AN UNDESERVED MONUMENT, AN OVERDUE GOODBYE

When I was a boy, when I was very interested in the Civil War. I can’t say why, exactly, but at that time, it was an easy interest to feed. The centennial of the war had begun, and there was a constant flow of features in newspapers and magazines, .shows on television, and movies, and toy gun and toy soldiers and trading cards with gaudy, blood-splashed illustrations of battle carnage. My parents indulged my interest; we lived in Baltimore, and on many Sundays, we went on day trips to pretty nearly anyplace that had a cannon and a plaque: We visited Gettysburg, Antietam, Bull Run, Harper’s Ferry and Fredericksburg more than once. And certainly not for any influence from my parents or family or teachers, I was a fan—that’s the only word that works—of the rebels.

As best as I can discern, I attribute that attraction, in part, to art. In particular, two pieces of art.

One is a painting that appeared in Life magazine. The issue that appeared on January 6, 1961 was dedicated to the centennial, and one of the features was a portfolio of pantings and illustrations executed by contemporary artists of impressive moments in the war. Several paintings really made an impression on me, including a painting depicting the battle of New Market in 1864. For having looked at the painting a million times, it’s a shame that I do not know the artist. IN that battle, cadets from the Virginia Military Academy took the field and defeated the Yankee forces. Although I’m sure I could not have articulated my reasons at the time, I was strongly drawn to the painting. Now the reasons are easier to identify: the heroic flag bearer, the determined boys to his left and right with bayonet and sword, and the cackling triumphant ecstasy of the laughing boy with the bandaged head and unbuttoned blouse. In a war filled with beards, I’m sure their youth wordlessly appealed to my eight year old self.

The other piece of art is a monument to Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

In Baltimore, there is a large park, called Wyman Park. It’s not literally in the physical center of town, but it does occupy a place of prestige; it sits amid a pretty brownstone neighborhood, and along its border sits such institutions as Johns Hopkins University, Union Memorial Hospital, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. In that park sat (until last week) a large impressive statue of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on horseback. Double equestrian statues are uncommon, and this one, sculpted by Laura Gardin Fraser, is really quite brilliant. It captures Lee and Jackson on the eve of the battle of Chancellorsville, their greatest triumph. Fraser did a great job depicting the generals’ roles: Lee is still, solid, calm, implacable, unyielding; Jackson is in motion, the thunderbolt ready to strike. Often when we had to venture to downtown Baltimore, my father would make it a point to drive along one edge of Wyman Park, so that we could pass the large, dramatic statue. Even before I really knew anything about the battle or the stakes, I knew those men must have done something heroic.

My emotional attraction for that statue has never entirely disappeared; I suppose it is some kind of learned response, but in later years I would always feel a frisson of excitement on those rare moments when I would see it. My feelings about Lee and Jackson, however, changed dramatically. Long ago I stopped viewing them as a heroes.

Both of these men had admirable qualities. Lee, dignified, dutiful, aristocratic, was a strong commander who took chances and delivered victories. As the confederacy’s fortunes ebbed, Lee became the essential man on whom the Confederacy’s viability depended. Long after the defeats mounted and the civilian authorities lost credibility, Lee’s integrity held the army together, and by 1864, the army was the confederacy. Jackson, too, inspired the south; a deeply religious Christian and dedicated family men, he used daring tactics to win improbable victories. At home and at war, he became a reflection of the way the south saw itself– gritty, unconquerable, blessed by God. But even as generals, the men were not perfect. Jackson did not perform well in the battles on the Peninsula, nor at Antietam. And long before ordering the disastrous charge at Gettysburg, Lee showed a penchant for frontal attacks which bled his men. After the war, both figured prominently in “what if. . ?” scenarios that envision paths to an eventual Confederate victory. It is nonsense. There was no chance of a different outcome. The South never had a chance to win the war, and the best efforts of Lee and Jackson only fed the fantasy that victory was possible. And on top of everything–and at the root of everything–they served an immoral cause and a dishonorable regime.

I never questioned why the statues were standing in Wyman Park. Baltimore long had the reputation as a northern city in a southern state, and that seems to be true. Certainly southern Maryland was always very southern. During the war itself, slavery was legal in Maryland, but there were more free blacks in Baltimore than slaves. And despite pro-souther sentiments, Maryland did not quite succeed in seceding. About 30,000 Maryland fought for the south; more than twice that number remained pro-union. The funds for the sculpture came from J. Henry Ferguson, the banker who organized the Colonial Trust Company. In his will, he left specific instructions for a monument to Lee and Jackson, his childhood heroes, which was gifted to the City of Baltimore. Ferguson died in 1928. Fraser began work on the sculpture in 1936; it was dedicated in 1948.

I don’t know enough about Ferguson to doubt his stated motives, nor to gauge his feelings about race or integration. But it is true that the statue’s commission and dedication coincides with a period when many confederate statues were erected throughout the United Stated, and particularly in the south. This sentiment, moreover, coincided with efforts to deny black aspirations and progress, and to support the cause of white supremacy.

