Confederate Heritage: “Heaven Knows, a Hard Topic to Discuss.”

Later today, I’ll visit with my friends at the North Carolina Civil War Roundtable. Rather than a traditional program on some aspect of the war, they’ve asked me to follow up on some comments I made after Lee-Jackson Day in Lexington, Virginia last January. The topic of tonight’s discussion: “Confederate Heritage: Heaven Knows, a Hard Topic to Discuss.”

And, indeed, I intend it to be a discussion rather than a lecture.

It’s been nine and a half months since my visit to Charleston, South Carolina, in the wake of the tragedy there. A racist shooter ravaged a church service, catapulting to America’s forefront discussions of heritage and race. If there was any silver lining to that tragedy, it’s that it did far more to spark a national conversation than four years of Civil War Sesquicentennial.

I offered a few thoughts on race and heritage in the wake of my visit, and ECW spent the summer following the unfolding Confederate Culture Wars. What started as appropriate horror over racial violence evolved into what some have characterized as a pogrom against Confederate heritage. Flags came down. Bans went into effect. Schools got renamed. License plates got discontinued. Issues of free speech came into direct conflict with issues of hate speech. A lot of shouting, hurt feelings, and recriminations resulted.

Heavens knows, it’s a hard topic to discuss.

While compiling my thoughts for tonight’s program, I spent some time tooling about on the web for some things that might tie in. I’ll share those images now without commentary. While I’ll provide links to the source of each photo, I don’t endorse any of the websites I retrieved the pictures from; they are the result of a Google search and nothing else. My purporse for sharing them now is to put some things in your head and stir them around a bit to get you thinking, just as I hope to get tonight’s crowd thinking, too.

After I see how tonight’s discussion goes, I’ll circle back and let you know.

Charleston Church
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Klan American flags_zpsqfgbpell
Breea-ConfFlag copy
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Black LIves Matter


Kirt Moody
Kirt Moody, of Columbia, S.C. holds a sign during a rally to take down the flag at the South Carolina Statehouse, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Columbia, S.C. For years, South Carolina lawmakers refused to revisit the Confederate flag on Statehouse grounds, saying the law that took it off the dome was a bipartisan compromise, and renewing the debate would unnecessarily expose divisive wounds. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)


Confederate Bikini copy
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36 Responses to Confederate Heritage: “Heaven Knows, a Hard Topic to Discuss.”

  1. Heritage: Something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth; an inherited lot or portion.

    There is no such thing as Confederate Heritage because there is no Confederacy left. There is a Confederate Remembrance, some organized, like the SCV, and some leftover symbols appropriated for purposes different than originally intended, like the battleflag. The battleflag had a utilitarian purpose: battlefield communication and unit identification. It no longer serves those purposes, does it? So what purpose does it serve today? I don’t know. I don’t oppose it or endorse it. When I see one I look for the regiment it should be leading. Of course, they are never there.

  2. Confederate Heritage does exist – it is an individuals link back to their Confederate soldier ancestor, most of whom did not own slaves. Union Heritage exists in the same way. The disgusting linkage of anything Confederate to what happened in SC is absurd and has been used by stooges and stool pigeons to destroy and rewrite history by removing flags, removing monuments, changing street and school names, threatening to dig up Confederate vets. Then 2 days ago the House of Reps passed a bill to ban Confederate flags in Dept of Veteran’s Affairs cemeteries [all Natl Cemeteries]. Very sad. This country is more divided today than I have ever seen it and will continue as long as Leftists force their will on the rest of the country. Chris, since you will be in NC it would be interesting to see a show of hands of how many in the audience support the Federal govt overreach regarding the LGBT bathroom issue and how many support the NC Governor.

    1. Glathaar in General Lee’s Army has demolished the mythology regarding how few Confederate soldiers had a direct connection to slavery, starting with the significant percentage who came from families that owned slaves even if they themselves were technically not the “owners”. The use of pejoratives like “stooges and stool pigeons” to describe people who objected to a flag being flown at the State Capitol which was not flown there until 96 years after the war ended is a disservice to reasoned debate about the issue.

