Confederate Flag Day, March 4

confederate flag
(Wikipedia)

The political pressure to take down the Confederate battle flag flying at South Carolina’s state capitol has grown stronger in the wake of the execution-style murders of nine black people by white racist Dylann Roof during a Bible study session at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston last week. For many Americans, the flag is a symbol of racial hatred. Many Southerners, however, claim that it’s just a symbol of Southern pride and heritage. But that’s not true.

First of all, the flag is a reminder that the Southern states violated the Constitution and rebelled from the U.S. and formed their Confederacy in 1861 in response to Abraham Lincoln’s election. Their primary concern was that Lincoln’s election threatened the Southern economic institution of slavery. Many Southerners to this day claim that the real issue was states’ rights, but the right that caused the problem was their right to maintain the legality of slavery.

last confederate flag
The Last Confederate Flag

Many Southerners also like to claim that most Confederate soldiers didn’t fight to preserve slavery, but were just defending their homelands from invaders from the North. But the North didn’t start the war. The Civil War began when Confederate forces, with the approval of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, began to bombard, without provocation, the U.S. forces stationed in Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor on April 12, 1861. Furthermore, the Confederate army invaded non-Confederate states several times during the war, including the states of Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. They also invaded the territory of New Mexico and declared a new territory named Arizona in the southern portion of that territory. Despite these facts, many Confederate sympathizers disingenuously call the conflict The War of Northern Aggression.

The conduct of the Confederates during the war shows otherwise too. The U.S. government began recruiting black soldiers into the Union Army after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. Jefferson Davis responded with an order that any black Union soldiers that were captured by Confederate troops were to be executed or returned to slavery. Before the Battle of Olustee in Florida in February of 1864, for example, Confederate soldiers were told not to take “any negro prisoners.” Confederate troops led by Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest captured Fort Pillow in Tennessee in April of 1864. The fort’s Union garrison numbered about 600 soldiers – about evenly split between black and white. But only about 20% of the black soldiers were taken prisoner while about 60% of the white soldiers survived. The battle came to be called the Fort Pillow Massacre because Confederate soldiers were accused of killing black soldiers who were trying to surrender. Forrest became the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan after the war ended.

Flying the Confederate Flag Isn’t A Tribute to the South’s Heritage
“That cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.” – U.S. Grant

Furthermore, the Confederate flag flying at the South Carolina state capitol wasn’t put there as tribute to the South’s heritage. It was raised in 1961 supposedly to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, but in actuality as a protest against court-ordered school integration in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision wherein it found separate public schools for black and white students were discriminatory and unconstitutional.

It’s legal to display and fly the Confederate flag because of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech in the U.S. Constitution. But that doesn’t mean that it should be officially displayed by local governments. Last week, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed that it was legal for Texas to prohibit the issuance of vanity license plates that displayed the Confederate flag. But this practice is still allowed in South Carolina and eight other Southern states. And the Confederate flag is still a part of Mississippi’s state flag, even though it’s the state with the highest percentage of African-American citizens in the U.S.

“I don’t believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors,” – John McCain

In response to the growing criticism about flying Confederate flags on public property, local chapters of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) have begun promoting March 4 as Confederate Flag Day. That’s the day in 1861 when the first Confederate flag was hoisted over the initial Confederate capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. SCV members are encouraged to salute the flag by proclaiming, “I salute the Confederate flag with affection, reverence and undying devotion to the Cause for which it stands.”

Confederate flags, of course, should still be flown at military cemeteries, Civil War battlefield sites, and museums. But it’s time for local government’s to quit allowing the display of Confederate flags on other public property. Why would any nation sanction the public display of a flag used by a rebellion that killed and wounded over 640,000 loyal soldiers?

Update

On July 10, 2015, a crowd of thousands cheered when the Confederate flag flying on South Carolina’s statehouse grounds was permanently taken down after the state’s legislature voted to remove it.

On September 26, 2017, somebody left Confederate flags with cotton balls attached on billboards at American University, in Washington, D.C., after the school introduced a new Anti-Racist Research and Policy Center.

On April 17, 2018, white high school students in Auburn, Michigan, parked their trucks displaying Confederate flags across the street from a local high school.

Confederate Memorial Day, April 26

Confederate General Joseph Johnston
Joseph E. Johnston (Wikipedia)

On April 26, 1865, at the farm of James and Nancy Bennett, just west of Durham, North Carolina, General Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Confederate forces in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida surrendered to Union Major General William Tecumseh Sherman. This ended the war for more than 89,000 Confederate soldiers. This number far exceeded the approximately 28,000 troops Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia more than two weeks earlier, on April 9.

