The Long Shadow of Lee Reaches… the Navy?

Posted on April 24, 2011 by


At yesterday’s Civil War at Sea Symposium, our host called the audience’s attention to this recruiting poster:

CWatSea 013a

So Robert, you’re the naval expert here…. what’s up with this?

It is a World War II era recruiting poster.  Our host pointed out the poster lacks any official US government attributes or stamps, normally seen on Navy Department recruiting posters of the time period.  But you must admire the composition of the portrayal – the poster manages to meld several otherwise unrelated themes into a moderately effective appeal.  Notice though, in comparison to the dominating appearance of Lee in the background, the US Navy Ensign barely makes the poster, flying from the destroyer.  Stands in contrast to this official poster:

Although the US national flag appears prominent in the official poster seen here, that was in no way the “standard.”   Many recruiting posters of the war included imagery without the US flag displayed at all.  So I wouldn’t put too much weight behind the otherwise limited display of the US flag on the “Lee Navy Volunteers” poster.

I must admit finding little to explain who or what the “Volunteers” were.  Quite possible this was simply a group of like minded individuals who planned to “offer services” to the Navy or Navy Reserves in the days before official US entry into the war.  Might have been a call for “coast watchers” to counter the U-Boat menace.   Would love to know, as such would help explain the symbolism in the poster.  Regardless, it appears the “Volunteers” were not directly affiliated with the US Navy, at least initially.

The poster does tell us that even three or four generations removed from Appomattox the marketing experts felt “Marse Robert” could still draw Virginians to the flag… even if it was the very flag they fought against in the Civil War!