“The ladies. . . decided to lay a few stems for those men, too, in recognition not of a fallen Confederate or a fallen Union soldier, but a fallen American.” –President Barack Obama, 2010 Memorial Day Address, relating an event in 1866 when women of Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.
“It is estimated that one in three Southern households lost at least one family member.”“Civil War Casualties: The Cost of War: Killed, Wounded, Captured and Missing,” American Battlefield Trust : accessed 9 July 2020.
Yes, soldiers on both sides were Americans. Each side carried a different flag. So, why can’t we honor each one with the appropriate flag? Our family tree has both Union and Confederate soldiers in it. I feel that recent protestors want us to forget our Confederate ancestors. We can’t change our ancestry. We can’t change the choices they made. We can try to understand the societal and historical events that shaped their lives. I believe that history lessons should include both good and bad as well as divergent viewpoints. This post is my reaction to current events.
The protests began as a reaction to the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Demands for removing statues of Confederate soldiers and slave holders increased. Protestors spray painted statues and physically removed others. Even a statue of George Washington, our nation’s first President and a slave holder, was not exempt. Protestors seemed to ignore history as they defaced a statue of an abolitionist.
History typically relates the broad picture and tells about the people who influenced that history. Stories of the common people ( i.e., those whose lives were directly and indirectly influenced by those in power) are less often told. In my opinion, our job, as genealogists, is to tell the stories of those common people, our ancestors and their families.
Read this heartfelt article, published in 2017: George Burrell, “Confederate and Union Flags of the Civil War, Century City News (Los Angeles, California), 21 August 2017, (http://centurycity.news/confederate-and-union-flags-of-the-civil-war-p971-211.htm
In response to someone else’s blog, one person noted that only a few of her 3X great-grandfathers actually fought for the Confederacy. One of my 8 great-great grandfathers served in the Union Army. For my husband, two of his 8 great-great grandfathers and one of his 16 great-great-great grandfathers served in the Confederate Army. Many more in both family trees were of any age to fight. My sons carry genes from persons who supported both sides of the conflict.
According to the American Battlefield Trust (https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/civil-war-casualties), there were 1,089,119 Confederate soldiers. Of those, 490,309 were reported as killed, wounded, captured or missing. Millions of Americans are descended from these soldiers. Now, some people want to prevent the simple act of placing a flag on a veteran’s grave. Denying this right sends the message that Confederate veterans are not worthy of being honored for their sacrifice.
Some demand the removal of statues, memorials and other reminders of the Confederacy as these are seen as symbols of slavery, racial segregation and white supremacy. One example of this view is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent proposal. Read this press release. Posted 30 June 2020: “Warren delivers floor speech on her amendment to rename all bases and other military assets honoring the Confederacy,” Elizabeth Warren website (https://www.warren.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/warren-delivers-floor-speech-on-her-amendment-to-rename-all-bases-and-other-military-assets-honoring-the-confederacy : accessed 2 July 2020).
An NBC journalist presented the opposite view: Sophia A. Nelson, “Don’t take down Confederate monuments. Here’s why.” Posted 1 june 2017, NBC News (https://www.nbcnews.com/think/news/opinion-why-i-feel-confederate-monuments-should-stay-ncna767221 : accessed 2 July 2020).
How will our descendants look at the current events a hundred years from now? Will we be lauded for our efforts? Will we be criticized? Will our descendants even know about the Civil War and its controversies? Will our descendants be aware of the multiple perspectives surrounding the current debate?
My hopes for the future? I DON’T WANT my descendants to be ashamed of their Southern heritage. I DON’T WANT my descendants to judge their ancestors’ choices based on current values and belief systems. I DO WANT my descendants to have the freedom to acknowledge that they have ancestors who fought in the Confederacy. I DO WANT my descendants to relate circumstances that created the rift between Northern and Southern states. I DO WANT my descendants to recognize the values and beliefs that guided their ancestors’ choices. I DO WANT my descendants to compare and contrast the various perspectives surrounding current 21st century issues. I DO WANT my descendants to have the freedom to honor their Confederate ancestors by placing a Confederate flag on the graves of those ancestors. In short, I DO WANT my descendants to remember the history of the Civil War and that soldiers on both sides fought for a cause that they believed in. In the same way, I DO WANT my descendants to recall that, in 2020, people held differing beliefs about how the United States should remember those who fought in the Confederacy and the Union.