Johnston knew, after learning of Lee’s surrender, that continuing the war was futile. Sherman’s army had been pushing Johnston’s army north from Savannah, Georgia, since the beginning of the year. Johnston’s troops had enjoyed a temporary success with a surprise attack against a wing of Sherman’s army at Bentonville, North Carolina, on March 19. But the Union army’s superiority in numbers had turned the tide. Johnston knew the total defeat of his army was inevitable now that he couldn’t unite his army with Lee’s, and the Union troops which had been fighting Lee could join Sherman’s troops.

So, despite Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s desire to continue the war, Johnston informed Sherman that he was willing to discuss a surrender. Their first meeting at Bennett Place took place on April 17, during which Sherman informed Johnston that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated by Confederate terrorist John Wilkes Booth. The two generals signed surrender papers on April 18, but on April 24 U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant arrived and informed Sherman the agreement had been rejected in Washington, D.C., because it included some political concessions sought by Davis.

The generals met again on April 26 and Johnston agreed to a revised surrender agreement that was solely focused on military issues. Jefferson Davis, unable to accept reality, considered Johnston’s surrender to be a traitorous act and kicked him out of what little remained of the Confederate army on May 2. (Davis wasn’t captured by Union troops until May 10.)

General William Tecumseh Sherman
William Tecumseh Sherman (Wikipedia)

Johnston’s surrender led to the eventual surrender of all of the remaining Confederate armies. Afterwards, Sherman issued rations, horses and mules to the former Confederate soldiers, and distributed food to civilians throughout the South. Johnston never forgot Sherman’s generosity and after Sherman died in New York City on February 14, 1891, Johnston served as a pallbearer at his funeral.

Confederate Memorial Day Celebration, Phoenix, AZ, 2017
Confederate Memorial Day Celebration, Pioneer & Military Memorial Park, Phoenix, AZ, 2017 (Pioneers’ Cemetery Association)

In March 1866 the Columbus, Georgia, chapter of the Ladies Memorial Association passed a resolution to recognize April 26, the day that Johnston officially surrendered, as a day to annually memorialize Confederate war dead. It was distributed to other chapters all across the South and thus it came to be known as Confederate Memorial Day. It’s an official state holiday in several Southern states and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) are dedicated to its continuance.

Updates

On April 23, 2016, white supremacists held a rally at Stone Mountain, Georgia. Enormous carvings of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson are carved into the side of the granite mountain. They said it was part of their Confederate Memorial Day celebration.

General Robert E. Lee Surrenders, April 9, 1865

Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant (Wikipedia)

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 9, 1865, in the tiny Virginia village of Appomattox Court House, General Robert E. Lee, commander of the 28,000 troops of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, signed surrender documents in the parlor of a house owned by Wilmer McLean.

“I know only two tunes: one of them is Yankee Doodle, and the other one isn’t.” – Ulysses S. Grant

Lee surrendered to U.S. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, whose troops had relentlessly attacked and pursued Lee’s army since May of 1864. Lee’s surrender led to the subsequent capitulation of the rest of the Confederate armies and the end of the Civil War. On April 26, for example, General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered 89,000 Confederate troops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. And on May 26 General Edmund K. Smith negotiated the surrender of the approximately 43,000 Confederate troops west of the Mississippi River.

last confederate flag
The Last Confederate Flag

President Abraham Lincoln had promoted Grant to the rank of Lieutenant General on March 3, 1864, giving him command of all Union Armies. Grant had earned the promotion due to his successful military campaigns in the western theater of the Civil War.

One of his first victories in the West was the capture of Confederate Fort Donelson, Tennessee, in February of 1862. Grant’s troops had surrounded the fort, prompting Confederate General Simon Bolivar Buckner to ask for surrender terms. Grant responded, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.” This earned him the popular nickname of “Unconditional Surrender” Grant.

After the war, Grant was elected U.S. president in 1868 and served for two consecutive terms. But after he left office his reputation took a hit due to the success of neo-Confederates in promoting criticism of him as part of their Lost Cause propaganda campaign. But his reputation as president has strongly rebounded since then.

In 1884 Grant learned he was dying of throat cancer, probably caused by his cigar smoking. He was nearly broke by this time and worried about leaving his wife enough money to live on. Mark Twain offered to pay him a 75% royalty for his memoir. He died a few days after he finished the Personal Memoirs Of U.S. Grant, which was a huge success and is still popular today.

Grant was buried, per his wishes, in Riverside Park, in Upper Manhattan, New York City. In 1897 his remains were relocated in the park to the newly completed General Grant National Memorial, popularly known as Grant’s Tomb. About 90,000 people from all over the world made donations to construct it, more than a million people attended its parade and dedication ceremony, and it remains the largest mausoleum in North America.

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