Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

The Dixie Cafe, Reconstructed

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on August 18, 2015

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As I mentioned in a comment on Kevin’s blog, I recently made a long road trip of almost 1,200 miles across Texas and back, mostly through rural counties and small towns, and saw only a handful of Confederate flags — literally, few enough to count on both hands. That’s a little surprising, given the assurances being made in some quarters about a widespread, popular, groundswell of support for the Confederate flag. Maybe it’s happening in other places, but not so much in Texas.

One place I expected to see a Confederate flag, but didn’t, came early in the trip, at Johnny Reb’s Dixie Cafe in Hearne. Sure enough, they changed their signage last month (above), dropping both the flag and the Johnny Reb reference in favor of a more generic Lone Star.

One of the restaurant’s partners, Sharon Zeig, said the change was simply a business decision that had “nothing to do” with the most recent controversy over the symbol, and had been planned for months. That’s undoubtedly true, but it’s also true that Confederate iconography doesn’t square anymore with promoting one’s business to the widest possible range of potential customers. You can ask Lloyd Bessinger about that. Now Dixie can focus on what they seem to do extremely well — namely, chicken fried steak and sweet tea.

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Image via KAGSTV.com

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Throwing Good Money After Bad

Posted in Legal Issues, Memory by Andy Hall on June 2, 2013

scA few weeks ago, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond declined to reinstate the lawsuit of Candice Hardwick, the former Latta, South Carolina high school student who spent years, starting in middle school, trying to get herself suspended for wearing Confederate flag t-shirts with captions like “Daddy’s Little Redneck” and “Southern Chick.” Another shirt in her wardrobe apparently featured that fraudulent “Louisiana Native Guards” image. There’s a good story providing the background of this seven-year-old case here.

As a practical matter, the Fourth Circuit’s ruling probably should have been the end of this case, but now the odious Kirk Lyons is soliciting $5,000 in donations to “help Candice get to the Supreme Court.” Lyons is certainly welcome to ask for money, and folks are welcome to contribute if they desire, but I do think Lyons should have been a bit more forthcoming in explaining the history of the case, and the likelihood of it getting a hearing before the Supremes.

In the first place, getting “cert,” as the saying goes, is a real longshot in almost any case. In any given term, the court is asked to hear thousands upon thousands of cases, but  actually accepts only a few dozen — usually less than 1% of the total. There are exceptions, of course, when there are very fundamental and profound legislative questions at hand — the Affordable Healthcare Act and the Defense of Marriage Act are two of recent memory — but generally, the Supremes don’t take cases unless there are conflicting rulings at the lower court level, or the justices — specifically, any four of the nine — deem that the issues raised by the case are worth revisiting. I don’t think that latter circumstance is likely, particularly given that they will likely see this case as not about the Confederate flag per se, but about the broader authority of schools to regulate students’ speech or expression. The most important recent ruling on that subject, Morse v. Frederick (2007), is actually more recent than Hardwick’s original lawsuit, and at 6-3, wasn’t even a close decision. The six justices who voted against the student in that case (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer and Thomas) all remain on the bench.

Precedent aside, there’s also little other reason to expect Hardwick’s case to get a hearing at the Supreme Court. Best as I can tell, Hardwick’s has only been tried on its merits once, and she lost; everything else in the last seven years has been a round-robin of dismissals and appeals of said dismissals at the appellate level. There’s no particular reason to believe that four justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will see value in committing its resources to hearing a case that lower federal courts have deemed unworthy of their time.

Lyons really ought to be more forthright with prospective donors about the prospects in this case. The fiery rhetoric of his solicitation is calculated to inspire his supporters to open their wallets — “rotten & dishonest school tyranny,” “chicanery, hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty of the 4th Circuit US Court of Appeals,” and so on — but it’s crafted to appeal to raw emotion, rather than than to cold reason. As is so often the case with “heritage” lawsuits, it’s woefully short on specific details that reflect the actual prospects of the case, or the legal framework within which arguments will be made. The odds against Hardwick’s case even being heard are extremely long, but Lyons’ appeal for cash makes it sound like it’s just a matter of raising the scratch. It’s not.

