Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site, which preserves and interprets the location of the Confederate president’s capture in 1865, was in serious danger of closing because the State of Georgia pulled its funding. Some folks have thankfully stepped in to keep it open, with the SCV pledging up to $25,000 annually. We historical bloggers are seldom reluctant to criticize the Sons of Confederate Veterans when they do wrong, so it’s only fair that we commend them when they do right.
Tag Archives: Sons of Confederate Veterans
So there’s an effort underway by the Sons of Union Veterans to set up a monument at Olustee in order to “balance the cultural representation” on the battlefield, and some folks in the Sons of Confederate Veterans are opposed to the idea, calling it “a large black Darth Vadar-esque [sic] shaft that will disrupt the hallowed grown [sic] where Southern blood was spilled in defense of Florida, protecting Tallahassee from capture.”
My opinion has always been that older monuments have intrinsic historical and artistic value, but when it comes to setting up new ones, I’d rather see these groups spend their money on something else, like buying endangered battlefield land, conserving artifacts, and so on. I’m not opposed to new battlefield monuments on principle; I just don’t see the need to make sure every historical constituency involved with a site is represented with a slab of granite.
But having said all that, I don’t really get the SCV’s logic here. Indeed, I’m not sure there’s any logic to be had. There are Union monuments on countless battlefields across the South, just as there are Confederate monuments at Gettysburg and Antietam. If this new monument is going to disrupt the site’s historic integrity, then fine, but I haven’t seen anybody make that case. What the heck is the issue?
Now, here’s the sort of thing that’s perfect for stirring up debate in the historical blogosphere:
A new bill proposed in the Georgia legislature would prohibit local governments from hiding or removing statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee or other Confederate army heroes indefinitely.…
Rep. Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, introduced the proposal at the request of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The bill, if passed, would require that monuments be kept in a prominent place. It would also make it illegal to “deface, defile, or abuse contemptuously” any memorial dedicated to the Confederate army.
“We’re not saying they can’t move them,” Benton said. “We’re just saying they can’t just put them in a field somewhere.”
You can read the proposed bill yourself by clicking here. It’s pretty short, so go ahead and give it a look.
Of course, I’m in favor of throwing the book at anybody who mutilates or damages historic monuments and markers, but I would assume Georgia already has vandalism laws to cover that sort of thing. As for the bill’s more novel provisions to stop such monuments from being “relocated, removed, concealed, obscured, or altered,” I’m not sure what to think.
My inclination in disputes over older monuments is usually to let them be and keep them in good condition, since they have intrinsic historic value. But I’m not sure it’s a good idea to have a state law prohibiting local government agencies from moving monuments except in cases of construction projects, since the bill (if I understand it correctly) makes no distinction among monuments “dedicated to a historical entity” based on their age or significance.
What do you guys think?
…by seceding from their SCV camp.
It seems some members of Florida’s General Jubal A. Early Camp No. 556 (of ginormous Confederate flag fame) wanted to devote more of their efforts to historic preservation and education. Their compatriots preferred to focus on charitable work and PR, so twelve of the historically minded gents accordingly took their leave and formed a new camp, named for Judah P. Benjamin.
When members of a Civil War heritage group can’t persuade fellow members to engage in Civil War heritage activities, I think you’ve got a case for secession that even the most radical of nineteenth-century Republicans would support.
Head over to Civil War Memory to watch Glenn Beck pick up Nathan Bedford Forrest’s sword, explain that the weapon likely “skinned people alive,” and proclaim it “a sword of tremendous American evil.” Sort of like the One Ring, I suppose; we should put it in a fire to see if it’s got an inscription.
As you might imagine, the SCV was less than thrilled with Beck’s attempt to paint Forrest as a nineteenth-century Hannibal Lecter.
Beck also had a number of artifacts on hand during a rally in Texas this past weekend. If this broadcasting thing doesn’t pan out, maybe he can get a gig as a museum docent. Hopefully he’ll do some additional reading between now and then.
Those of you who follow the Civil War blogs are probably aware of the SCV’s recent legal defeat. Those of you who don’t can get up to speed by clicking here.
I’m afraid I can’t give you my opinion on the city’s ordinance or the judge’s ruling because I don’t really have an opinion about either one. As I’ve said before, the sight of a Confederate battle flag doesn’t offend me; I have about the same reaction to it as I would to the flag of Argentina. On the other hand, a law against the flying of any flags on municipal poles except those of official government entities doesn’t offend me, either. It sort of seems like common sense, actually. So whether the SCV won or lost this one, I’d be cool with whatever.