      1. Well, I disagree John. Because of protests the flag was moved off the SC statehouse building in Charleston about 12 years ago and placed on a fenced area down the street. This was negotiated. Now because of the actions of a lunatic shooting up a black church there was an outcry to pull the flag completely. This was overreaction by Gov Haley and too many politicians. What has happened since is more overreaction by people who are being played by minority and anti-South groups that have had a long desire to demolish all symbols related to the Confederacy.

        Everybody in the South, both black and white, had some connection to slavery and so did many Northeners and big Northern companies which benefited from slavery. My point is that the majority of men, especially enlisted men serving in Confederate armies did not directly own slaves. My Virginia ancestors who fought did not own slaves but they signed up because Lincoln sent a large army to invade Virginia. They were protecting their family and property.

        BTW, if you can show me how pulling down the flags and now monuments etc will benefit any young black person then I’ll listen to you. But when the Federal and state govts in this country attack Confederate symbols as a means to positively change things in the black community and turn a blind eye to man-caused and govt-caused ravages in these same communities then I don’t buy it.

      2. John: I think the problem is that a lot of Confederate Heritage advocates simply refuse to acknowledge that the battle flag became very popular well after the war and as a deliberately chosen symbol of often violent opposition to civil rights. That’s unfortunate but it’s also irrefutable. I fully understand why someone who is, say, African American has an issue with its placement there. That’s different from opposing its use in true commemorations of history. And all too often some of the flag’s most vociferous supporters have what is most charitably called a suspect modern political agenda which has nothing to do with honoring ancestors. As for yours, I know nothing of them and would form no judgments. Glathaar established, however that 36% of 1861 enlistees either owned slaves themselves or were members of slave-holding immediate families. Manning’s work showed that even more saw the threat to slavery as a motivational force. Like it or not, and regardless of who is to “blame” for slavery having originally infected our land, by 1861 a smaller group was trying to keep it alive.

  3. I might also add that all historical groups in this country that have stood by and remained silent while part of this country’s history has been pulled down and pulled apart are not worthy of my $$$. Are you listening Civil War Trust?

  4. For me, I see the difficulty inherent. I do understand how some interpret Confederate imagery, particularly flags, as representing “slavery, hatred, and racism.” I doubt that is the message being sent by MOST of those who support and desire the freedom to display Confederate imagery, myself included. So, how to balance the self-inflicted but very real offense taken by those who perceive a message not sent, with those who truly remember their heritage and family? I wish I had a “light switch” answer — that I could just flip the switch and all would be better. I will say, however, that the hypocrisy of those who decry the Confederacy, but who also were complicit in and benefitted financially from, the creation of the socioeconomic relationship known as slavery, should truly examine their own heritage before opposing that of others. This ENTIRE country created and benefitted from slavery, not only the Southern states, and this ENTIRE country bears the sin and stain of racism to this day. Those who live in glass houses might not actually, rightfully, be throwing any stones.

    1. Mark: You’re absolutely right that the Northern economy benefited greatly from the South’s slave-driven cotton industry. Edward Baptist’s heart-wrenching book, “The Half Has Never Been Told,” makes this same point.

      Lincoln, in his second inaugural speech, said, in essence, that the bloody Civil War was God’s revenge on both the North and South for the sin of slavery. “He now gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom offense came,” Lincoln said. “Yet if God wills that it (the war) continue until all the wealth piled on bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sank and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword . . . so still it must be said the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

      All that said, only one side – the Confederacy – fought to continue and expand the terrible sin of slavery. (It’s in the Confederate Constitution).