As I say, people are welcome to contribute if they want, but they should do so only with a clear vision of the return they’re likely to get on their investment.

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The Politically-Correct Origin of the Confederate Battle Flag

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on May 17, 2013

MilesFor many True Southrons™ today, the Confederate Battle Flag (or “Southern Cross”) has taken on a significance not only as a symbol of the Confederate military forces of 1861-65, but of the South as a whole. Some go farther still, insisting that the flag itself is a sacred Christian object, bearing the Cross of St. Andrew, reflecting the Confederate cause as explicitly Christian one.

While some folks choose to project their own religious interpretation onto the Confederate Battle Flag, the origin of the design was not only not sectarian, it was explicitly designed to avoid religious symbolism. As John Coski relates in his definitive study, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem, the banner was designed by Confederate Congressman William Porcher Miles (right, 1822-1899), who set out in March 1861 to create a distinctive pattern for a national flag for the new Confederacy. Miles began with a familiar secessionist emblem, but subsequently modified his original layout with the intent to remove any overt Christian symbology:

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SCSecessionWilliam Miles’s disappointment with the Stars and Bars [i.e., the “First National” flag of the Confederacy] went beyond his strong ideological objections to the Stars and Stripes. He had hoped that the Confederacy would adopt his own design for a national flag-the pattern that later generations mistakenly and ironically insisted on calling the Stars and Bars. The design that Miles championed was apparently inspired by one of the flags used at the South Carolina secession convention in December 1860. That flag featured a blue St. George’s (or upright) cross on a red field. Emblazoned on the cross were fifteen white stars representing the slaveholding states, and on the red field were two symbols of South Carolina: the palmetto tree and the crescent. Charles Moise, a self-described “southerner of Jewish persuasion,” wrote Miles and other members of the South Carolina delegation asking that “the symbol of a particular religion” not be made the symbol of the nation.
 
In adapting his flag to take these criticisms into account, Miles removed the palmetto tree and crescent and substituted a diagonal cross for the St. George’s cross. Recalling (and sketching) his proposal a few months later, Miles explained that the diagonal cross was preferable because “it avoided the religious objection about the cross (from the Jews & many Protestant sects), because it did not stand out so conspicuously as if the cross had been placed upright thus.” The diagonal cross was, Miles argued, “more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical, it being the ‘saltire’ of Heraldry, and significant of strength and progress (from the Latin salto, to leap).” [1]

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Miles’ design didn’t get much traction as a national flag in early 1861, but it was remembered by General P. G. T. Beauregard later that year, and was soon adopted as the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. [2] In that capacity is gained wide popularity in the South, and eventually became the key element in both the Second National and Third National Flags of the Confederacy. Miles’s original design was ultimately vindicated, and remains today one of the most widely-recognized flags anywhere.

Miles had made a point of using the heraldic term “saltire” to describe the diagonal pattern he settled on, and explicitly distanced his design from any intent at religious symbolism – “more Heraldric [sic] than Ecclesiastical.” This may come as a shock to some present-day Confederate heritage activists, some of whom wield their own religious beliefs like a cudgel and project back onto the Confederacy their own brand of Christianism. Nonetheless, the reality is that the revered Battle Flag was the result of a conscious attempt by Miles and his collaborators to make its design less Christian, and so less offensive to people of other faiths. Miles rejected the notion that his flag was a religious symbol at all, and instead sought to make it an explicitly secular one. And he did so as a member of the congressional delegation from South Carolina, the fire-eating state that led the South into secession in the first place. To put it in terms familiar to those who follow debates about its use and meaning, the design of the Confederate Battle Flag was, in the context of its time and place, a cave-in to “political correctness.”

