a certain kind of society, one in which certain questions were not publically discussed. It must give blacks no hope of cultivating dissention among the whites. It must commit non slaveholders to the unquestioning support of racial subordination…. In short, the South became increasingly a closed society, distrustful of isms from outside and unsympathetic to dissenters. Such were the pervasive consequences of giving top priority to the maintenance of a system of racial subordination.” [20]

Southern planters declared war on all critics of their “particular institution” beginning in the 1820s. As Northern abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and his newspaper The Liberator grew in its distribution and began to appear in the South various elected officials throughout the South “suppressed antislavery books, newspapers, lectures, and sermons and strove generally to deny critics of bondage access to any public forum.[21] Despite this resistance, abolitionists continued to use the U.S. Mail service to send their literature south provoking even more drastic action from Southern legislators.

In response to the proliferation of abolitionist literature in the South, John C. Calhoun proposed that Congress pass a law to prosecute “any postmaster who would “knowingly receive or put into the mail any pamphlet, newspaper, handbill, or any printed, written, or pictorial representation touching the subject of slavery.” [22] Calhoun was not alone as other members of Congress as well as state legislatures worked to restrict the import of what they considered subversive and dangerous literature.

Beginning in 1836 the House of Representatives, led by Southern members of Congress passed a “gag rule” for its members which “banned all petitions, memorials, resolutions, propositions, or papers related in any way or to any extent whatever to the subject of slavery.” [23] Former President John Quincy Adams challenged the gag-rule in 1842, as did a number of others. The pressure was such that finally in 1844 the House voted to rescind it.

However, Southern politicians were unhappy with this measure and “began to spout demands that the federal government and the Northern states issue assurances that the abolitionists would never be allowed to tamper with what John Calhoun had described as the South’s “peculiar domestic institution.” [24] As tensions grew between the regions, the issue of slavery more than any other issue “transformed political action from a process of accommodation to a mode of combat.” [25]

Around the same time as the gag rule was played out in Congress the Supreme Court had ruled that the Federal government alone “had jurisdiction where escaped slaves were concerned” which resulted in several states enacting “personal liberty laws” to “forbid their own elected officials from those pursuing fugitives.” Southern politicians at the federal and state levels reacted strongly to these moves, which they believed to be an assault on their institutions and their rights to their human property. Virginia legislators said these laws were a “disgusting and revolting exhibition of faithless and unconstitutional legislation.” [26]

The issue of slavery shaped political debate and “structured and polarized many random, unoriented points of conflict on which sectional interest diverged.” [27] As the divide grew leaders and people in both the North and the South began to react to the most distorted images of each other imaginable- “the North to an image of a southern world of lascivious and sadistic slave drivers; the South to the image of a northern world of cunning Yankee traders and radical abolitionists plotting slave insurrections.” [28]

Notes

[1] Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: America before the Civil War 1848-1861 completed and edited by Don E. Fehrenbacher Harper Collins Publishers, New York 1976 p.41

[2] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.41

[3] Burns, Ken A Conflict’s Acoustic Shadows in The New York Times Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Black Dog and Leventhal Publishing, New York 2013 p.102

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[5] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.42

[6] Levine, Bruce Half Slave and Half Free: The Roots of the Civil War Revised Edition, Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York 1992 and 1995 p.140

[7] Daly, John Patrick When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War The University Press of Kentucky, Lexington KY 2002 pp.63-64

[8] Faust, Drew Gilpin The Creation of Confederate Nationalism: Ideology and Identity in the Civil War South Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London p.61

[9] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[10] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.140

[11] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.141

[12] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.50

[13] Ibid. Levin Half Slave and Half Free p.122

[14] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[15] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With the Sword p.16

[16] Egnal, Marc Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War Hill and Wang a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux New York 2009 p.6

[17] 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.12

[18] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.5

[19] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.5

[20] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis pp.457-458

[21] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.166

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.50-51

[23] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.51-52

[25] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[26] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free pp.169-170

[27] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

[28] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.43

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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…

confederate-flag-picture

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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Filed under civil rights, civil war, leadership, Political Commentary

Time for It to Come Down

confederate-flag-picture

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

confederate_flag_memorial

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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Separate and Unequal: Jim Crow Still Lives at a Florida Civil War Battlefield

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The Battle of Olustee

Something is going on in Florida that shows that Jim Crow is still very much alive in the hearts and motivations of some elected officials and their supporters.

This is going on in regard to the Battle of Olustee, and the Battle of Olustee Battlefield State Park. Last year the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War requested permission from the State Parks Department to place a monument at the site. The Parks Department responded favorably to the request and began to determine where on the battlefield to place the memorial to the Union dead. It would stand on ground where three monuments to Confederate units and casualties already stand.

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The Main Monument at Olustee

That was when Republican State Representative Dennis Baxley, the House Judiciary Chairman got involved. Baxley is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He stated that he believed that a Union monument would “redefine” the park. He called it “revisionist history” and objected to a non-elected body making these kinds of decisions.

Baxley was joined by James Davis, the Florida Division Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in opposition to a Union memorial at the site. Davis did not object to a Union memorial per say, but he objected locating one in the park. Davis said: “We are not opposed to the monument at all; we are opposed to the location, and here is why — it’s like any other historical building, you put something brand new in there and it destroys the significance of it.” Davis suggested that the memorial be built across the road from the park, near the museum located on Federal property instead.

The National Commander of the Son’s of Confederate Veterans began an internet campaign against the monument stating  his opposition to the “Darth Vader-esque obscene obsidian obelisk.” Another leader of the group, Jim Shillinglaw noted: “If you have an Iraq war monument, you don’t want to put a Muslim/jihadist monument right in front of it.