      1. The problem is, too many people simplify the matter which is exceedingly complex — yes, it can be said the Confederacy had a strong, and in the minds of some, a primary motivation to ensure the continuance and expansion of slavery. However, this does not, ipso facto, mean the North was fighting to end slavery — this is simply NOT TRUE on the evidence, though many believe it so. And, the South could have kept slavery permanently via congressional amendment in 1861, and certainly in the minds of many Southerners, DEFENSE OF HOME was a major motivator. So, I personally don’t buy the sanctimonious “the flag must come down” from people who espouse the second half of Wilmot’s famous proviso regarding slavery in the territories — “we want those lands for the white man — not for blacks, free, slave, or otherwise.” I simply proffer the entre matter is considerably more complex than nearly all understand. Let’s tell the REST OF THE STORY. BTW, though I respect Glatthar, even James B. McPherson, no fan of the Confederacy, has written about Southern motivations for fighting the war, OTHER than slavery. And he’s a Pultizer Prize winner.

      2. Response to Mark: Glathaar’s research is far more extensive than McPherson’s. The same is true of Chandra Manning’s research. I’ll leave the McPherson issue at that….

      1. I must say it is pleasant and engaging to have this discussion with considerate people, who though I may not partially agree with, or at all, can contribute without blame and castigation. Simply because my Flickr photostream contains Southern imagery as I try to tell a story or capture a moment, I have been accused of being a racist white supremacist. Which, for whatever of the many faults I have, I am NOT that.

  5. Although Prof. Glathaar has, as John Foskett points out, established that an interest in slaveownership was present for over a third of Lee’s soldiers, the numbers are actually unimportant. Lee’s army was the primary military force for a nation founded on the idea of slavery as a good thing, which should be continued. The success of Lee’s army on the battlefield was therefore an advance of the interests of slavery, regardless of how many men in the ranks owned slaves.

    There is nothing wrong with having Confederate ancestors—I have at least three, perhaps more—but in the 21st Century it is not something that we should be celebrating in any kind of “rah-rah” fashion, IMO. Just like smoking, it is something that is becoming widely (and justifiably) recognized as a Bad Idea.

    1. “The success of Lee’s army on the battlefield was therefore an advance of the interests of slavery, regardless of how many men in the ranks owned slaves”

      Hmmm, partially, James, I can buy that. As the ONLY measure of the success of Lee’s army, no not the only. Indeed, “A Hard Topic to Discuss.”

  6. Ditto to everything James wrote.

    For all I know, 99 percent of Confederate soldiers could have been secret abolitionists. It really didn’t matter

    The government for which they fought guaranteed in its Constitution that slavery would continue, not only in the existing Confederate states, but also in any territories it might annex in the future. Furthermore, no state in the Confederacy had the right to ban slavery within its own state, according to the Confederate Constitution. (How about that for states’ rights?)

  7. well Bob if you hate that Confederate govt. so much for what they stood for then why not just leave them alone and not attack and invade them ? Let them form their own country. And of course it matters what they fought for .
    As historians we must not judge a people in the 19 century with 21 century ideals.
    My fear is coming true that this will not stop at taking down a flag on govt. properly but now as continued ; to removing monuments ,church stain glass windows ,removing names on sites, and NOW not allowing the flag for which they died for to be put on their sacred graves and final resting place . , It has gone to far.
    President Eisenhower decreed that Confederate veterans were American soldiers; any symbol to them you destroy is a attack on a fellow Americans honor and respect ..

    1. Thomas:
      “As historians we must not judge a people in the 19 century (sic) with 21 century (sic) ideals.”

      I’m flabbergasted. Are you implying that slavery was an accepted standard at the start of the Civil War? As a you must know, human bondage by 1861 was anathema in virtually the entire advanced world – except the South. Slavery was banned in most states and territories of the United States and in all of Europe by 1861. Even tsarist Russia had banned serfdom by then.

      Sure, slavery still existed in Africa, Brazil and some other backward countries in 1861. Heck, slavery still exists in some places today.

      But in virtually all of the advanced world (except the South), slavery was judged to be abhorrent by mid-19th century standards, just as it is judged to be abhorrent by 21st century standards.