Furthermore, as Coski pointed out recently in an essay at the New York Times Opinionator blog, contemporary references to the design as the “Southern Cross” were allusions to the astronomical constellation, not the Cross of Calvary. For patriotic Southerners like George Bagby, editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, it was the constellation — usually invisible below the southern horizon to those in the northern hemisphere — that was a symbol of the Confederacy’s future greatness. Channeling the imperialistic ambitions shared by groups like the Knights of the Golden Circle, Bagby saw in the constellation the destiny of the Confederacy:

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The “Southern Cross” holds its place steadily in the Southern heart. It was in every mouth long before the war began; it remains in spite of all arguments against it. These arguments are ridiculous. First, we don’t see the Southern Cross in the heavens. Indeed! Do the British see the lion and the unicorn on the land or in the sea? Do the Austrians behold the double headed eagle anywhere in nature or out of it? What has seeing got to do with it? The truth is, we shall see the Southern Cross ere the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave is accomplished. That destiny does not stop short of the banks of the Amazon. The world of wonders in the animal and vegetable kingdom, of riches incalculable in the vast domain, watered by that gigantic stream, is the natural heritage of the Southron and his domestic slave. They alone can achieve its conquest and lay its untold wealth a tribute at the feet of commerce, the Queen consort of King Cotton. [3]

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Anyone looking for the “Southern Cross” known to the Confederates of 1861 should look to the night sky, not the Holy Bible.

People can, and always will, find religious imagery and inspiration in all manner of temporal objects. That’s a matter of their particular belief, and they’re welcome to it. But neither should we confuse what people believe as a matter of faith, with the historical record. While symbols like the Confederate Battle Flag evolve through their use and association to have many different meanings to people, it’s also important to keep discussions about those meanings grounded in the words and actions of those associated with them, over the last 152 years. Open and frank discussion about those things will avail a far more comprehensive understanding of this symbol and its troubled past – and its future.

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[1] John M. Coski, The Confederate Battle Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 5-6.

[2] Devereaux D. Cannon, Jr., The Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated History ( Memphis: St. Lukes Press, 1988), 58.

[3] George Bagby, “Editor’s Table,” Southern Literary Messenger, January 1862, 68.

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Image: William Porcher Miles, Library of Congress.

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Federal Judge Tosses Lexington Flag Lawsuit

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 14, 2012

Via Kevin, the U.S District Court has granted the City of Lexington’s motion to dismiss the SCV’s lawsuit against the city. Rob Baker points to Judge Samuel Wilson’s ruling:

The Constitution does not compel a municipality to provide its citizens a bully pulpit, but rather requires it to refrain from using its own position of authority to infringe free speech.
 
Second, there are highly compelling practical reasons for a city to close its flag poles to private expression. The city that cracks the door to private expression on flag poles practically invites litigation from other groups whose messages it would rather not hoist above the city. Related to that point, private expression might eventually so dominate city flag poles as to swallow whole the flag poles’ actual, official purposes.
 
Third, and finally, the ordinance in this case leaves ample opportunity for SCV and every other group to display the flags of their choice. That is true by the ordinance’s own terms: “Nothing set forth herein is intended in any way to prohibit or curtail individuals from carrying flags in public and/or displaying them on private property.” § 420-205(C)(2). SCV and other groups may therefore carry their flags in parades, fly them from the flag poles at their local offices, or wave them while walking to the grocery store. As such, the ordinance is perfectly reasonable.
 
Because reasonable, nondiscriminatory, content-neutral rules regulating speech in nonpublic fora pass First Amendment constitutional muster regardless of motive, the court will grant the City’s motion to dismiss.

Grafs are added for clarity. And then there’s this:

No court has found that the Constitution compels the government to allow private-party access to government flag poles.

I seem to recall someone saying at the time that the Lexington “ordinance is air tight.” That person was right.

The local SCV, led by Brandon Dorsey, isn’t happy:

As far as I am concerned, this is little different that some states shutting down all their public schools to avoid desegregation and then claiming their motivation for closing them is of no concern because they screwed over everyone.

Of all the possible analogies, Mr. Dorsey, you had to go with that one, didn’t you? It must be hard, getting H. K. Edgerton and Ruby Bridges mixed up like that. Because they’re so much alike, or something. But do try harder next time, please.

