When Make-Believe Confederates Diss Real Confederates
There’s been some discussion about the Virginia Flaggers’ recent appearance at an event in Fredericksburg, a commemoration of a procession on Decoration Day in 1871 when local residents and visitors from as far away as Washington, D.C. and Richmond to honor the Union dead buried in the national cemetery there. The Flaggers weren’t invited, they just showed up and trailed along at the end of the procession, to bring “a Confederate presence” to an event that, historically, didn’t commemorate or involve real Confederates at all. The group’s leader, Susan Hathaway, has said that the Flaggers “were greeted warmly by all the participants,” and John Hennessy notes that the Flaggers “were respectful and genial every step, as was, I think, the audience toward them.” But despite the civil tone, at least one participant disputes the notion that the Flaggers’ presence was appreciated by the procession’s participants, stating bluntly, “within the column itself they weren’t welcome.” That’s one of the tricky things about the South; just because people are polite doesn’t mean they actually like you.
Other bloggers have mentioned this event, but in concentrating on the Flaggers’ participation in the recreated Decoration Day procession, a number of folks have “buried the lede,” as the saying goes, which is that the Flaggers did not participate in the ceremony at the nearby Confederate cemetery (above). Michael Aubrecht and Ryan Quint have both noted this, but to me it’s a tremendous “tell” that the Flaggers opted to participate in the Decoration Day march, rather than honor their own Confederate forebears. The rationale seems pretty transparent; people carrying Confederate flags at a Confederate ceremony in a Confederate cemetery is not news. Marching in a procession to commemorate an event held years after the war to honor Union dead, that’s gonna make the papers.
Mission accomplished, y’all!
The Virginia Flaggers have shown consistently that their priorities lie less with spending time and effort doing the quiet, dogged work of preservation and education, than with self-promotion and generally stirring up resentments about “traitors and scalawags” and so on. They have a bad habit of picking unnecessary fights, setting up confrontations for the cameras, and claiming that a civil disagreement with them constitutes an “attack.”
The Flaggers like to call themselves Confederates. But last Monday they had the opportunity to honor real Confederates, and they took a pass, opting instead to “advance the colours” at an event that had no historical involvement of real Confederates, where they were neither invited nor especially welcome, but that they knew would attract attention and publicity. That pretty much epitomizes the Flaggers’ approach to “restoring the honour”; it’s all about them.
Image: Confederate cemetery at Fredericksburg on May 28, 2012, via Fredericksburg Remembered.