Let’s indulge in a counterfactual exercise with this very recent bit of Civil War history. Suppose the law had been overturned. What then?
What would the SCV have gained from the effort? They would’ve gained the right to fly the Confederate battle flag from municipal poles in Lexington, VA. Would it have been worth it?
Sure, Lexington has symbolic value to devotees of Confederate heritage, since it’s the final resting place of both Lee and Jackson. But anybody who wants to go to Lexington and wave a Confederate flag, plaster a Confederate flag sticker on their car, or march around in a Confederate flag t-shirt can still do so. Your right to display a Confederate flag in Lexington is as secure as it was before the ordinance, if I understand the situation correctly.
I know the SCV’s raison d’être is to maintain the legacy of the Confederacy, and that perpetuating the display of the Confederate flag falls well within those limits. And, again, I’ve got no problem with the display of the flag, so long as it’s not done with blatant insensitivity toward the feelings of people who might legitimately be hurt by it.
But when I think of all the causes that the SCV might take up—battlefield preservation, monument restoration, scholarships, etc.—I can’t help but wonder whether this was time well spent.
Then again, it wasn’t my time.
Yes, it does. In fact, it raises quite a ruckus.
REIDSVILLE, N.C.—Mark Anthony Vincent says he was tired and distracted as he drove his van through this city early one morning last May to deliver auto parts, and dozed off. Mr. Vincent says he looked at his GPS just before 4:47 a.m., when the 1999 Chevrolet ran off the road and slammed into a 101-year-old Confederate veterans monument in Reidsville’s central roundabout.
The van struck the 32-foot-tall granite pillar, jostling a 6-foot marble statue of a Confederate soldier, which toppled onto the van and broke into at least 10 pieces. The soldier’s head slammed through the van’s hood, crushing the engine.
Example #28476193 of why cars and monuments don’t mix. Watch where you’re going, people.
Many in Reidsville thought insurance would pay for a replacement and that would be that. Instead, two groups with different views of what the monument symbolized are squaring off in a debate over the statue’s future. The fight reflects the South’s continuing struggle over how to commemorate the Civil War.
No, it doesn’t. It reflects the continuing struggle between heritage groups over how to commemorate the Civil War. The other 100 million people in “the South” have other things to worry about. Read on.
The statue’s owner—the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which collected $105,000 in insurance money for the piece—plans to repair the base of the monument, replace the statue and move the whole thing to a cemetery away from downtown. The statue’s broken pieces now lie in the city’s public-works yard.
City officials, who say they have no authority over the statue, applaud the UDC decision. “Once it’s down, I think it sends the wrong message to put it back up,” said James Festerman, the 69-year-old white mayor of a city that is 42% black. “I don’t want industries that might want to move here to think this is a little town still fighting the Civil War.”
Too late for that, dude.
The Historical Preservation Action Committee, a local organization that backs keeping the statute at its former site, has led numerous protests at the roundabout, with members and supporters often dressed in Confederate uniforms. It has gathered almost 3,000 signatures of support. A “Save the Reidsville Confederate Monument” Facebook page has more than 1,900 “likes.”
“How sad that the City is attempting to eradicate the history and memory of those that sacrificed so much,” one fan wrote on the Facebook page.
Look, if municipal authorities had ordered the monument torn down, then it would be a case of the city “attempting to eradicate the history and memory of those that sacrificed so much.” The UDC claims ownership of the monument, they want to repair it and relocate it, and the city agrees with them. Not exactly a case of eradicating history.
The HPAC—which contends that either the city or the state owns the statue—joined with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a national heritage group, to hire a lawyer to press the state to intervene. The state refused. Now the HPAC has started raising money for a possible lawsuit against the city or the United Daughters. The threat of legal action has left the statue’s repair and replacement in limbo.
The SCV is pitching in to call for government involvement to thwart a decision by the UDC. There are so many levels of irony here that I’m getting dizzy.
Wait, it gets even more bizarre.
Conspiracy theories abound that Mr. Vincent, who is black and lives in Greensboro, about 22 miles from Reidsville, wrecked the statue on purpose, even though it almost killed him and destroyed his van. Police found no basis for such theories, Mayor Festerman said. Mr. Vincent has an unresolved traffic citation for the crash.
Yes, they’re accusing a distracted driver of a kamikaze attack on a monument. Heritage controversies—the cure for all those occasions when life makes too much sense.
The Southern battle colors are flying again, this time as part of an effort to unfurl huge Confederate flags along Georgia’s interstates.
Among the three flags that have gone up so far is a car dealership-sized Southern Cross north of Tifton that measures 30-by-50 feet. Two others are in north Georgia.