Update, June 16: Dorsey’s analogy, comparing the Virginia SCV’s situation to that of African Americans in the Jim Crow South, doesn’t appear to be an off-the-cuff comment; it’s a conscious public relations strategy. Yesterday they vowed to appeal Judge Wilson’s dismissal, and made the same analogy:

In its written statement, Sons of Confederate Veterans maintained that Wilson’s ruling would allow governments to deny everyone access to public places in its effort to silence the groups with whom it disagrees.

“That logic would legitimize many of the wrongs committed by state and local governments during the Civil Rights era,” the statement read.

“In its written statement. . . .”

Many of us have made the point that, in its public actions and rhetoric, the Southron Heritage™ movement is preaching to the choir; they’re doing and saying things calculated to appeal to fellow true believers, going out of their way to prove they’re more unreconstructed than the next guy. As for winning new supporters to their cause, or shaping broader public opinion, it’s a terrible strategy that only distances them farther from mainstream views and attitudes.

This analogy by Dorsey and his fellows doesn’t help their cause; it actively harms it. Anyone who actually remembers the Civil Rights Movement, or who’s studied it since, will be repulsed by such a comparison, and rightly so. It’s an odious analogy, one that should cost them any benefit of the doubt that the public might be willing to entertain about their motivations and supposed good faith. Kevin is right again: “they deserve everything they get.”

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Why the SCV will Lose in Lexington, and Win in Texas

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 12, 2012

Several weeks ago the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit in federal court in Roanoke against elected officials in the City of Lexington, in response to that community’s adoption of a new ordinance barring anything other than official U.S., Virginia and city flags being flown at public facilities downtown and on the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Concurrently, the Texas Division of the SCV is pursuing legal action against the state here, challenging the state’s rejection of a special license plate promoting the SCV. Both lawsuits lean heavily on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. While both these cases are only beginning their journey through the courts, and there are plenty of arguments yet to be made on both sides, I believe the SCV will lose in Lexington, but prevail in Texas. And the Equal Protection Clause lies at the core of both outcomes.

Lexington first. The lawsuit names the City of Lexington and eight individuals, in their “official capacity,” as defendants. These include Mayor Mimi Elrod, City Manager Jon Ellestad, and all six members of the current City Council. Mary P. Harvey-Halseth, a council member who voted against the ordinance, and David Cox, another member who was absent from the meeting, are also included as defendants. You can read the SCV’s federal complaint here (which includes the text of the new ordinance on p. 6), and the minutes of the September 1, 2011 Lexington City Council meeting here.

Public display of Confederate flags — as Brooks Simpson points out, there’s not just one — has long been a contentious issue in Lexington. Twenty years ago, the city tried to ban displays of the Confederate flag on public property, and lost their case in 1993 (Sons of Confederate Veterans, Virginia Division v. City of Lexington, Virginia, et al.,). At that time, the court ruled that the city could not prevent others

to wear, carry, display or show, at any government-sponsored or government-controlled place or event which is to any extent given over to private expressive activity, the Confederate Flag or other banners, emblems, icons, or visual depictions. . . .

The emphasis here is mine, and it’s central to the court’s decision. The ruling in 1993 is based not only on the First Amendment right of Free Speech, but also on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, that requires governmental entities to enact laws and policies in an equitable way, without making exceptions, good or bad, for any particular group. That’s clearly what the court had in mind when ruled that the Confederate flag could be displayed in any forum that “is to any extent given over to private expressive activity.” If you do it for one, you have to do it for another.

The Equal Protection Clause is important here because the First Amendment, on its own, is insufficient when it comes to government-sponsored or government-hosted expression. The First Amendment, by itself, is not enough. Freedom of Speech has never been absolute; it does not extend to libelous speech, or direct incitement to violence. And there’s nothing about the First Amendment that obligates Lexington to host on its property any private organization’s emblem or banner — not mine, not yours, and not the Virginia SCV’s. First Amendment concerns only become relevant here if the City of Lexington extends that privilege to some, but not others.