      1. Bob- Slavery was an accepted institution right up until the outbreak of war in 1861. It was not outlawed by the Constitution – so yes, judging people from long ago by present day standards is NO way to study and gain an understanding of history. The issue of secession is still much debated too, yet if you look at the words of some founding fathers and even Abe Lincoln in the late-1840s the idea of secession was an acceptable option in the 19th century. Which is why northeastern states threatened to secede at least 4 times prior to 1850 to preserve their state rights and autonomy.

    2. Well said Tom Place. Frankly, I don’t see this country ever being able to get beyond the CW and slavery because of the lies that brought the war on and the lies that continue to this day to prop up the minority groups in this country. Most of these lies are promoted by federal, state govts., and race-baiters, both white and black that receive power and $$$ from their divisive activities. Black Lives Matter is a perfect example. Is this country being brought together by tearing down all things Confederate and trying to sweep part of the history of the US under the rug? Hardly! Most of this seems to come from Obama and the Dem party, while the neutered Republicans stand by and agree to follow the winds of the day. Confederate symbols for too long have been used as a red herring by those who don’t want to address the high out of wedlock birth-rate in the black community; the poor/failing schools in black communities; the high-crime rates in same; the high incarceration rates by young black males etc, etc ,etc, etc!

      1. John:

        You missed the point of my objection to Thomas’ post. Thomas implied that Southern slavery should be excused, or at least understood, because human bondage was an accepted standard in the mid-19th century.

        My point was that Thomas is wrong. Slavery was NOT the standard in the mid-19th century. Just the opposite. In the advanced world of 1861, only one region – the South – embraced the evil of slavery.

        And virtually every literate person in the South realized the rest of the world scorned its “peculiar institution.” That’s why Southerners were so sensitive about Northern criticism of slavery and why most Southern states banned the sale or distribution of abolitionist literature.

        Thank God the North won. Four million Americans who for generations had been tortured, raped and otherwise dehumanized were freed and our great nation remained the United States of America.

  8. But of course the reason that Lincoln called for “75000 volunteers” was to put down the “rebellion” and restore the Union. You will find very few letters written by Federal soldiers in 1861-62 who signed up to free slaves. They signed up to restore the Union. And because the war was going so badly for Lincoln [high casualty rates & big $$$] by mid-1862 when one of his armies gained a victory then he planned to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. Being an astute politician, Lincoln needed to turn the purpose of the war on a “moral” dime which is why he wrote the E.P.
    I think a great question to ask is: What kind and how large an army would Lincoln have raised in 1861-1862 if he had stated that the War was to free slaves?

      1. If you want to really understand the era then you need to read the primary documents written by politicians North & South, letters written by soldiers in both armies and period newspapers. Too many modern day books, many written by academics, have created revisionist history as seen through a 21st century microscope.

      2. John, you’re right on — the difference is that between a presentist and relativist approach — presentism makes for good social justice but weak history. I also believe much “history” is slanted to “Lincoln-good” “South-bad” — people love to castigate the South for that which they are guilty of themselves, and Lincoln though brilliant was a selfish opportunist and master manipulator

      3. I disagree and offer again -What kind of army would Lincoln have raised in 1861 if he stated that the reason for war was to free the slaves?

      4. And William Cooper’s “We Have the War Upon Us” deals with December 1860 to May 1861 and shows ways that Lincoln could have avoided a very costly war. I rarely read “academic” books anymore because of their pro-Lincoln slant. If a professor today is trying to get a book published is he/she really going to take an unbiased approach and possibly dig up and reveal ANYTHING that shows the South in a positive light? Since 85% of today’s professors vote Democrat saying or writing anything positive about the South is tantamount to professional suicide on most campuses. Which is why today’s students hear history one way [Lincoln was a saint and the South was bad/evil] and most other subjects one way. We hear lies everyday now that are spun as the truth and promoted in the news media. An example is the Benghazi attack on the US compound was due to a YouTube video. A blatant lie and it was only 3 years ago. Yet too many untruths about the war have had 150 years to germinate manifested now in the tearing down of all Confederate symbols.

  9. John:
    I hate to be repetitious, but here goes:

    Thank God the North won. Slavery was abolished, and the United States of America remained the United States of America.

