Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Are Confederate Flags Condemning Confederate Monuments?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 6, 2017

The situation in New Orleans, prompted by the city’s removal of the Battle of Liberty Place monument and planned dismantling of three more dedicated to Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and P. G. T. Beauregard, continues. It’s a tinderbox, with Confederate heritage folks, Three Percenter milita types, Oath Keepers, “Antifa” anarcho-communists, and God only knows who else, all jostling and trying to provoke one another and get themselves on the teevee. As best I can tell, not many of these folks are actually from New Orleans. There has been sporadic violence, and threats made against public officials. It’s ugly, and we should all hope that whatever becomes of the monuments, no one else gets hurt.

I did find this piece interesting, from the website/blog The Hayride, that challenges the central tactic of “heritage defense,” namely “flagging.”

Neither side is particularly angelic, either with respect to the monument fight or the Sterling matter. [Alton Sterlng was an African American man killed by police in Baton Rouge in July 2016; the monument protests in New Orleans and Baton Rouge coincided with protests in the latter city over the the announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice would not file charges against the officers involved.] Last night the preservationists who could easily have found themselves at an Alamo-style disadvantage didn’t do themselves too many favors; while they weren’t the aggressors in the hostilities that took place at the Jefferson Davis monument, brandishing a bunch of confederate [sic.] flags to go with Mississippi and Alabama accents as they did was stupid. The persuasive case for preserving the statues to Davis, P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee isn’t made with a confederate flag, as those three figures offered more than just four years of rebellion against the Lincoln administration. Davis, Beauregard and Lee are figures of American history, and as such the people resisting the bowdlerization of their statues ought to have been flying American flags.

Lee and Beauregard, after all, signed loyalty oaths to the union after the war in 1865 – though Davis never did. Beauregard’s was especially eloquent…

“In taking up arms during the late struggle (after my native state, Louisiana, had seceded) I believed, in good faith, that I was defending the constitutional rights of the South against the encroachments of the North. Having appealed to the arbitration of the Sword, which has gone against us, I accept the decision as settling finally the question of secession & slavery – & I offer now my allegiance to the Government of the United States, which I promise, truly and faithfully, to serve & uphold hereafter, against all external or internal foes.”

One of the stupid things said by New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu during this controversy was that the monuments he’s trying to take down are an “aberration” or a “denial” of history, since the Confederacy only lasted for four years. But Davis had been a U.S. Senator before the secession in 1861. Lee and Beauregard were heroes in the Mexican-American War. Lee’s efforts at bringing the South back into the union were lauded on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line following the war, which was the reason Lee Circle was so celebrated when it was constructed in 1878 (and the statue was crafted in New York, of all places). Beauregard played a substantial role in the post-war history of New Orleans, not the least of which was his having designed what ultimately became the city’s streetcars. Their influence on the culture of New Orleans and the South greatly transcends the four years between 1861 and 1865. But the people waving confederate flags around are poisoning the case that those historical monuments represent more than mere slavery.

And what we do not need is a bunch of confederate flag-waving out-of-towners coming up to Baton Rouge and goading the Alton Sterling protest crowd into a rumble.

This piece really underscores something that I’ve long had a sense of, but often had difficulty articulating — when people are (rightly or wrongly) put off by Confederate iconography, you’re not going to win them over by flashing more and bigger Confederate flags in their faces. When heritage groups do that (“pepper Danville with flags,” etc.) they’re essentially conceding defeat on the issue they’re supposedly trying to reverse. It’s defiance, sure, but it also almost always results in the targeted organization or institution — the VMFA, Lexington, Danville, and now New Orleans — digging in its own heels. Why on Earth do heritage folks assume that they’re the only ones who can display resolve and intransigence in the face of adversity?

What’s most interesting to me about this argument is that it’s coming from the right of the political spectrum, not the left — The Hayride is VERY conservative, a sort cayenne pepper-flavored local alternative to Breitbart. When you lose those guys, seems to me, it’s really time to re-think your tactics.


h/t RBLee

9 Responses

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  1. M.D. Blough said, on May 6, 2017 at 10:29 pm

    Also, if they have to pick the worst possible monument to make their stand about, the Liberty Place one is certainly it. I think it belongs in a museum in which the Liberty Place attack by the White League can be placed in its proper context of the White League’s reign of terror against free/freed blacks and white Republicans in order to end Reconstruction and restore absolute white supremacy in Louisiana.

  2. dmf said, on May 7, 2017 at 7:34 am
  3. OhioGuy said, on May 13, 2017 at 9:19 pm

    But, of course, the Confederate soldiers are all U.S. Veterans now . . . NOT!

    • Andy Hall said, on May 13, 2017 at 11:29 pm

      As luck would have it, I am at this moment corresponding with someone about a Confederate ancestor of mine who was pardoned by President Johnson. He didn’t seem to have any confusion about it.

      • OhioGuy said, on May 15, 2017 at 10:00 pm

        Just now, I couldn’t help myself, after reading some of the ignorant neo-Confederate comments after the Facing South article, and I had to post a few of my own comments to defend the reputation of General Sherman, and to place “states’ rights” in context.

  4. J. B. Richman said, on May 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    If it up to me (the descendant of a real Yankee Civil War veteran who survived Belle Isle Prison) I would have :
    1) Kept the Lee and Beauregard monuments with new inscriptions added to tell of their other accomplishments besides what happened in the war.
    2) Sold the Davis monument to the highest bidder with the stipulation that they pay to move it.
    3) Blown the Liberty Place monument to bits with Semtex and replaced it with statues of Pinchback and Longstreet.

    • Andy Hall said, on May 20, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      I personally prefer to keep monuments in place, and find a way to reinterpret them. Easier said than done, of course.

      But I believe even more strongly in letting each community, whether it’s Lexington, Danville, Charlottesville, or New Orleans, to sort those things out on their own.

      I still haven’t thought of a good argument for the Liberty Place monument.

      • J. B. Richman said, on May 20, 2017 at 6:12 pm

        Yeah, the one on the side of a mountain in Georgia pretty much has to stay put, or we become like the Taliban. I don’t like neo-Confederate revisionism that spreads lies about Republican Civil War leaders (you’d think Lincoln was Eugene Debs to hear them talk), yet pretend to be Republicans now. They get the 1820s mixed up with the 1860s on the tariff question, and completely ignore the Homestead Act question. Slavery took a much more intrusive Federal presence (Fugitive Slave Act) than Lincoln’s platform. And why did doughface Democrat Buchanan veto the first Homestead Act?

        BTW I loathe Hilary and am willing to cut the Donald some slack as long as he goes with Republican programs, and keeps us focused on US interests in Foreign policy without reckless adventurism (hmm.. I’m channelling Robert Taft!). Not that I thought either of our choices would be great for America, mind you!

      • M.D. Blough said, on May 20, 2017 at 6:28 pm

        There isn’t one. It should have been gone a long time ago. I don’t think there’s any way of putting sufficient additional information on it as it was to explain what it truly meant. It was a monument that glorified a campaign of terror, including murder, to nullify the 14th and 15 Amendments to the Constitution (and, as much as possible, the 13th Amendment) and impose white supremacy as the law of Louisiana. Is Reconstruction even taught in schools these days and, if it is, what is taught?

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