The City of Lexington understood this when crafting the ordinance to exclude all flags except those of select government entities — federal, state and local. The ordinance bars Confederate flags, but only because it bars all others, including those of the two universities in town, the Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee. There’s no question that, embarrassed by the conjunction on the calendar of Lee-Jefferson Day and the MLK federal holiday, they were seeking to find a legal way to resolve future conflicts, and so adopted an ordinance that would bar all other flags. That’s a calculation the city council in Lexington chose to make, and they’re on solid legal ground. Even one of the leaders of the “Virginia Flaggers,” a group that protests perceived slights to Confederate symbols and who’s an outspoken critic of the Lexington ordinance, acknowledged at the time of its passage that the “ordinance is air tight. I agree.

The Texas case, by contrast, presents an entirely different set of facts – namely, that the state already offers dozens of different plate designs for private organizations and causes. Like dolphins? There’s a plate for that. Proud of your alma mater? There’s a plate for that. Are you a Master Gardener? A Dallas Mavericks fan? Do you love red grapefruit? There are plates for all those things. Why, we have plates for schools that aren’t even in Texas. And that’s why, in my view, Texas will be unable to defend its decision last November to deny the SCV plates. If you do it for one, you have to do it for another. And when it comes to specialty license plates, Texas already does it for damn nearly everybody.

As it happens, my own county’s Tax Assessor-Collector, Cheryl Johnson, sits on the TxDot board that considers plates, and voted in favor of the plate the first time it came up for a vote. She later explained her vote by saying that the SCV “have sued before to get the license plate [in other states] and have won. I voted in favor because I didn’t think the state would win any lawsuit.” She’s right about that last part, in my view. (That first vote, in which Johnson voted in favor of the proposal, was a tie; she was not present for the November meeting where it was voted down, 8-0.)

The Lexington and Texas cases bear some similarities; both challenge governmental entities’ decisions to bar the Confederate Battle Flag from display on a public venue. Both lawsuits also base their core arguments on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But the specific facts of the two cases are miles apart. So long as Lexington continues to bar all outside banners, their ordinance almost certainly falls in line with the Equal Protection Clause, and so passes constitutional muster. Texas, on the other hand, has a years-long history of granting specialty plates to just about any organization that seeks one.

They haven’t got a legal leg to stand on.

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Image: Virginia Flaggers rally in January 2012 at Hopkins Green in Lexington to call for the defeat of Mayor Mimi Elrod. Image via thenews-gazette.com.

The Angry Politics of Confederate Heritage

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 3, 2012

Later this evening the famous Iowa caucuses will be held, the first major event of the 2012 presidential primary season. Over at the Civil War Monitor‘s Front Line blog, I take a look at how Confederate heritage advocates make their mark on the current political landscape, and how well-meaning candidates often find themselves caught between two difficult choices when forced to commit themselves on divisive symbols like the Confederate Battle Flag.

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Image: The secessionist League of the South’s endorsement of Rick Perry for Texas Lieutenant Governor in 1998, describing him as “a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.” In 2011, Perry’s spokesperson stated the he had never “joined that group nor has he ever paid any dues to it.” Somebody’s fibbin’. Via Salon.com.

Didn’t See That One Coming.

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on November 10, 2011

From the Austin American-Statesman:

The state Department of Motor Vehicles’ governing board has just voted down a proposal for a specialty license plate displaying the Confederate battle flag.

The vote was unanimous.

I could see this vote going either way, but figured it would be close regardless. (It was a 4-4 tie last time around.) Previously I mentioned that one of my county elected officials, Cheryl Johnson, was on the board and had previously voted in favor of the measure, citing the inevitability of a lawsuit if it were not approved. She apparently did not attend the meeting today and so did not vote on the measure.

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South Carolina Flag Dispute: Heritage vs. Heritage

Posted in African Americans, Genealogy, Memory by Andy Hall on September 28, 2011

In putting together my recent post on the rancorous neighborhood dispute over a resident’s display of a Confederate Battle Flag in an historically African American neighborhood, I made a passing reference to the fact that the community itself had been founded by former USCTs. In retrospect, I “buried the lede,” as they say, and gave that aspect of the story short shrift — it likely plays a much bigger role in how that community identifies itself, and in its reaction to Ms. Caddell’s display:

Among [Brownsville’s] founding families were at least 10 soldiers stationed to guard the Summerville railroad station at the close of the Civil War. They were members of the 1st Regiment, United States Colored Troops, part of a force of freedmen and runaway slaves who made history with their service and paved the way for African Americans in the military.