In 2016, a plaque was placed in front of the statues which sought to provide some context. It pointed out that during the same period that this monument was installed, Baltimore City continued to enforce racial segregation housing ordinances and deed covenants, continued to support segregation policies in public spaces and programs, and unequally funded African American school budgets, infrastructure improvements, and public programs.

On August 16th, the statues were removed.

Long ago, St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians. “When I was a child,” he wrote, “I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.”

And so goodbye to childish things. Good riddance.

THE LOST CAUSE, AT LONG LAST LOST

635721224754624206-AP-Confederate-Flag.1This morning, South Carolina finally removed the Confederate flag from the grounds of its statehouse. At long last, he rebel flag has finally fallen. Not everywhere, of course. But to see it go down here, in the cradle of rebellion, means one thing: it has lost its power to enthrall and intimidate. The cause is lost, and irretrievably.

You can’t underestimate the power of a flag. We pledge allegiance not to the United States, but first to the flag, and only then to the republic for which it stands, an awfully curious construction when you think about it. We fight for flag and country, we capture the flag, the Giants win the pennant. “We stole countries with the cunning use of flags,’’ says the brilliant comedian Eddie Izzard, explaining how the British built an empire. “Just sail around the world and stick a flag in., [and say]”I claim India for Britain!” They’re going “You can’t claim us, we live here! Five hundred million of us!” “Do you have a flag …?’’ “We don’t need a bloody flag, it’s our country!” “No flag, no country, those are the rules that I’ve just made up. And I’m backing them up with this gun.’’ He may be underestimating the usefulness of that gun, but the point about the flag remains.

One hundred fifty years ago, the confederacy lost the civil war, but thanks to recalcitrance, clever public relations, and decades of state-sanctioned terrorism, it won the meaning of the war. In their minds, the south remained undefeated; they waged not a rebellion against the legitimate government but a war between states; they fought for freedom, not in support of slavery.

They did not fly the rebel battle flag that much then; they did not have to, at least not until after World War II, after Truman desegregated the armed forces and Eisenhower sent the 82nd Airborne to enforce the integration of the Little Rock schools and the Supreme Court declared an end to Separate but Equal. Only then did the confederate battle flag reappear, showing up on state houses and state flags. It did not return as a testimony to heritage or to the fallen soldiers of Shiloh and Chickamauga. It flew once again in defiance of democratic government, of constitutional law, of American principles of freedom and equality. But after the conflicts of the Civil Rights movement—one of the greatest triumphs of our history—the flag was once again fling on the losing side of history.

What did it mean that the confederate flag continued to fly? It meant that anyone who sympathized with any of its principles had a claim to legitimacy. He could claim to be part of a movement, a believer in a cause, the heir to a legacy worth protecting. A government was irrelevant, territory beside the point—if you have a flag, you have approval, you have an Us to stand with as you face up to the Them.

But now the flag has come down in South Carolina. It came down in the place that was always the home of the most fiery of the fire eaters, the first state to cite nullification, the first state to secede from the union, the first place where rebels fired on the flag of the United States. Going forward, there will always be diehards and dead enders who will never give up, but now they will be scattered and isolated. The moment the rebel flag was lowered, the confederacy no longer had any pretense to a home, to a heritage, to a place in American life.

The Lost Cause has at long last been lost.

THAT WAS THE VERY LIBERAL WEEK THAT WAS


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Sometimes it seems as though weeks go by without nary an event worth introducing into conversation. And then sometimes news–and not merely news, but huge historical events–come rolling in like thunder. One such period occurred during the last week in June. On Monday the 22nd, responding to the murder days before of nine people who were worshipping in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston by a confederate fanboy Dylann Roof, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the confederate flag from the statehouse grounds. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” she said. “The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand.”This in turn inspired further rollbacks: the state of Alabama pulled down the rebel flag, the city of Memphis voted to relocate the tomb of the racist terrorist Nathan Bedford Forrest, the states of Maryland and Virginia stopped issuing license plates with the rebel flag on it, and the state of Kentucky removed a statue of native son Jefferson Davis from the rotunda of the capitol. Then, on Thursday,  the Florida Supreme Court threw out five egregiously drawn election districts, hopefully beginning the process of rolling back on systematic gerrymandering. Also on Thursday, the Supreme Court for a second time approved Obamacare, refusing to chase some sloppy writing as an excuse to undermine the legislative process. The next day, bu a 5-4 margin, the Court legalized gay marriage across the country, calling it a fundamental right. “No union is more profound than marriage,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, `for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family, In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. Their hope,” Kennedy is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

“Today is some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history,” said Senator Ted Cruz.  I say hoorah.

THE ARMY WAR COLLEGE TAKES A STEP

On December 18, Fox News reported that the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania is considering removing prints that depict Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals after at least one official questioned why the school honors those who fought against America. The college is currently conducting an inventory of its paintings and photographs, and to categorize them. “There will be change: over the years very fine artwork has been hung with care – but little rationale or overall purpose,” US Army Major General Tony Cucolo, the commandant of the college, said in a statement posted on the school’s website Wednesday afternoon. “I will… approach our historical narrative with keen awareness and adherence to the seriousness of several things: accurate capture of US military history, good, bad and ugly; a Soldier’s life of selfless service to our Nation; and our collective solemn oath to defend the Constitution of the United States (not a person or a symbol, but a body of ideals),” he added. “Those are the things I will be looking to reinforce with any changes to the artwork.