  10. I’ve enjoyed following the discussion here, although I’ve not been able to chime in because I’ve been on the road to do the talk! Once I get caught up on a few things, I’ll try and report back with some thoughts based on the talk itself.

    I do think it’s key not to judge the inhabitants of the 19th century by our standards. There are all sorts of legal and ethical implications that their actions difficult for us to understand by our own contexts, and I see a lot of people in the discussion–in the large sense, not here–take a tone of moral superiority that isn’t helpful in encouraging dialogue. If we’re willing to try and understand and empathize, even if we don’t agree, then we can come to a better understanding of what happened and why.

    1. Chris:

      I consider myself to be a pretty charitable and empathetic guy. But it’s impossible for me to “understand and empathize” with slavery as practiced in the antebellum South. I assume you’ve read books about the horrors of Southern slavery. If you haven’t, I can recommend a few. (And, yes, I realize that many Northern businessmen also profited from the South’s slave-driven cotton economy. That doesn’t lessen the barbarity of Southern slavery.)

      Chris, where is your empathy and understanding for Southern slaves?

      In case you don’t realize why you should empathize with slaves in the antebellum South, here are a few reasons:
      1) The systematic rape of African American women by their slave masters.
      2) Back-breaking work days in cotton fields that regularly lasted from before sunup to well into the night, often up to18 hours.
      3) Whippings, sometimes as many as 100 lashes at a time, of slaves who either had the temerity to attempt escape or who did not pick enough cotton. On many Southern concentration camps (euphemistically known as plantations), slaves were required to pick as much as 400 pounds of cotton a day. That’s why Southern cotton was so profitable. By whippings and other forms of torture, Southern slave masters forced their slaves to be the most “productive” in the world.
      4) Tearing apart slave families. Slave masters usually did this for financial reasons or to punish slaves.
      5) Transporting slaves from one state to another chained together by their necks, while often forcing them to walk hundreds of miles in their bare feet.
      6) Murdering slaves. Mass hangings after slave rebellions or perceived rebellions were the most outrageous. Most of those hung in such cases were innocent, their only crime was being black.
      7) Humiliating slaves by forcing them to strip naked during bidding at slave auctions.

      Need I go on?

      Accuse me of moral superiority if you want, Chris. I would characterize my objections to slavery in the antebellum South as basic human decency. And despite your suggestion to the contrary, the vast majority of nations in the advanced world in 1861 opposed slavery.

      1. I specifically said I wasn’t accusing anyone here of moral superiority, Bob, so no need to be so touchy. You’ve asked others here not to read into your comments, so please extend that same courtesy to others.

        As I told the group in NC the other day, heritage and race are two sides of the same coin in this discussion, and one can’t talk about one without the other. So if you’re wondering where my sympathy for the former slaves is, it’s in trying to get people to discuss the very uncomfortable topic of race so we can all better understand each other now. African Americans have been systematically oppressed for 350+ years in this country, so trust me, I understand that stakes here, which is why I believe the conversation is so important.

        While you’re correct is saying the “vast majority of nations in the advanced world in 1861 opposed slavery,” you neglect the very salient facts that it was still Constitutionally legal in the United States, a large number of people in the North were ambivalent about it, and in the South it was considered culturally/ethically okay (even if not considered so elsewhere). I say those things not to excuse slavery in the South but as simple statements of fact that help me have a fuller understanding of personal, political, and economic motivations. Do I think slavery was/is an abomination? Absolutely. But I also recognize that not everyone thought so, as much as I wish people back then did. So the question then becomes, “What do I do with that?”

        My main motivation is to participate in and encourage dialogue so we can solve today’s problems. Being judgmental about–or wishfully thinking about–events 150 years ago (by any “side”) gets in our way of doing that. Empathy, on the other hand, is vital for understanding.

        As I’ve said, I’ll have more to unpack on this issue once I have some time to type up my notes from the NC talk. But in the meantime, I think you sum up everything best: “Thank God the North won. Slavery was abolished, and the United States of America remained the United States of America.”

