Mad about Confederate Monuments?
Think they should be removed?
Gideon D. Asche
Confederate monuments need to be removed, of this, there can be no question. Military Bases and local facilities should be renamed and the people educated about the travesty we refer to as the Civil War.
But Why? Obviously, because the men depicted in the monuments were racist scum?
Well; Ya, in most cases that is true, but those monuments weren’t erected to honor Confederate officers or even the Confederacy. They were erected for a much more nefarious reason.
There is an odd pattern of when these monuments and base namings were done. Long after the war ended and most of these generals were all but forgotten and relegated to the dark corners of history a resurgence of unfettered racism consumed the south, reconstruction was left to the powers that were already in place. It was a breeding ground for White Supremacism.
Most Confederate monuments and Base namings coincide with a pair of parallel events. The massive growth of racist movements in the southern states and the threat of war. It was during periods in history when the KKK wielded the most political power that Civil War generals’ exploits were resuscitated in the public’s eyes and celebrated in stone and bronze. It was during the highest risk of war that Military Bases were named for Confederates.
A deeper look reveals that there is much more to it than just exalting the Confederacy.
President Wilson needed Southern support before the US could officially enter WW1. The south was, in a big part, still inhabited by men who were the product of antebellum mindset. Wilson’s people knew that even passively supporting renewed white supremacy was a guarantee that southern politicals would get on board with entering WW1. It worked, Wilson had little resistance from the southern states when he entered WW1.
The sole purpose of that famous R.E. Lee statue and every other Confederate Memorial is to act as a flurry of reminders of who is still the “Big Boss Man.” Erected for no other reason than to remind the Black Man that oppression can be inflicted with impunity, especially if those tasked with preventing it, are the same ones inflicting it, it is time they be removed.
A vestige of a dark period in our history, they have no place outside an academic setting with context, BUT—Not necessarily because of the man in the monument. Some of those men do not deserve to be dishonored or even associated with racism. Interestingly enough, some of the monuments that are being attacked have a completely non-racist Pro-African American purpose.
There are the obvious offensive depictions of Bragg, and Hood, but one of the most influential racists in American history is Andrew Jackson. Should he be removed from sight also? How about George Washington? James Madison?
Jackson’s victory at New Orleans does not undo the Trail of Tears. Yet he is barely an afterthought when it comes to racist monuments being removed from public property. The Story is that Jackson and the others are being honored for their military skills, nothing more.
I never thought about it much until a Native American brother asked me how I would feel if Walter Reed Medical Center was re-named Joseph Mengele Medical Center; “after all, Mengele’s research resulted in giant leaps forward in more than one medical discipline.” Once I got over being enraged at the thought, I understood, and could never look at Ft. Bragg or Ft. Rucker the same.
The Emancipation Memorial in Washington D.C. is a perfect example of a monument misunderstood.
Ask any protester and they will tell you it is racist and depicts Abraham Lincoln in a dominant position over a slave. Even a minimal effort at research will reveal that the exact opposite is the truth.
Not only does the Emancipation Memorial depict a completely different story – one of oppressed slaves, in the act of standing for the first time as freedmen. The former slaves who paid for the monument did it to honor the man who set them free. Ignorance of the facts is the only reason to topple this monument.
Historical trends are often completely unacceptable to society just a few years later. You can’t classify a historical figure as bad simply because he owned slaves in a time when that was the norm. Consider that most of the Founders were slaveholders.
Thomas Jefferson fathered children with his slaves – under today’s law that would qualify as rape. George Washington never freed his slaves, in fact, his family held slaves for another 100 years before his great-grandson-in-law, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, set them free in 1862, just weeks after the start of the war, and long before the Emancipation Proclamation.
Jefferson and Washington were not bad men, they were good men who did some bad things – Most Confederate Generals were basically bad men (racists) who did a few good things as exhibited by their military prowess. A few of them were just men trying to do what they thought was right and patriotic.
There is a Statue of the Confederate general John C. Pemberton, the defender of Vicksburg, that will be removed soon. Yes, he was a Confederate General, and yes he commanded soldiers who fought against the union, but I can find no record of him owning slaves.
There is no record of Pemberton being racist. He came from the North and both of his brothers fought for the Union. Pemberton’s only connection to Virginia was his wife.
Pemberton saw that Vicksburg was lost and after a long hard siege, surrendered rather than suffer the human losses further defense would require. Thousands of soldiers on both sides lived to see another day.
After the war Pemberton, a pharmacist by profession, invented Coca-Cola. He used much of his money to improve life for everyone he had contact with. When the NAACP was founded Pemberton and Coca-Cola became major donors and benefactors.