“We want to remind people of who they are and where they came from,” said Jack Bridwell, the division commander of state chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is paying for the flags. “Being Southern is nothing to be ashamed of.”
None of the flags fly in metro Atlanta, though Bridwell said the group is actively looking to buy a site along the highway or sign a long-term lease.
Even without the Southern Cross flapping at Downtown Connector commuters, what organizers see as a way to honor soldiers during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War has nonetheless revived the debate over the history of the war and slavery’s role in it.
These Confederate flag dust-ups are like Hollywood divorces. Every time you turn around, there’s another one.
Here’s a sound bite to ponder: “Bridwell, a retired educator, said any opposition is misguided. To him, the Civil War, ‘or war of Northern aggression, if you will,’ he said, was about economics and an unprovoked attack on Fort Sumter.”
If the attack on Ft. Sumter was unprovoked, then why was it “a war of Northern aggression”? Go figure.
AOL News decided to start the year off with a glance at how America is getting geared up for the Civil War Sesquicentennial, so they called up the usual suspects for sound bites and came away with the predictable rhetoric, guaranteed to be 100% free of any meaningful historic sensibility.
NAACP official Lonnie Randolph compares the South Carolina fire-eaters to Timothy McVeigh, since both parties “disagreed with America.” A nice grasp of political nuance, that.
Meanwhile, Mark Simpson of the SCV argues that focusing exclusively on slavery as a casus belli “would be like taking a book that has 10 or 15 chapters and tearing all the chapters out except one. While slavery was an issue, it was by no means what brought about the war.” One wonders what the other nine or fourteen chapters might have been.
Meanwhile, the article reports, “Robert Sutton, the Park Service historian, just sighs.” I know how he feels.
Plenty of historical bloggers have weighed in on VA Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proclamation of Confederate History Month and his subsequent apology for omitting slavery from it: Kevin Levin, Brooks Simpson, Robert Moore, and Richard Williams, for instance.
These historical dust-ups normally don’t spill over into more general-purpose news sites, but this one has done just that. The Washington Post‘s Virginia Politics blog has devoted several posts to the subject.
Even more interesting is this post from the same paper’s political analysis blog, on whether McDonnell’s gaffe will cost him a position on a national ticket. The blogger plays it down, but the fact that people are raising the question at all tells us something about the way we’re remembering the Civil War nowadays. Confederate history, it seems, is quite the political liability.
This item on the Post blog states that the Sons of Confederate Veterans requested that McDonnell issue the proclamation, and notes that an SCV spokesman “said the governor’s stamp of approval would help the group publicize the month and aide [sic] tourism efforts in the state.” I didn’t know the SCV was in the tourism promotion business, and I don’t see why a proclamation of “Virginia Civil War History Month” wouldn’t have accomplished the same thing. In any case I don’t see how a gubernatorial proclamation of any sort would increase visitation to museums and historic sites. This sort of thing strikes me as a case of giving lip service to promoting historical awareness and heritage tourism with nothing to back it up.
Having perused a list of the governor’s official proclamations on his website, I’m not convinced that being the subject of one is anything to write home about. For instance, in addition to naming April Confederate History Month, McDonnell has also proclaimed the same month to be Financial Literacy Month.
March is pretty busy, with Mediation Month, Kidney Day (note the stirring section following the first “WHEREAS” on that one), Governmental Purchasing Month, and Tornado Preparedness Day. Rest assured that if by some remarkable coincidence a tornado had struck Virginia on March 16, 2010, her citizens would have been thoroughly ready for it.
And Virginians of all ages were no doubt wetting their pants in anticipation of Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week back in February.
If the SCV is so concerned about promoting Virginia history, then let them lobby their state officials to beef up funding for historic sites, the state historical society, and so on. That would take good deal more effort than convincing the governor to issue a simple proclamation, but it would do far more good.
Similarly, if the governor wants people to visit his state’s many wonderful historic destinations, he’s in an excellent position to do something about it—but I think a proclamation will do very little toward that end. Let him take active steps to strengthen historical interpretation and preservation in the state which he runs. Let him present a budget to the legislature with robust allowances for the state agencies which serve as caretakers of Virginia’s history. Let him pledge not to lay off the people who work for these agencies, as so many state executives have done. Let him implement sincere measures to make Virginia’s historic destinations the centerpiece of the state’s tourism initiatives.
I don’t think the proclamation of Confederate History Month did either harm or good to the cause of promoting Virginia’s Civil War past. In fact, I don’t think it has done much of anything, except make a lot of people very upset.