    2. Chris: That’s a good point about judging people from, a distant era . Ironically, that’s what a fair number of the “Heritage” folks are doing out there. Because they (understandably and properly) cannot abide defending the institution of slavery, they alter the historical record regarding the motivations of those who fought for the South 150 years ago (they do a much better job of accurately mining that record regarding the motivations of those who enlisted for the North). Facts are facts. Not to countersink the nail but Glathaar has made a strong statistical case regarding the significant percentage of Confederate enlistees who had a personal stake in preserving slavery and Manning has done the same regarding the recorded motivations of large numbers of Confederate soldiers. What we are then to say of them as individuals must account for their time and place. Lincoln, for example, clearly held racial views common to his age, background, and ethnic context of the time. That must be acknowledged but so should the facts that slavery was an abhorrent institution, that its abhorrence was recognized by many at the time regardless of their racial views (hence even the US abolishing the international trade in 1808), and that Lincoln took a dramatic step towards ending it.

      1. Indeed, John, that’s why I contend that race and heritage are two sids of the same coin. Any heritage advocate who fails to acknowledge the centrality of slavery to the Confederacy is as guilty of historical whitewashing as anyone who wants to take down Confederate monuments. Slavery was inextricably bound to Confederate identity–on a national, state, cultural, and even individual level. That’s a difficult truth for some people to get their heads around, yet a necessary one.

  11. John Fox, Chris, et al. – this is a great discussion and it is refreshing that, while lively, it is respectful. Chris, I see you included an image and link of John Coski’s book on the Confederate Battle Flag. While I don’t agree with all of John’s conclusions in his book, I highly recommend it for a complete (mostly) perspective on the CBF. Here are a few interesting (and germane to this discussion) *quotes from John’s book:

    “. . . [the CBF] is not therefore simply going to disappear. The people who fly or revere the flag will not become extinct, and they will resist efforts to reeducate them to view it as offensive. On the contrary, they will pass reverence for the flag from generation to generation and strive to reeducate others to accept their understanding of its meaning. For them, the flag will always be a war memorial and summon heroic visions of soldiers fighting for southern independence, not slavery or racism. If precedent serves as a guide to the future, insults hurled at the flag and demands for its removal will prompt more people to rally to its defense.”

    “The capacity of the battle flag to express both American patriotism and often strident opposition to mainstream American ideals is further confirmation of its status as the second American flag. It shares the ambidextrous quality with the Stars and Stripes, which has stood in symbolic opposition to and unity with the battle flag. The Ku Klux Klan has used the Stars and Stripes far longer and far more often than they have the St. Andrew’s cross. . . . In other words, the Stars and Stripes has proven perfectly capable of expressing the thoughts and values that critics of the Confederate flag fear and loathe.”

    “It is a fundamental mistake to believe – as Carol Moseley-Braun suggested in her 1993 speech in the U.S. Senate – that one’s own perception of a flag’s meaning is the flag’s only legitimate meaning. . . . People must not impose their interpretation of the flag on others or project their interpretation of the flag’s meaning onto others’ motives for displaying it. Just because someone views the flag as a symbol of racism does not give him the ethical right to assume that someone who displays it is a racist. To make such a judgment is an exercise in prejudice.”

    *These quotes came from a pre-pub review edition, so they might vary somewhat from the published edition.

  12. Richard – I like the quote above “that one’s own perception of a flag’s meaning is the flag’s only legitimate meaning. . . . ” which is precisely what has gotten us into this mess. The perception of the Confederate battle flag by the civil rights community is the only one that is now accepted. Done! If you think otherwise then you are labelled a racist. The morphing problem with this is that illegal alien supporters, LGBT supporters, feminists and every other leftist whiny group has stolen the pages from the civil rights handbook and holds this country hostage over every nonsensical idea that pops into their deluded minds. Their demands are supported by the Democrat party while the Republicans have been forced into silence. Meanwhile, we continue to piddle over what bathrooms to use. An absolute disgrace!!!!

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