Last night, when I was thinking about developing a post about how [many] Confederate celebrationists have essentially made things worse for themselves for not having acknowledged different historical facts in their efforts to “honor” the Confederate soldier, this was posted by Brooks Simpson. What a fine example of how these celebrationists have gone down the wrong path. For one, with the objective of honoring the common Confederate soldier, is it really necessary to spread false history about others (Grant, for example)? With the objective of honoring the common Confederate soldier, is it necessary to continue the same historically incorrect arguments about the details of the Emancipation Proclamation, while also ignoring the fact that Lincoln was making direct appeals to the border states regarding the matter of slavery BEFORE the EP? With the objective of honoring the common Confederate soldier, is it really necessary to bring in contemporary politics into the argument? There is much more at hand here as well, but…
My answer to each of these questions is “no”. There is enough there in the story of Virginia’s Confederate soldiers to pay respects to the valor, courage, and sacrifice of those soldiers without resorting to the garbage history displayed in the resolutions passed by the Virginia Division. The word “dignity” comes to mind here, and yet I see no defense of the dignity of the common soldier in the resolutions.
The stories of my Confederate ancestors vary (and yes, none owned slaves). As I have pointed out, I don’t believe that all embraced the Confederacy. They may have worn gray uniforms at different points, but belief in “the Cause” is subject to debate. Of those who went willfully (initially), I suspect that most were likely committed to the thought that they were enlisting to “defend their homes”, to “repel the oncoming invasion”, and maybe even believed that states’ rights were in jeopardy, but I remain quite aware that their motivations and that of many of those in high places in the Confederate government were not always one in the same. This is the line that I draw when looking back at my Confederate ancestors; a line between the motivations of the men (as they understood things) and those of the government.
I admire the valor, courage, and sacrifice of the common Confederate soldier. I respect their decision to do what they thought was right, then. I marvel at the stories of their lives in those four short years.
YET, I know what underlying factors were at play, not with the common soldiers, but in the motivations of the Confederacy. I acknowledge that the Confederate government was a government conceived in the interests of preserving slavery. The Southern states felt their power waning in national government as slavery was not being allowed to expand, but was slowly being limited. I acknowledge that high officials took initiative into their own hands, without regard for the common Southerner’s voice.
Perhaps then, it would be best to make clear the differences between honoring the common soldier and honoring the government. Do we honor the common soldier or shall we honor the soldiers only as devices of the government? I prefer to focus on the common soldier. Perhaps this would have been a better avenue to take when Southerners with an interest in their Confederate ancestors felt that their ancestors were being made out to be “boogeymen” and/or no longer acceptable in the greater American story. Knee-jerk reactions such as what we see in the set of resolutions, filled with bad history, and poor taste… indeed, they are their own worst enemy… and sadly, they do not impact themselves alone.