Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Hey, Mississippi SCV: This is How It’s Done

Posted in Media, Memory by Andy Hall on February 16, 2011

There didn’t seem to be much else to be said about the Mississippi SCV’s Nathan Bedford Forrest commemorative license plate proposal, but Robert Moore suggested Wednesday that a better choice would be to put a generic Confederate soldier on it. This seems appropriate for several reasons, among others that there are a helluva lot more SCV members (and well as Mississippians generally) related to rank-and-file soldiers than there are descendants of cavalry generals. Such a plate might also serve as a point to generate constructive conversations with the public, including:

“Who was that man in the uniform?”

“What made-up the Confederate soldier, who, in turn, became the Confederate veteran?”

“How was the individual man part of the Confederate story?”

“Was he willing, unwilling?”

“Was he enthusiastic for ‘the cause’… for ‘a cause’?”

And so on. One of Robert’s commenters suggested the plates feature some of Don Troiani’s uniform studies. It’s a capital idea.

The SCV could issue five plates, one for each year of the war, each celebrating a “common man” (or woman) from the conflict. An early-war infantryman for 2011 (below). A civilian woman from Vicksburg in 2013. A former slave in the USCT for 2015. (Well, maybe that last one wouldn’t go over so well with the SCV. But it would sure work for a state-sponsored plate.) There are lots of other possibilities.

It’s colorful, it carries a bit of history, and it certainly comes closer to reflecting the Civil War experience of typical Mississippians better than one bearing the picture of a millionaire slave trader from Memphis. Granted, it doesn’t have quite the in-your-face impact of a big-ass flag out on the interstate, but sometimes less is more, ya know?


Image: Soldier of the 17th Mississippi Infantry, Company I, Pettus Rifles by Don Troiani.

11 Responses

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  1. TheRaven said, on February 17, 2011 at 12:10 am

    The SCV could issue five plates, one for each year of the war…

    Since the SVC is so dedicated to historical accuracy, years 3, 4 & 5 should feature progressively more emaciated, dirty, barefoot, poorly clothed soldiers. Gotta love southern war strategy circa 1861, literally “South Carolina shoots first and we’ll make up as we go along”. Not only was Johnny Reb ill-educated, he was sent off to die without boots, clothes, food or transport. Can’t wait to see those commemorative plates!

  2. Will said, on February 17, 2011 at 7:43 am

    I can’t say I’m in favor of memorializing Confederates via license plate per se. However, this is Mississippi we’re talking about, so if they’re gonna do it this would be about the best possible option.

    I especially *love* the idea of the 1865 plate with a USCT on it. Oh man. What I wouldn’t pay to see Bubba and Delmar pull *that* out of the DMV envelope and have to slap it on their lifted, stars-n-bars flyin’ F-350. Talk about hilarity!

    • Andy Hall said, on February 17, 2011 at 9:11 am

      However, this is Mississippi we’re talking about, so if they’re gonna do it this would be about the best possible option.

      That was my thinking. Certainly there are folks who don’t think anything about the Confederacy should be commemorated, ever. But if one’s going to do it, better (IMO) to focus on more universal ideas, and common experiences. In short, try to find something worthwhile to remember. A license plate honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest doesn’t do a damn thing to recognize the cavalrymen in my family tree, directly or indirectly.

      Unfortunately, that’s not the way the SCV has operated for a while now. They go out of their way to promote their chosen narrative in the most confrontational way possible, with symbols carefully chosen for that purpose, and then act indignantly when (inevitably) they’re criticized for it. It’s all about continually stirring the pot; that’s why they spend so much of the organization’s energy on what they term “heritage violations,” some of which I suspect are set up explicitly to get a rise out of people.

      I can appreciate that, to the SCV’s leadership, this sort of approach keeps them in the news, and reinforces the idea that they’re players on the national scene. But it doesn’t do a damn thing to commemorate my Confederate ancestors, or promote a better public understanding of that conflict generally. It just makes the SCV look like a bunch of angry, reactionary guys who are increasingly off on the fringe of both historical scholarship and public discourse.

      • Mike Musick said, on February 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm

        It might not be out of place to mention that Mississippi has something of a tradition of supporting Confederate privates over generals. Consider John Mills Allen (1846-1917), from Tupelo, elected to the U.S. Congress as a Democrat in 1885 and successively reelected until 1901 as “Private John Allen.” Allen had a reputation as a humorist. As best I recall the story, he first ran against a former general. Allen’s basic stump speech went something like this: “My worthy opponent served valiantly as a general. At night, he retired to his warm wall tent surrounded by all the comforts to which his rank entitled him. Outside that tent, in the rain, he was securely guarded by cold, hungry private soldiers – only humble private soldiers, such as I was myself. Now I want all of you who were generals and slept in that kind of tent to vote for my opponent. And I want all of you who were outside, guarding those generals, to vote for Private John Allen!” As you might imagine, when the votes were finally tallied, the Private came out comfortably ahead.

        • Andy Hall said, on February 18, 2011 at 2:40 pm

          Heh, thank for sharing that. That campaign speech is the butternut version of “born in a log cabin.” Which, come to think of it, is probably not the best analogy to make at that time and place.

  3. Robert Moore said, on February 17, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I appreciate the endorsement, Andy… and you… you have a fine skill with your utilization of images!

  4. Dennis said, on February 17, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    As always, an excellent post and some good ideas – one other that MUST be added to be both accuate and authentic would be for a Union soldier to be added as one of the plates. First, many Southerns were loyal to the Union and supported the real cause. Second, some fought for the Union and a few, in fact, made up some of its best officers. No matter what the SCV says, all Southerns were still Americans and part of the Union so Union soldiers, just like our troops now are the same soldiers! Finally, it is time the South offers as much respect to Northern soldiers as we in the North often do to the brave Southern soldiers – we have a lot of monuments to the CSA here in the North (so, far is far, here.)

  5. Becky Muska said, on August 25, 2013 at 10:26 pm

    Mr. Hall, I was curious…..did the MS SCV use your suggestion or did the MS Dept. of Vehicle Registration use your suggestion in 2011 for the Don Troiani uniform plate?

    • Andy Hall said, on August 25, 2013 at 10:32 pm

      No, but I didn’t expect them to, either. It was a hypothetical example of what could be done to commemorate the common solder. NBF is done to death.

      • Becky Muska said, on August 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        I wondered if the artist Don Troiani saw your suggestion & liked it. Did you have an ancestor who was in Co. I, 17th MS Regt.?

        • Andy Hall said, on August 26, 2013 at 1:41 pm

          Troiani didn’t see it AFAIK. I didn’t have a relative in that regiment, but chose it because it’s an early war unit from Mississippi.

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