College Spokeswoman Carol Kerr told the newspaper that at least one official — who was not identified – asked the administration why the school honors generals that were enemies of the U.S. Army. “There will be a dialogue when we develop the idea of what do we want the hallway to represent,” she said. “[Lee] was certainly not good for the nation. This is the guy we faced on the battlefield whose entire purpose in life was to destroy the nation as it was then conceived.”

So far, this sounds like a step in the right direction.

APPALACHIAN SUMMER: HARPER’S FERRY, WVA, AUGUST 4th

100_0884Beautiful Harper’s Ferry, sitting at he confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers at the bottom of the steep trio of Loudon, Bolivar and Maryland Heights, once had one of only two federal arsenals in the United States, which is why John Brown decided to begin his slave uprising there. Less than two years later, his action spawned secession and the Civil War. Above, the Conjoined Potomac. Immediately below left, a marker designating where Brown made his stand; right, in Harper’s Ferry less than ten minutes, and already they’ve dedicated a marker to her!
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Immediately below: looking up into town; Far below: looking across to Maryland Heights.
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APPALACHIAN SUMMER: PERRYVILLE, KY, AUGUST 1st

100_0874Given the size of the armies engaged, the Battle of Perryville, fought on October 8, 1862, was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. Generally thought of as a confederate tactical victory but a Federal strategic victory–what that means is that after a ferocious, day-long the rebels forced the Yanks to withdraw from the field, but the weakened rebs then had to withdraw from Kentucky–the battle needs to be seen as a multi-pronged Confederate offensive (Antietam, fought three weeks earlier, was part of the overall campaign) that failed to throw the north on the defensive or to get it to capitulate. The Union retained control of the critical border state of Kentucky for the remainder of the war. As much as anything, the Kentucky campaign reveals Braxton Bragg’s weaknesses as a commander.
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The gun at top was part of an Illinois battery commanded by a Captain Simonsen. The battery lost a quarter of its strength during the battle, and fired all of its ammunition, 795 shells, during the fighting. Above, monuments to the Union dead (left) and confederate (right). Note: The Malanowski Cannon Picture from Vacation Tradition continues!

TALKING DISUNION IN MANHATTAN

100_0819hanks to the folks at Jackson-McNally Bookstore in Soho for hosting a panel discussion by three of us who have been contributors to The New York Times‘ Disunion series, and to the new 1Dcompilation of pieces from the series published by Black Dog & Levanthal. Clay Risen of the Times, Ted Widmer of Brown University, and yours truly met with about twenty people, and we had a fun and lively discussion. Most pleasant surprise: meeting a young lady who turned out to be a cadet from West Point who was doing a summer internship at The Wall Street Journal and who had written about Alonzo Cushing, and why he deserves the Medal of Honor.

SOUTHERN SOJOURN: CRUMPLER’S BLUFF, VA, JULY 14

100_0798100_0799The first engagement in which William Cushing distinguished himself was at the battle of Crumpler’s Bluff, which was in Franklin, Virginia. Federal officers designed a combined army-navy operation against elements of Longstreet’s army camped near Franklin on the Blackwater River in October 1862. While Navy gunboats under the command of Charles Flusser made their difficult way up the narrow, twisty Blackwater, the army was supposed to attack overland from the other side. They didn’t, leaving the gunboats perilously exposed. Under deadly fire, Cushing freed a cannon that had been strapped to the deck and fired, breaking the confederate attack. The pictures give an idea of how twisty the river is. By the way–there’s no bluff in sight. And for the record, yes, that’s a sewage treatment plant downriver to the left.

SOUTHERN SOJOURN: FORT FISHER NC, JULY 13

100_0776William Cushing‘s last engagement was at Fort Fisher, in January 1865. Located on a piece of land separating the Atlantic and the Cape Fear River in southern North Carolina, the fort protected shipping bringing goods across the Atlantic and up the river to Wilmington, which, in 1865, was the confederacy’s last open port. The fort, which was comprised of giant molded mounds of sand, was shaped like a 7. The Army attacked the western point of the fort, while sailors and marines under Cushing attacked the eastern juncture. Cushing’s assault was stymied, but the army broke though, and carried the day. Above, the Fort Fisher monument. Below, the mounds of Fort Fisher; ocean-battered trees; a gun placement on one of the western mounds.
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SOUTHERN SOJOURN: NEWPORT NEWS, JULY 10

100_0716The Maritime Museum at Newport News is just splendid. The museum has a lot of terrific artifacts, including the pricelss eafle figurehead from the USS Lancaster, and a whole exhibit on Nelson and his battles at Copenhagen, the Nile and Trafalgar. The highlight is the the terrific exhibit on the Monitor and the Virginia, including an excellent, detailed, informative, film, full size replicas of both ships, and amazingly, recovered pieces of the Monitor, including its turret, which is being restored. The visualizations were wonderful. I could have spent a lot more time there. Don’t miss it!
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