There are numerous Confederate monuments on Union soil, including a number of major monuments at Gettysburg. Across the country it is standard practice to include monuments for both Union and Confederate forces that fought at these battles. In fact I know of no battlefields where what is going on at Olustee has ever been an issue.

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The Virginia Monument at Gettysburg 

In fact the Florida State Parks Department is going ahead with plans to have a Union Monument. The chief officer for park planning, Lew Scruggs said: “The mission in the state park system is to commemorate the battle between the two opposing forces; it’s not restricted to one.” The park itself has also been recognized for its past work in remembering the African Americans who fought at the battle.

So why the fuss?

As a historian I wondered why this might be an issue to Baxley and Davis. But then I did some reading on the battle. It was fought in February 1864 and was a significant Confederate tactical victory. The Confederate troops, highly experienced combat veterans, including Colquitt’s Georgia brigade which had been detached to help hold back the Union in Florida inflicted heavy casualties on a badly handled Union force. Both sides had about the same number of troops involved and the Confederate victory kept the Union from setting up a Union government in the state prior to the end of the war. For a relatively small battle it was fierce and bloody, casualties on both sides were considerable. The Union suffered about 2000 casualties to just under 1000 suffered by the Confederates.

However, there is an issue that has not been brought up in most media accounts of this new “Battle of Olustee.” The fact is that nearly half of the Union troops engaged were “Colored Troops,” the 8th and 35th Regiments of U.S. Colored Troops and the illustrious 54th Massachusetts. The 8th and 35th USCT regiments were both new to combat. At the end of the battle the 54th helped cover the Union retreat back to Jacksonville.

After the battle the wounded Union Colored troops left on the battlefield were slaughtered by some units of Confederates. The testimony of Confederate troops in letters and memoirs attests to the slaughter of the wounded and other prisoners. William Frederick Penniman of the 4th Florida Cavalry wrote:

“A young officer was standing in the road in front of me and I asked him, “What is the meaning of all this firing I hear going on”. His reply to me was, “Shooting niggers Sir. “I have tried to make the boys desist but I can’t control them”. I made some answer in effect that it seemed horrible to kill the wounded devils, and he again answered, “That’s so Sir, but one young fellow over yonder told me the niggers killed his brother after being wounded, at Fort Pillow, and he was twenty three years old, that he had already killed nineteen and needed only four more to make the matter even, so I told him to go ahead and finis the job”. I rode on but the firing continued.

The next morning I had occasion to go over the battle field again quite early, before the burial squads began their work, when the results of the shooting of the previous night became quite apparent. Negroes, and plenty of them, whom I had seen lying all over the field wounded, and as far as I could see, many of them moving around from palace to place, now without a motion, all were dead. If a negro had a shot in the shin another was sure to be in the head.” 

Likewise Corporal Henry Shackelford of the 19th Georgia Infantry wrote in a letter home: “We got all their artillery, 8 pieces, took about 400 prisoners and killed about the same number. How our boys did walk into the niggers, they would beg and pray but it did no good.” (Excerpt from letter written by Corporal Henry Shackelford, 19th Georgia Infantry 20 February 1864)

The Commander of the 2nd Florida Cavalry urged his men into battle that day with a clear message:

“Comrades and soldiers of the 2nd Florida Cavalry, we are going into this fight to win. Although we are fighting five or six to one, we will die, but never surrender. General Seamore’s Army is made up largely of negroes from Georgia and South Carolina, who have come to steal, pillage, run over the state and murder, Kill and rape our wives, daughters and sweethearts. Let’s teach them a lesson. I shall not take any negro prisoners in this fight.” (Lawrence Jackson, Company C, 2nd Florida Cavalry, written in 1929 when he was 65 years old.)

The unspoken issue is not that the fact that the troops being honored are simply white Union boys, but rather that so many were African Americans. Baxley’s and Davis’s words speak volumes. This is a racial issue. Davis is not opposed to a monument, he just doesn’t want it to be where the Confederate monuments are. Baxley says that having a monument to the Union troops who fought there is “revisionist history.” Give me a break. It is history. Union troops fought there too and they are entitled to a monument, last this become a shrine to those who murdered the wounded and prisoners after the battle. I wonder how these men would feel if a request by the Confederate Veterans for a monument to Confederate troops at a park in a state that fought for the Union was opposed in such a manner. I’m sure that they would make the same cry of revisionist history, but this time be correct.

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Detail of the Main Monument at the Olustee Battlefield State Park

But then maybe that is what Davis and Baxley want. Maybe that is the history that they want to preserve. I would hope not, but their language makes it hard to believe that that is not exactly what they desire. I can only believe that both men still hold to the message “segregation forever” and are still committed to fulfilling the dream of the Lost Cause that died on the battlefields of the Civil War. They may not say so openly but the message is clear, keep the memory of the blacks out, even if they are dead.

Sorry, all the men who fought at Olustee deserve a memorial.  Even the African American Union troops. That is history, that is recognizing all who fought there.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Note: All quotes from soldiers and information about the battle come from The Battle of Olustee and the Battle of Olustee Site Reenactment website, http://www.battleofolustee.org . The quotes from Davis and Baxley are found at the Tampa Bay Times article at http://www.tampabay.com/news/politics/stateroundup/fight-flares-over-sons-of-union-veterans-request-for-monument-in-north/2161556

As a side note I am also eligible to join the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but because the organization frequently acts in this manner I refuse to join.

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