Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

When Make-Believe Confederates Diss Real Confederates

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on June 2, 2012

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.

“So simple that any man able to read and write can work it”

Posted in Technology by Andy Hall on March 13, 2011

Above, “the signal telegraph train as used at the battle of Fredericksburg,” by Alfred R. Waud. Below, the image as it appeared in Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper in January 1863.The engravers have made the figures larger relative to the overall scene, making the image more compact, without changing its basic elements.

The paper noted that

on this page Mr. Waud has illustrated for us the Army telegraph. Of this important institution he says: “The army signal-telegraph has been so far perfected that in a few hours quite a large force can be in constant connection with head-quarters. This, while a battle is progressing, is a great convenience. The wire used is a copper one insulated, raised on light poles, made expressly for the purpose, on convenient trees, or trailed along fences. The wire and the instrument can be easily carried in a cart, which as it proceeds unwinds the wire, and, when a connection is made, becomes the telegraph-office. Where the cart can not go the men carry the drum of wire by hand. In the picture the cart has come to a halt, and the signal-men are hastening along—some with the drum, while others with crow-bars make the holes for the poles, upon which it is rapidly raised.

The machine is a simple one, worked by a handle, which is passed around a dial-plate marked with numerals and the alphabet. By stopping at the necessary letters a message is easily spelled out upon the instrument at the other end of the line, which repeats by a pointer every move on the dial-plate. The whole thing is so simple that any man able to read and write can work it with facility.”

This is a technology I didn’t think came until later — telegraphy without telegraphers having to know Morse. The device in question is a Beardslee Telegraph Machine, introduced in 1862. It was apparently not quite so simple to operate as Leslie’s claimed it to be, and had other disadvantages including a slow transmission rate compared to a traditional key, and a lack of power.

Nonetheless: remarkable!


Waud illustration, Library of Congress. Leslie’s Illustrated News images via SonoftheSouth.