Confederate General John C. Pemberton was a man of honor, there can be no question of this. Dishonoring this man is a travesty—Still, his monument in Vicksburg wasn’t erected to honor Pemberton – It must come down.
It is a myth and false narrative to say confederates fought to overthrow the Union or call them traitors. Confederate veterans are by federal law, United States Veterans[i] entitled to all privileges and rights as a United States Veterans. Tactical documentation and planning records make clear Confederates had no desire to rule over the North. They wanted to leave the Union, not overthrow it.
Confederates were not “traitors.” No more than George Washington and Nathan Hale were traitors. They were Patriots loyal to their flag. Washington and Hale were still Crown subjects so technically they did commit treason.
If the Continental Army had lost the revolution, Washington would have been hanged for treason.
They were traitors by Crown law, but they were no longer Crown subjects once the declaration was signed. They were enemies of the Crown, loyal to their new nation. In the same way, Confederate Soldiers were not Americans – they were Confederates. They were enemy soldiers, not traitors – for a Virginian or Tennessean to fight for the Union would have been treason.
Denigrate the likes Serra, Bragg, and Jackson, but Robert E. Lee was a great general, a man of extreme integrity and honor. Robert E. Lee was an enemy officer, no different than any of the enemy officers, like Rommel and Saburō Sakai, who we revere as both honorable men and military tacticians.
Lee’s decision to fight for the south was not easy, his skills at warfare meant the Union couldn’t afford to lose him. Consequently, Gen. Lee was offered command of the entire Union Army.
Union General Robert E Lee resigned his commission, saying: “Mr. Blair, I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four millions of slaves in the South, I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native State?[ii]”
Within days he was called upon to command the Army of Virginia and march against his former country. More than one of the Confederate officers whose monuments are being taken down were in fact men of great honor and integrity. Lee did not fight to perpetuate slavery, he fought for his homeland, Virginia. Lee explained it this way,
“I have fought against the people of the North because I believed they were seeking to wrest from the South its dearest rights. But I have never cherished toward them bitter or vindictive feelings, and have never seen the day when I did not pray for them[iii].”
If Robert E. Lee had not been dead for 54 years before the famous Lee monument in Charlottesville was erected, he would have thrown a fit. Lee was completely against erecting any Civil War monuments.
“I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife and to commit to oblivion the feelings it has engendered.” R E Lee in response to the idea of Civil War monuments.
Lee grieved at the idea of secession from the Union, he believed it would result in anarchy, but Lee was a soldier, and he served the confederacy with the same devotion as he had served the Union. His duty was to go forward with the policies of his government and protect his homeland.
When the war ended, Lee was quite clear about the fact he was glad the war was over and that slavery had come to an end. When a confederate widow addressed Lee after the war expressing her animosity for Northerners and loyalty to Lee and the Confederacy, Lee’s response is a window into his spirit.
“Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.[iv]” R.E. Lee
Not all enemy soldiers are the devils they told us they are. Not all confederate Generals were bad men, and not all Union Generals were good men.
On April 9, at Appomattox Court House, Gen Robert E. Lee Surrendered his Army. The Confederate Battle Flag was furled Honorably in Surrender. It represented thousands of soldiers who gave their lives for their homeland. Lee was asked what to do with the Flag of the Confederacy – “FOLD IT UP, AND PUT IT AWAY.”
It wasn’t until decades later that it was unfurled in dishonor as the symbol of racism. Death Flags and Surrender flags are objects of Honor, unless they are unfurled.
I say we heed Gen Robert E. Lee’s words. Take down the monuments, rename the bases, this is an absolute necessity…but don’t dishonor good men who were dragged into this at no fault of their own.
[i] Confederate soldiers, sailors, and Marines that fought in the Civil war were made U.S. Veterans by an act of Congress in in 1957, U.S. Public Law 85-425, Sec 410, Approved 23 May, 1958. This made all Confederate Army/ Navy/ Marine Veterans equal to U.S. Veterans. Additionally, under U.S. Public Law 810, Approved by the 17th Congress on 26 Feb 1929 the War Department was directed to erect headstones and recognize Confederate grave sites as U.S. War dead grave sites. Just for the record the last Confederate veteran died in 1958. So, in essence, when you remove a Confederate statue, monument or headstone, you are in fact, removing a statue, monument or head stone of a U.S. VETERAN.
[ii] Life and Campaigns of General Robert E. Lee by Edward Lee Childe page 30
[iii] The American Soul: An Appreciation of the Four Greatest Americans and their Lessons for Present Americans (1920) – Charles Sherwood Farriss, p. 63
[iv] The Life and Campaigns of General Lee – Edward Lee Childe, p. 331