The return of Confederate battleflags and the concerns of Union veterans… and others

Posted on December 27, 2008 by

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I came across the image (originally published June 25, 1887) that follows below several weeks ago and I think, for anyone who knows the complex history of returning Civil War flags to their “homes,” this is an interesting cartoon. Of course, without a little background behind the cartoon, it might be meaningless for some who look at it today.

Flag return policies were made and adopted (for example, the controversial policy made by Grover Cleveland in 1887), but how often were the veterans involved in the process? Better yet, how did the veterans feel slighted by the actions of those who either did not participate as soldiers or were at the time of the war, children in the crib? What measures were taken in the name of reconciliation that were outside the interests of those who had fought and won the war?

These questions asked, however, consider not only the image that follows (as well as the story behind it, which is accesible through the hyperlink to the source site at HarpWeek), but also a biography (Grover Cleveland: A Study in Character, by Alyn Brodsky, 2000) of Cleveland (see Chapter 27).

As indicated on page 192, some Union flags had already been returned by the time Cleveland suggested the return of Confederate flags. Nonetheless, Virginia Governor Fitzhugh Lee (also, of course, a former Confederate general) recognized the volatility of the return of flags to the South. I was quite interested in what he had to say about the matter. Lee maintained that the country

should not again be agitated by pieces of bunting that mean nothing now. The South is part and parcel of the Union today,and means to do her part toward increasing the prosperity and maintaining the peace of the republic, whether the flags rot in Washington or are restored to their former custodians. If any man hauls down the American flag, shoot him on the spot, but don’t let us get into trouble because another flag exchanged its resting place.

Hmm, I wonder what the Confederate veterans had to say about this. I’ll have to do some checking.

Anyway, as pointed out in the chapter of Cleveland’s biography, more issues were on the table at the time than just the return of Confederate flags. There are matters of memory and forgetfulness here, and it concerns mythologies from both the Lost Cause and the Won Cause.

HarpWeek Cartoon of the Day - The Demoralized Drum

Keep in mind that, in 1905, Theodore Roosevelt pulled-off what Cleveland was unable to do. A bill was presented and passed both houses unanimously, and the return of Confederate battleflags (at least those in the possession of the War Department) became law. I wonder what the G.A.R. had to say about this after opposing Cleveland’s decision nearly 20 years before. Looks like I have a little more homework. I do know that Stuart McConnell doesn’t mention anything about the G.A.R.’s reactions to Roosevelt’s action in Glorious Contentment.

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