At least some of the men were from North Carolina plantations. When the war ended they stayed where they were, living within hailing distance of each other along the tracks. Some of them lived on the “old back road” out of town where outrage has erupted recently over a resident flying a Confederate battle flag. Their ancestors [sic., descendants] still live there.

It’s a striking note in a controversy over heritage that has raised hackles across the Lowcountry and the state.

The community’s past is an obscure bit of the rich history in Summerville, maybe partly because for years the families kept it to themselves. They were the veterans and descendants of Union troops, living through Jim Crow and segregated times in a region that vaunted its rebel past.

The great-great-grandfather of Jordan Simmons III was among them. But growing up in Brownsville a century later, all Simmons remembers hearing about Jordan Swindel, his ancestor, is that he was a runaway slave who joined the Army. The rest, he says simply, “was not talked about.” He didn’t find out about it until he was an adult doing research on the Civil War and the troops and came across Swindel’s name.

Now he’s at work on a book about his family and the Brownsville heritage. Other 1st Regiment surnames in the community include Jacox, Berry, Campbell, Edney and Fedley.

Simmons, 64, has lived through some history of his own. He was one of the South Carolina State University students injured in the infamous 1968 Orangeburg Massacre. He too served in the U.S. Army, a 29-year veteran who fought in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne infantry and retired as a lieutenant colonel. He now lives in Virginia.

It overwhelmed him to see his great-great-grandfather’s name on the wall of honor three years ago when he visited the African-American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Pvt. Swindel fought in four battles in nine months in 1864, from Florida — where he was wounded — to Honey Hill, S.C. Simmons wishes he would have sought out that history when he was younger.

As I said previously, neither side in this dispute seems much interested in letting go of this game of one-upsmanship. The historical circumstances surrounding the town’s founding don’t change the core legal issues at hand, but given that the Southron Heritage folks routinely dismiss criticism of the Confederate Flag as “political correctness” or as unfairly tarnishing an honored symbol of the Confederacy with its use by hate groups, it’s interesting to see a case where the protestor’s case against the flag is so explicitly based in the very same “heritage” argument that the flag’s proponents righteously embrace.  For at least some local residents, pushback against the CBF is every bit as grounded in the history of the American Civil War, and honoring one’s ancestors, as Ms. Caddell’s display of it. For them, it’s personal, and for exactly the same reasons.

I don’t know what the answer here is. What is clear, though, is that there’s an historical dimension to this case — very real and very valid, by the same “heritage” standard that the folks in (say) the South Carolina League of the South embrace for themselves — that needs much wider dissemination, and it plays a big role in how that community thinks and feels and reacts.
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Image: Soldiers of the 1st USCT on parade. Library of Congress.

Remembrance, Entertainment and History

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on January 8, 2011

This weekend was the 148th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Galveston. Events continue Sunday, January 9, but the weather’s supposed to be uncooperative, so I went today.

I started out on the cemetery tour (left, the grave of Lieutenant Commander Edward Lea, U.S.N.). The tour got off to a late start, due to the prior commemoration ceremony running over-schedule. The ceremony was well done, and commendably non-partisan, with a C.S. reenactor color guard and a U.S. firing party. The cemetery tour itself was led by Linda McBee, who is rightly famous here for her unflagging work in documenting cemeteries around the county. It’s a personal labor for her; she’s a sixth-or seventh generation islander in some branches, and counts seventeen direct ancestors buried in just the one cemetery complex on the tour. I don’t know her personally, but I think I’d like her; I laughed a little at her no-nonsense, pragmatic approach to the subject. Asked if burials still occurred in the cemetery, she replied that they did, but rarely, when someone is interred in a plot still owned by the family.  She added that her family is one of those that has a plot with spaces available, so if the need arose, “we’d stick ’em in there.”

Ed’s tour of Civil War Galveston was first-rate, as usual; he added some large-scale maps and photos to his interpretation that help a great deal in visualizing the city in 1861-65 generally, and the Battle of Galveston specifically.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the reenactment, really. There were some efforts at re-enacting the Battle of Galveston thirty years ago, but I didn’t see those. This one was impressive, if for no other reason than it was necessarily up-close and personal. The reenactment was done more-or-less on the site of the actual fighting, which means smack in the middle of town, on a public street and adjacent parking lot. As you can see in the photos, it was all very up-close. There were some professional photographers who put themselves in the middle of it, and a few clueless tourists, but as far as I know the only injury was to the ego of a Confederate soldier who face-planted himself tripping over a curb. He quickly rejoined the fight.

On thing I noticed was that although the battle reenactment attracted a big crowd, it didn’t have a particularly partisan feel. (One old guy, trying to be clever, shouted “blue-bellies go home!” No one else in the crowd even seemed to hear it.) There wasn’t much chest-thumping on either side, and examples of the Confederate Battle Flag — a hot-button point of contention if there ever was one — was not much in evidence. As at past events in which they participate, the Confederate reenactors didn’t carry it, I think by prior arrangement with the sponsors. There was no shortage of Confederate reenactors, either — they outnumbered the bluecoats four- or five-to-one — so if any declined to participate on that account, they weren’t missed. (And I honestly don’t whether it was present at the historical Battle of Galveston in any case.) There were fewer CBFs in the crowd than I might have expected, as well — I noticed three: one on a stick waved by some kid, a Dixie Outfitters shopper, and a biker from the SCV’s “mechanized cavalry.” But that was it. (Ed didn’t get any interruptions from his audience who set out to harangue him on some obscure point with him, either, which all of us on the tour greatly appreciated.)

Certainly the organizer of the event didn’t want anything controversial in this event, and I suspect has eased into commemoration of the Battle of Galveston very carefully over a period of years. There’s always a fine line to be drawn between history-as-it-was, and history-as-entertainment. The reenactment today was fun to watch, and I’m sure today’s events will be marked as a popular and fiscal success. But it’s good to keep in mind that it’s an entirely different animal from history.

More photos after the jump, approximately in order.

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But Aren’t They All Dead?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 23, 2010

Cousin Katie‘s gonna haunt me for being flip about Confederate widows.

The new 2010 Texas GOP platform calls for (PDF, p. 6), among other things, “restoration of plaques honoring the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund contribution that were removed from the Texas Supreme Court building.” That short sentence, of course, leaves out an embarrassing part of the backstory, and lies about another, much more important fact. First, the plaques were removed in 2000 by order of then-Governor George W. Bush, who is widely reported to be a Republican himself, and second, the bronze plaques do not “honor the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund.” They are actually paeans to the Confederacy and Texas’s role in it, complete with the Confederate Battle Flag and national seal. They have nothing to do with Confederate widows; they’re classic Lost Cause memorials.

I honestly was, and still am, conflicted about the removal of these plaques  a decade ago. They’re offensive to many Texans, but I also dislike the idea of removing established monuments, even when they reflect sentiments that are badly, badly out of touch with current values and history. (Better, I think, to acknowledge that they are themselves artifacts of their time, and interpret them in that way in situ.) I also understand that these were located in not just a public building, but in the state friggin’  Supreme Court — you know, where all people are equal in the eyes of the law, and so on. That latter point, I think, raises the stakes in this dispute for all sides.

I would almost certainly be against the original removal of these plaques had they been as represented by the Texas GOP — “honoring the Confederate Widow’s Pension Fund contribution.” But that’s not what they are. They’re definitely better gone, and placed in a state history museum where they can be both preserved and interpreted as artifacts of their day. As it happens, there’s a pretty good one just up the street. But the question is no longer whether they should stay; the question is, should they be brought back?

And the answer is, “no.” Let them go, folks — we’ve all got more important things to deal with.

Bonus Fun Fact: The Texas Supreme Court Building is so fugly that the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society uses a picture of the Capitol on its website.